This is according to an interview given to the UK’s Guardian newspaper by Patrick Soon-Shiong, a transplant surgeon by training and later a professor of microbiology and immunology, who bought the Times earlier this year for $500 million. Following a career in which his medical businesses have made him a multi-billionaire, his latest move seeks to relieve some of the news business’ most pressing problems.
Explaining his decision to buy, he said, “it’s got nothing to do with the business analysis. It’s got to do with an analysis of what’s important for humanity.”
In recent years, the LA Times has been thinking more about what would ensure its survival rather than about its role in humanity. Times staff greeted Soon-Shiong’s purchase of the paper with champagne; it marked the end of the disastrous Tronc era, which had been rough for Times staff: cuts, layoffs, and short-term executive leadership. For other papers, the effects of continuously falling revenues are still all too close.
Soon-Shiong’s plan goes back to basics. His vision is not to create so much a digital-first product but an institution to rival the Washington Post and New York Times.
“Can we compete with them? Not can, must, we must compete with them,” he says, suggesting that competition will lead to a thriving market rather than a route to monopoly. He takes the responsibility of news seriously, “all of us have to be the bastions of democracy in this country. We have to be this fourth estate”.
Weaknesses in the economics of news are not the only problem in his crosshairs, however. The mobile phone, he tells the Guardian, has caused an absence of leisurely reading. “You have a generation (whose) brains have been wired to look at short pieces with not long attention spans.
“This is now an addictive phenomenon that gives you short pieces of paragraphs, Twitter, that then makes it impossible to separate true information, unbiased information, from what is considered fake news.
“Clickbait and chasing clicks is absolutely not going to be the vision of what we do. I don’t want itinerant 10-second eyeballs.”
Part of his aim is to build a place for valued content, with quality drawing readers. “We need to find ways to actually value the content ... it means people understanding cloud computing, software architecture, gaming, livestreaming, podcasting. I’m looking at a hundred-year plan, literally.”
Though he was thin on the details for funding the paper or for providing value to advertisers, he suggested that the paper’s core print product would remain. “Kids today want to buy vinyl records”, he said, “so you’ll have hipster kids wanting to see paper soon.”
Sourced from the Guardian, Variety; additional content by WARC staff