LA Observed Notes: Times' new owner is a coastal land baron

schiff-silver-lake.jpgRep. Adam Schiff took part in a Saturday morning media event at Silver Lake Reservoir and heard lots of words of support for his watchdogging of President Trump and the Russian election meddling investigation. Photo by Iris Schneider.

Our occasional roundup of news, notes and chatter. Between posts you can keep up with LA Observed on Twitter — now with 24,997 followers.

Top of the news

• New York attorney general sues Weinstein Co. for civil rights 'violations,' throwing sale into question - LA Times
• 'Get Out,' 'Call Me by Your Name' among WGA winners - Hollywood Reporter
• ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ Dominates Box Office - Variety
• 3 adults, 1 child dead after plane goes down in Agua Dulce - Daily News
• Disneyland resort raises prices as much as 18% - LA Times

Bed bugs in LA library books

KNBC reported on Friday that the Los Angeles Public Library has known of at least 84 instances of bedbugs being found in libraries or checked-out books since 2014. But patrons aren't told and the news hasn't gotten out until now. "We are not (allowed) to tell the public that bedbugs have been found. They don't want the bad P.R," an unnamed librarian says in the story. Other library systems make infestations known to library patrons, but LAPL head John Szabo tells Channel 4 "we deal with it, and we deal with it immediately. We don't think it's ... an issue to broadcast."

NBC_EricLeonard_Crop.jpgThe piece by Joel Grover and Amy Corral, and earlier stories on crime, porn and drugs in the libraries, came out of KNBC's investigative team, which has a new member as of this month. Eric Leonard, the longtime news reporter on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles, has jumped to television and a spot on the KNBC I-Team. Leonard was with KFI since 1996. The station says he'll be focusing first on quick-turnaround investigative stories tied to breaking news.

In addition to Grover and Leonard, the KNBC I-Team includes consumer reporter Randy Mac and investigative reporter Lolita Lopez. Here's a new promo. The assistant news director who oversees the team, Matt Goldberg, is also the president of the board of Investigative Reporters and Editors, or IRE.

Add KNBC: Reporter Hetty Chang is in South Korea to report stories around the games.

Soon-Shiong owns pieces of the coast

It was a crazy week around the Los Angeles Times, with a new owner announced, the old publisher brought back and then sent off to a new assignment, and everyone around the paper trying to figure out what the future holds. Here's what I have posted already. On Sunday morning I was the guest on "KNBC News Conference" with Conan Nolan to talk about buyer Patrick Soon-Shiong and the Times. It aired at a special time due to the Olympics, 7:45 a.m., so here it is if you care to watch. I also was quoted in an AP story by writer Brian Melley: The doctor's in, but jury is out on new LA Times owner. Money quote from USC's Gabe Kahn, who has interviewed Soon-Shiong: "He’s incredibly wealthy, very smart and, as tends to be the case with billionaires, he has a big ego and he has thin skin.”

If he's prickly about being asked questions, this new Wall Street Journal story (behind the paywall) probably has his hackles up. It examines the controversy around Soon-Shiong's biotech and health businesses. The story says that NantHealth had accumulated a deficit of $671.6 million: "When medical entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the embattled Los Angeles Times from owner Tronc Inc. this week, some journalists cheered. Investors in Dr. Soon-Shiong’s health company have done anything but." Before that story ran, here was a light overview of last week's developments from The New Yorker. Also worth a note, the SEC documents filed on the deal in which Tronc sells the Times and San Diego Union-Tribune confirm that what remains of the old LA Times Washington bureau will return to Times hands and no longer be a shared part of Tronc. And Steven Miller, hired just recently to be assistant managing editor for online on Lewis D'Vorkin's team, is already off the masthead. He'll apparently join D'Vorkin and former Times publisher Ross Levinsohn in a new Tronc media enterprise separate from the Times.

The most interesting revelations (new to me anyway) on Soon-Shiong involve his property holdings in Brentwood and on the coast in Malibu and Laguna Beach. Soon-Shiong and his wife have spent about $50 million buying up homes near theirs in Brentwood to create a family compound of nearly five acres. It's been going on awhile — LAT reporter Martha Groves covered it in 2010 — but an anonymous LA real estate blog called Yolanda's Little Black Book says the buying has continued, all masked under various investment entity names. The site says Soon-Shiong's main house, with 25,000 square feet and 10 bathrooms, now sits in the middle of a big swath of Brentwood belonging to him. He also has bought property on Broad Beach, between actor Ray Romano and [ former] KTLA TV general manager Greg Nathanson, and is building his dream mansion overlooking the beach on Malibu's Encinal Bluffs. The Yolanda site says Soon-Shiong entities paid $8.7 million for the first lot and $18.5 million for the property next door. The couple also bought on the coast in Laguna Beach: "In February 2016, the couple dislocated hundreds of jaws when they reared back and airdropped $45,000,000 smackers on what is perhaps the coolest and most unique property in all of Orange County."

Says the site: "Yolanda’s calculations tell us that Mr. Soon-Shiong has spent a heart-stopping $154,245,000 on his Brentwood compound and the Malibu/Laguna Beach getaways. And that’s just the land." Considering how protective that Times editors and columnist Steve Lopez feel about the coast, I feel a conflict coming. By the way, I'm advised that the New York Times was a little off in reporting that Soon-Shiong lives next door to former Times publisher Austin Beutner. They are "a few blocks" apart.

[Added: From Groves' 2010 story in the Times, not online: Soon-Shiong bought up nearby houses through an attorney, "disguising the true owner, it did not take long for neighbors to figure out the buyer's identity." Soon-Shiong's spokesman at the time was LA crisis PR mogul Michael Sitrick, and Soon-Shiong required sellers whose property he bought in Brentwood to sign non-disclosure agreements. Some spoke anyway. ]

"It's a very unassuming neighborhood," said Laurie Lehman, who moved to another area of Brentwood in 2006 after selling the ranch house -- reluctantly, she said -- she had shared with her husband, Ernest. "I don't understand why a billionaire would want to live there," she said. "Why does he have to take over a nice little neighborhood and ruin it?"


The scale of Soon-Shiong's project has made him the focus of attention and of conflicting assessments from his current and former neighbors.

"A meeting with the neighbors would be a help," said Diane Leslie, a longtime resident.

Lehman described Soon-Shiong as "mercurial and demanding" and said she and her husband had run-ins with him over her husband's ham radio tower. Years ago, Lehman said, Soon-Shiong called and said: "I just bought the house next door. You're going to have to take down the tower because it's going to fall on my wife and unborn child."

"My husband would have the phone five feet from his ear and I could hear Patrick," Lehman said

Also, Howard Blume, the LAT's school board reporter, tweeted that Beutner's name has come up both around the Times (which needs a publisher now) and around the LA Unified offices, which needs a school superintendent. Beutner has long been involved in education reform and, remember, served in the Villaraigosa administration at City Hall as a $1-a-year business adviser.


lat-in-korea.jpgThe Times did not send photographers to the Winter Olympics (nor to Sochi four years ago), but there is a staff of writers and at least one editor on hand. This pic from the bureau got posted to Twitter by columnist Helene Elliott. That's a mild statement on the tumult back home at 1st and Spring streets, especially compared to some of the sentiment being publicly posted by some Times staffers about the departing Troncaterians. Last week, after Tronc said an outside investigation it commissioned into allegations from publisher Levinsohn's past cleared him, columnist Robin Abcarian didn't hold back with her public denunciation (via Twitter): "This man, Ross Levinsohn, incarnates the concept of failing up. @tronc 'cleared him of wrongdoing'? Because saying 'fag' in public is not wrong? Rating the 'hotness' of female staff is OK? @mwferro you should be ASHAMED of yourself & your corporate culture."

Also here's the paper's city editor openly mocking Tronc.

Yeah, that relationship was doomed from the start.

Meanwhile, the Times has posted some of the answers to the question it asked readers: What you told us you want the new L.A. Times owner to know.
One big change spotted already: City News Service wire stories in the main LAT news blog. That's been a no-no for as long as I can remember.

Again: LA's other newspapers are in a much more dire place

This could be the week when the layoffs hitting Southern California News Group papers like the Daily News and the Register land on the news staffs. Last month, it was photographers, sports and columnists. The orders to cut are coming from Digital First Media and its investment-fund owners, and the toll so far on local news has been ghastly. “We saw L.A. Times people cheering because they were just sold. That would certainly be the case for us,” one employee said. “Can we all go through two or three more years of this? I hope not.”

Here's what may be coming. Last week, the parent company had at least 27 positions eliminated at the San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times. From San Jose Inside: "The Merc used to be one of the largest daily newspapers in the industry with upward of 400 reporters and editors, according to the Media Guild. After the latest round of buyouts and layoffs, the number of union-represented newsroom staff in the South Bay is down to 41. The East Bay papers are left with 65.... That leaves [the Bay Area News Group] with no K-12 reporter, no higher education reporter, no health reporter and no one covering Santa Clara County government. It also significantly limits coverage at San Jose’s City Hall and entirely eliminates coverage in some of the region’s smaller neighboring cities..."

Most elected city governments in Los Angeles County already go uncovered by any news media. It's about to get a lot worse.

Media notes

thr_harassment_group_1_0659-.jpgHouse Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes created a partisan news site called the “The California Republican” paid for with campaign funds. After Politico exposed the scam, it closed down... Sinclair Broadcasting, which is trying buy KTLA Channel 5 here and other Tribune-owned stations, has asked news directors to contribute money to the company's political action committee. Sinclair is notorious for forcing local stations to use right-wing commentaries sent out from the home office... The Left’s War Against The New York Times, in the New Republic... The New York Times now claims to have 2.6 million digital subscribers... How the Olympics Got Disneyfied: The 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Games were star-studded and futuristic—and broadcast to U.S. audiences for the first time... The Death of Newsweek: "The U.S. is losing something as the publication disintegrates—a magazine with guts and heart," writes Jonathan Alter in the Atlantic... What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn NYT Magazine

Hollywood notes: Writers Guild Awards winners on Sunday night: "Get Out," written by Jordan Peele, "Call Me by Your Name," screenplay by James Ivory, "Jane," written by Brett Morgen. Full list.... Mira Sorvino, Natasha Henstridge and other Harvey Weinstein accusers (above) gathered to talk about what happened after they came forward in THR... In this month's Vanity Fair, the Hollywood historian Cari Beauchamp (an occasional LA Observed contributor) writes about a meeting of 100 women at the Santa Barbara Miramar to strategize on getting more parity in Hollywood. That was 18 years ago. The lede: "The idea to convene a summit of women filmmakers was an informal, modest one, yet it was born of a deep-seated frustration. And it all began because Allison Anders was pissed."... NYT: At least 68 high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct have resigned, been fired or fallen from power since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke... A Reckoning with Women Awaits Trump, says New Yorker editor David Remnick: "Even Steve Bannon recognizes that female voters will punish the President for his cavalier dismissal of assault and abuse allegations."... "Kill Bill" Stunt Coordinator Breaks Silence on Uma Thurman Crash: THR... Also in Vanity Fair: How Eric Roberts Went Big, Crashed Hard, and Became the Hardest-Working Man in Hollywood... Brian Lowry of CNN writes of the new Nextflix documentary on LA lawyer Gloria Allred, "Nobody will confuse 'Seeing Allred' with a hard-hitting expose; rather, this Netflix documentary unabashedly celebrates publicity-savvy attorney/advocate Gloria Allred, shedding some interesting light on her career, even if it's all flattering."

Changes at the LA Jewish Journal: The Forward covers the pivot of LA's largest Jewish publication away from news and liberal commentary toward more conservative commentators, freelancers and the exit of many editors and contributors. Telling point: Former longtime editor Rob Eshman says he hasn't read the Journal since he left last year. Also telling: New editor David Suissa has two of his daughters working at the weekly and regularly runs poetry from one of their college-student friends.

Media people doing stuff

Jeffrey M. Johnson, the former LA Times publisher who was CEO and publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, has been named the president of Hearst Newspapers.... Ex-NYT and LAT reporter James Risen at The Intercept: "Intelligence community has been conducting a top-secret operation to recover stolen classified U.S. government documents from Russian operatives, according to sources familiar with the matter. The operation has also inadvertently yielded a cache of documents purporting to relate to Donald Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election."... LAT architecture critic Christoper Hawthorne directed and wrote the season's first episode of the KCET series "Artbound," which will feature architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Los Angeles area houses, It airs on March 6. Hawthorne also columnized on why outsiders such as the NYT keep getting Los Angeles wrong.

Books and authors:The late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian was involved in so many big deals in his life, but he gave very few interviews. That makes ex-LAT reporter William Rempel's new book all the more impressive. Here's a Wash Post review of "The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History."... "The Ballad of Huck & Miguel" is Tim DeRoche’s collaboration with illustrator Daniel González on a modern-day homage to Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," set on the Los Angeles River... Former LA Times books editor Joy Press has a book coming Feb 27 on Television show runners: "Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television"... LA Sports: Play, Games, and Community in the City of Angels, is a new book from the University of Arkansas Press co-edited by Wayne Wilson of the LA84 Foundation.

More notes: Secrets Behind The Hollywood Oscar Party Changing Of The Guard, by Hollywood journalism veteran Alex Ben Block at his blog Block & Tackle.... "The 15:17 to Paris" and "Lady Bird" star a California that America rarely sees, says Bee opinion editor Shawn Hubler... The irrepressible Gustavo Arellano is now doing pieces for NPR Food too.... The new LA Weekly's managing editor is Susan Gill Vardon, formerly an editor at the Orange County Register. The culture editor is Richard Chang, formerly an LA Times contributor. Still a mighty thin staff box... Eater LA surveys the local food writing scene, including at the LA Weekly, in the context of the Times getting a new owner.... Serena Golden, the former managing editor at Mel magazine, has left LA to be deputy managing editor at the Washington Post Express... The latest edition of the Cal State LA magazine has a lot of former LA Times connections: the cover story by former LA Times reporter Erika Hayasaki about a school helping "invisible" homeless children in South LA, an article on the East LA Blowouts by Robert J. Lopez and photos by J. Emilio Flores. Check it out:

Food blogger Javier Cabral has joined LA Taco as associate editor...Former Daily Journal reporter Greg Katz and his band Cheekface wrote and recorded a song that namechecks their favorite landmarks in Glendale... The AAJA chapter in Los Angeles is sponsoring an internship at KPCC. The deadline is Feb. 25... The PEN Literary Award for Journalism is looking for submissions from journalists living west of the Mississippi. March 30 deadline.

Given the news up above about library bedbugs, this is good news. The LAPL processed more than 3.7 million digital check outs in 2017. The most popular titles per OverDrive, which runs the service:

1. "You Are a Badass," Jen Sincero
2. "The Handmaid’s Tale," Margaret Atwood
3. "The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up," Marie Kondo
4. "The Underground Railroad," Colson Whitehead
5. "The Girl on the Train," Paula Hawkins

Selected tweets



More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Notes stories on LA Observed:
LA Observed Notes: Clippers hire big-time writer, unfunny Emmys, editor memo at the Times and more
LA Observed Notes: Media notes, homeless ruling, scooters and lion cubs
LA Observed Notes: Times hiring binge, LA Weekly investor sues, media tidbits
LA Observed Notes: Editor moves, NYT steps on JGold turf, jobs and more
LA Observed Notes: Long Beach, LAist, Soon-Shiong and much more
LA Observed Notes: Soon-Shiong era at LA Times begins
LA Observed Notes: Bourdain's LA, Villaraigosa fades to black
LA Observed Notes: After the holiday weekend edition