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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

It’s Just What the Doctor Ordered

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong appears to be the ideal owner for Los Angeles Times. For one thing, his head is in the right place. If you read his letter to readers when his purchase was closed, he hit pitch-perfect notes. He resisted any temptation to take some stand or promise another new direction. There was no hint of an urge to commit some financial engineering crime or impose a jarring initiative to make the newspaper financially viable. Instead, he wrote about the past in a comforting way. He cited the importance of journalism and how vital newspapers were to him when he was growing up in apartheid South Africa. He said he wanted to protect these “storied institutions of democracy,” referring to the Los Angeles Times and the other properties he bought, including the San Diego Union-Tribune. He concluded by writing: “My family and I are deeply grateful for this opportunity to support our institutions and to continue this vital mission.” Get that? He wants to support our institutions. Not change them. Another reason Soon-Shiong appears to be perfect owner: He is a multi-multi-billionaire. That’s good because his need to make the newspapers profitable is close to absolute zero. I mean, if the Times and its fellow news organizations lose a few million dollars a year – or a few dozen million – what’s that to him? Example: If the newspapers lose $100 million next year, that equals less than one half of 1 percent of $21.6 billion, his estimated net worth by the Los Angeles Business Journal. He could sustain losses like that for 200 years and still be a billionaire. (I’m not saying he should or he would sustain losses like that. I’m just saying he could.) Side note: This goes a long way toward explaining why extremely wealthy individuals have taken to buying newspapers. Metro daily papers in Washington, D.C., Boston, Minneapolis and Las Vegas have all sold to local billionaires in the last few years. Meanwhile, corporations – especially publicly traded ones that have a fiduciary duty to make money for shareholders – have been exiting the newspaper business. They need to. Look, no one knows if Soon-Shiong ultimately will prove to be a good shepherd. All we know is that he appears at the outset to be a perfect owner, and he’s saying the right things about wanting to protect the public trust. And after all the L.A. Times has been through – with the Sam Zells and the Troncs of the world – maybe, just maybe, fortunes have finally turned in the newspaper’s favor. • • • Excuse me for venting a personal pet peeve, but I’ve got a question I’d like to ask local restaurant owners. The question stems from the fact that restaurateurs apparently have told waiters and waitresses that it’s perfectly OK, expected even, for them to interrupt the customers. I honestly believe I have been interrupted every single time I’ve been in a restaurant in the 12-plus years I’ve lived in Los Angeles. I mean, it must be written down somewhere in the waitstaff training manual because it’s a rule, apparently. Doesn’t matter if you’re in an expensive restaurant or you’re there for breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks. Doesn’t matter if you’re in an intense conversation or a job interview. Doesn’t matter if you’re asking that special someone to marry you. It just doesn’t matter. You will be interrupted, mid-word, by something like this: “My name’s Adam and boy, oh boy, do we have a fantastic bouillabaisse I want to tell you about…” This is by far the most annoying part of going to a restaurant in Los Angeles. More annoying even than the music that’s played at a decibel level so high you’d think you’re standing on the runway at LAX. True, the cancer of interrupting waiters has slowly metastasized across the country. But I swear it is particularly brazen and prevalent here. I was a waiter for a brief period and we were told never to interrupt. OK, I grant you, that was a long time ago. But manners are still manners. I recall at the end of a 45-minute training lesson for new waiters, the manager said something like this: “If you remember nothing else from this session, remember these two things: Never – ever! – interrupt your guests. And always – always! – recommend expensive wine.” Somehow the expensive-wine rule has survived through the ages. But the no-interrupting rule has been blown away and replaced with the requirement, apparently, that guests must be insulted and annoyed by being interrupted. So, my question for restaurant owners is this: Why don’t you try – just try! – to enact a no-interrupting rule? And while we’re at it, let me add this question: Can you turn down the music? Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@sfvbj.com.

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.

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