LA Times changes sports section as owner sells San Diego paper

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

The LA Times is at a financial inflection point as it reexamines its place in the media landscape, says NPR’s David Folkenflik. Photo by Shutterstock.

The Los Angeles Times announced on Sunday that it’s overhauling its traditional sports section, which includes game recaps, in favor of magazine-style reporting and profiles. The paper says it remains “heavily invested” in covering sports, but is “making this change to adapt to how readers follow news and sporting events each day.” 

Meanwhile, the paper’s owner — billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong — is selling The San Diego Union-Tribune. It’s going to a subsidiary of a Manhattan hedge fund that’s known for stripping down newspapers to save money. 

According to NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik, the LA Times says it has faced pressure from ESPN and local sports TV networks, which can announce scores almost immediately. Leagues and sports teams themselves are doing coverage as well. Then there are instant videos on social media. So instead of turning to the LA Times, people are relying on places like The Athletic or 

“They're taking advantage of this shifting of appetites to say, ‘We're just going to cut costs. We're going to push our deadlines to three o'clock the day before, which essentially guts the ability to cover almost any live  sporting events. And so we're gonna make a virtue out of necessity here.’”

Folkenflik says this is a financial inflection point for the LA Times as it reexamines its place in the media landscape. 

In selling the San Diego Union-Tribune, Folkenflik says Soon-Shiong is turning his focus solely to the LA area. “[He’s] saying, ‘I don't want to have to do that for two properties, and I'd like to have the additional cash I can get out of this transaction, even if it's not a ton.’ San Diego is really important on its own. … It's an important bookend to Southern California. …[It’s the] closest major city to the border of Mexico. … It deserves robust coverage and enlightened ownership.” 

Now the SDUT is going to a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital called  MediaNews Group, which already owns many SoCal properties. “[It] is really encircling the Los Angeles Times … with a ton of the smaller outfits that have been cut … to such a degree — as have their sister papers, more than 100 throughout the country.” 

Meanwhile, staffers in the LA Times newsroom are looking to see if the Soon-Shiong family’s emotional and capital investment in the Times will remain robust. 

“Are they doing this — the layoffs, the sale of the Union-Tribune, the shift of the priorities and the deadlines for sports — as a way of keeping the Los Angeles Times financially more tenable and move it towards sustainability? Or is this him trying to figure out: Is it doable? And if not … that would be a very grave consequence for the LA Times and the people that rely upon it.”