Soon-Shiong moving LA Times home to El Segundo

possible-lat-elsegundo-hq-twitter.jpgLA Times staffers say this is where the newspaper will be moving before July. Meg James on Twitter

For the first time in its history, the Los Angeles Times will be housed outside the city of Los Angeles by this summer.

New owner Patrick Soon-Shiong spoke to the assembled staff on Friday and said most of the right things about his aspirations for the paper. He wants it to be dominant again in the West and be up to date on news technologies. He was a little bit jumbled in his message about how the paper should handle the problem of covering Donald Trump, who Soon-Shiong offered to advise after the election, but he called "fake news" (the made-up kind, not Trump's bastardization) "the cancer of our time" and pledged a strong Washington bureau to report independently on national affairs. He's happy to be here and even spoke to the salary disparities that roiled the Times staff earlier in the week.

In the end, I suspect it will be the move out of downtown Los Angeles that shapes the image of Soon-Shiong's early years as a media mogul.

He says the paper's newsroom and offices will move to a new "campus" he is building out on property Soon-Shiong owns in El Segundo, the small South Bay city adjacent to LAX and LA's giant Hyperion sewage treatment plant. The move, he says, will save money that can be used for news coverage and let the Times be wired up for all its video and web needs. The Times' home at 1st and Spring streets in the Civic Center was already sold before Chicago's Tribune Company created Tronc, the odd little duck of a company from which Soon-Shiong acquired the Times and the San Diego Times-Union. (The remains of Tronc imploded last week.) The former Times Mirror Square is scheduled for a major redevelopment — hopefully preserving the 1935 Gordon-Kaufmann-designed Times building as commercial offices — and Soon-Shiong said the rent spiked too high for the Times to remain a renter in its own legacy home.

From the Times story:

"There's not much time for me to find accommodation for 800 people," he told more than 300 employees who jammed into the Chandler Auditorium in the Times building to get their first glimpse of Soon-Shiong. "We decided that we needed to create the most modern newsroom … one that respects the work and the lifestyle of the people who work in the newsroom."

"We need to build a campus that is there for the next 100 years, not to lease a building," he said.

There were audible gasps in the auditorium when Soon-Shiong announced the move....

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Soon-Shiong's wife, Michele, is leading the design of the space, and he made several references to her interest in The Times' noted Test Kitchen. Two local architecture firms — Tichenor and Thorp in Century City and CO Architects in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood — have been hired to do the buildout.

Soon-Shiong has been snapping up properties in El Segundo, including one that houses the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Medicine, a center that offers diagnostics and personalized treatment for cancer patients.

"Everything he does is first class," said Suzanne Fuentes, the mayor of El Segundo, adding that she was delighted by the news of the paper's relocation.

It's a big personal stand by Soon-Shiong and I understand his position, but it's one that I think is tone deaf with a confused message for his staffers.

There were immediate howls that the Times needs to be downtown, preferably across the street from City Hall — just like in the Chandler days! — but that's just tradition and habit. On a strictly editorial basis, it doesn't greatly matter where a newspaper's newsroom is located. Reporters can work the phones from anywhere. Website editors and servers just need a robust internet connection and bandwidth. Downtown is more central for getting places, but the location has also always led to the Times having a downtown-centric view of Los Angeles life and culture, one reason the paper has traditionally had a problem bonding with Angelenos, who to be charitable do not view DTLA as the supreme center of the city. For the reporting work that does need to happen every day downtown, like covering government bodies and the LAPD, a satellite bureau can (and should) be rented or located in the Times' Industrial District printing plant. For coverage of Skid Row, protests and other institutions that are downtown, reporters can get out of the office, as they should be doing more of anyway to cover news in the undercovered Valley, South LA, Westside, Long Beach or the San Gabriel Valley.

The reality of LA news media is that none of the TV stations that cover Southern California with multiple hours of news every day keep their journalists downtown. (Most TV newsrooms are in the Valley.) Associated Press has its LA bureau on Figueroa Street, as does the public radio show "Marketplace," but it's much more common for news bureaus to be on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile district, local home of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. KPCC is in Pasadena; KCRW will soon move into new studios in the techy part of Santa Monica. Reporters for the Daily News sit in Woodland Hills.

This is not to say it won't be harder and far less efficient to cover SoCal from El Segundo. It definitely will be. A much smarter location would have been on the edge of downtown, like in the converted Ford Factory space at 7th and Santa Fe in the Arts Distrct where Warner Music is moving (and that BuzzFeed News reportedly considered) — close to all of downtown, the Eastside and three freeways. El Segundo is located way over on the edge of the Southern California urban morass, not easily reached from anywhere except the 405 freeway corridor and the 105, or Century Freeway. Despite talk about Silicon Beach this or tech that, El Segundo is not becoming the vital center of anything important to what the Times covers. It's just a city of fewer than 17,000 residents that swells to about 60,000 with workday commuters to aerospace and other industries.

Many times of day, it's probably faster to get on a plane at LAX and fly to San Francisco, Las Vegas or Phoenix than it is to drive from El Segundo to some corners of the city of Los Angeles like Chatsworth or Tujunga or Highland Park. Edges of the county like Claremont, Whittier or the foothill areas are even farther off. Don't even talk about Palmdale and the county's desert communities.

So yeah, if you had to you could cover Los Angeles County and Southern California from Riverside or Santa Ana — if you don't mind your reporters spending an extra hour on the road (each way) to get anywhere. One cost of being located on the far edge of the region is that Soon-Shioing will be paying people to sit in hours and hours of traffic. The bigger question for Soon-Shiong is did he consider — or even realize — the impact this move will have on his own people's lives and on Times hiring?

As the Times empire contracted inward during the years that Tribune bean counters shuttered offices in the Valley, Orange County and other suburban areas, more of the staff has chosen to live downtown (and walk to work) or in communities like Silver Lake, Mt. Washington, Hollywood and Northeast LA that are downtown close for driving or Metro commuting. Many of them like being downtown or transit focused, especially now with the restaurant and cultural options being so much better than a decade ago. It's not the chosen lifestyle of most Angelenos or Times readers, but big-city journalists, at least here, tend to be more urban and better paid than most of the populations they cover. They like living in Los Angeles and consider DTLA outside their workplace door the beating heart.

Many of the people in the Times building, including those who live beyond in Glendale and along the foothills or in the Valley, now face a major life disruption. If they join the move to El Segundo, they will be forced into the ranks of the region's most unlucky commuters — those who have to use the nation's most jammed traffic routes to cut all the way across the basin to the coast, every day. These are the people who spend among the most hours on the road, leave home the earliest in the morning, and look to move or change jobs for their health and sanity. There is a Metro light-rail line to El Segundo, the Green Line, and the new Crenshaw-LAX Line will soon be serving the same general area, but it's a long slog from many parts of Los Angeles.

I suspect that El Segundo in and if itself will become a job retention issue for the Times and a real impediment to hiring the best people in future years. If you can work in the heart of Los Angeles for BuzzFeed News, make about the same money, and enjoy a larger web audience working around people your own age and web savviness, why not? Actually, several have left the LAT for BuzzFeed and other web news outlets (or for KPCC or the New York Times or the Hollywood trades) in recent years.

Columnist Steve Lopez, arguably the paper's biggest news side star and likely the highest paid writer not in Sports, listened to Soon-Shiong's Friday pep talk and wrote that he's heard it all before. But he's in, for now.

We'll work hard. We'll hope for the best.

We'll see.

I can't kid you. We've lost tons of knowledge and experience over the years. But what's left is a lot of talent, hunger, young energy and diversity, and a fighting spirit that led to formation of a union to take on the evil deeds of corporate thugs and beat a drum on pay disparities. Here's hoping Soon-Shiong comes through on the promise to grow the paper's staff and reach, because the city and state need more watchdogs, more eyes and ears in places where today there is no witness to the daily dramas that shape our lives.

By the way, Soon-Shiong didn't say exactly where his property is located. But Mitchell Landsberg, a Times editor on the national and foreign desk, thinks he found it at 2300 Imperial Highway, pretty much right under the Century (105) Freeway, and close to a Green Line stop.

Another factor not be disregarded is that the Times' history resides in the 1935 offices. Sure, cracks open up in the stairwells in every earthquake, the leaky walls grow some big cockroaches, and the shrunken Times itself is only on a few floors these days. But it's where the paper became a major journalistic force, there is an old Chandler family apartment upstairs, and the people who work there love inhabiting the place. You could do a pretty good LA history book just around things that happened in or around the Times building.

Data Desk editor Ben Welsh gave an awesome Twitter tour:

Here's some of the public reaction from Times journalists and coverage in the media.

L.A. Times’s New Owner Plans Big Moves. First Up, Relocating to the Suburbs - New York Times

Patrick Soon-Shiong — immigrant, doctor, billionaire, and soon, newspaper owner — starts a new era at the L.A. Times - LAT

LA Times is leaving downtown Los Angeles for El Segundo. Will it be forever? - KPCC

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