SAN DIEGO — An immigrant who once bundled ink-fresh newspapers at a newspaper printing press took control of the San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday, and promised in a letter to readers to fight fake news as if it were cancer.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech billionaire who has dedicated most of his fortune to fighting cancer, on Monday will finalize his $500 million- plus purchase of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and some community newspapers.
His purchase of the Union-Tribune returned it to the control of a Californian nine years after an investment group bought it from the Copley family of San Diego. And it marked the end of 16 years of often-chaotic control of the L.A. Times, a 135-year-old institution, by the Tribune Company of Chicago.
Soon-Shiong wrote a letter to readers Sunday, printed on page A10 of the U-T and page A7 of The Times.
“I believe that fake news is the cancer of our times and social media the vehicles for metastasis,” he wrote. “Institutions like The Times and the Union-Tribune are more vital than ever.”
Soon-Shiong said the Internet has sparked “an era of digitally- enabled disruptions which pose an existential threat to the traditional newspaper industry,” and said the newspaper group will have to be run like a business. Then he added: “we will invest in the group’s future.”
Soon-Shiong wrote that his first job was on the truck dock of the Port Elizabeth Evening Post newspaper in South Africa. “I still recall the sounds and smells of the printing presses as the first papers rolled off the conveyor belt.
“I would grab as many as 800 copies from an ink-stained pressman, handing them off to my cadre of `runners’ who would then deliver them to local businesses and residences,” he wrote.
“Newspapers were not only in my blood, they also engaged my mind.”
Soon-Shiong said The Post’s stories taught him “what it meant to grow up `non-white’ under apartheid. I came to understand the evil consequences of racism and discrimination.
“I began to appreciate the essential role journalism plays in fostering and sustaining democracy and free societies.”
The new publisher said he wants to preserve “the integrity, honesty and fairness we’ve observed in our decades as avid readers of the Los Angeles Times.
“My family and I fervently believe that The Times, the Union-Tribune and our other titles must continue to serve as beacons of truth, hope and inspiration binding our communities,” he wrote.
“We view the publications we acquired as a quasi-public trust,” Soon- Shiong wrote. “We understand they will be the voice and inspiration for our cities, our state, the nation and the world.”