The L.A. Times to El Segundo? Really?

DTLA - Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong may in time prove to be the local and visionary leader that the Los Angeles Times desperately needs. However, his first major decision, to move the paper out of Downtown Los Angeles and to a new headquarters in, of all places, El Segundo, is dunderheaded and tone deaf to the greater community.

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Soon-Shiong’s $500 million acquisition of the Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and other properties in the California News Group is expected to close this month. The return to local ownership for the first time since 2000, and extricating the Times from the odious grasp of Michael Ferro’s Tronc, deserves all the applause it has received. Soon-Shiong’s promise to invest in journalism is precisely what the institution requires. The Times is the most important newsgathering organization on the West Coast and deserves to be as strong as possible.

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But location matters, on both a physical and symbolic level, and fleeing Downtown when the community is thriving is the wrong choice. Maybe negotiations with the landlord, Onni Group, make it impossible for the Times to remain in the property it has occupied since 1935, but did Soon-Shiong and his real estate team really exhaust every possibility to remain in Downtown, and find that nothing here pencils out financially? Or is it just easier to go to a property he controls?

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We’re in an era where companies are ditching other locations to come Downtown. Warner Music Group is leaving Burbank for a headquarters in the Arts District. Prominent architecture firm the Jerde Partnership is trading Venice Beach, its home for three decades, for space in Downtown. The list goes on.

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Yet as other firms capitalize on a growing community teeming with housing, the region’s most exciting dining scene and a wealth of cultural outlets, Soon-Shiong is taking hundreds of employee to a space near LAX.

To be sure, in the 21st century one can operate a newspaper anywhere, and reporters can file stories from any place where there is an Internet connection. It doesn’t matter where a physical paper is printed as long as there is an effective distribution plan.

But with that said, Soon-Shiong is displaying outdated thinking by moving the headquarters far away from the local power base and the most important entities and stories the Times covers (the center of government, the locus of homelessness, etc.). Even if a Downtown satellite office remains, he’ll weaken the Times’ institutional status by situating it in a small city known for oil production.

The initial response has been skeptical, with speculation that staffers are fretting about onerous commutes, and one can envision reporters who live nowhere near El Segundo looking for new jobs. There’s also the environmental hit that will come with hundreds of cars driving to and from El Segundo each day.

A long and respected tradition is not the only reason to remain in Downtown. More important is that this is the center of the region, the place people and businesses want to be in 2018. Now, as other companies rush in, the Times is moving in the wrong direction.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2018