Los Angeles Times owner’s optimism toward future of print journalism inspires sophomore
The Los Angeles Festival of Books at USC on April 13-14 offered several booths for visitors to explore. The event also featured several book talks and discussions among authors, including journalists as well as the owner of the Los Angeles Times. Photo taken by Accolade adviser Tommy Li

I only knew he was Asian from internet searches (yes, I know that Wikipedia is not the best reliable source).

And that he bought the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, Hoy Los Angeles and more for $500 million in February 2018.

On April 13 at the Los Angeles Festival of Books at USC, I attended one of the sessions in which this millionaire was the featured guest speaker.

He spoke with a slight accent that I couldn’t quite place, and his deep voice surprised me for someone who stole Luke Skywalker’s hairstyle and made it work with a gray, black and white color scheme.

Ahem.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, net worth of $7.1 billion from the work he has done with his companies NantHealth, NantKwest and NantWorks, 2017’s No. 1 wealthiest Los Angeleno, part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, high school graduate at 16 years old and doctor by 23.

This is all from online research after-the-fact. Just give me some credit here before I say I didn’t really know the other guy (the moderator), either.

Ahem.

Ladies and gentlemen, Los Angeles Times’ executive editor Norman, “Norm,” Pearlstine, who previously worked as Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief and served as executive editor for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg L.P. and Forbes. (For those of you non-journalese-speaking human beings, this is a really, really big deal.)

On April 13, the two of them were part of the “In Conversation” session at the Festival of Books at USC.

The annual Times-hosted event “gathers writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians and emerging storytellers,” according to the LA Times Events website. The discussion ranged from how Soon-Shiong bought the ex-TRONC-owned newspaper in 2018 to his experience of living in South Africa under apartheid, which involved the racial mistreatment of native South Africans.

When Soon-Shiong bought the Times, he told the hundreds of people in the audience that he only had 48 hours to “in my mind, [not only] save a local paper, but also save democracy.”

Well, I always thought two days is a long time, but this is $500 million, people. The adult world doesn’t work like that when Tronc Inc. is waiting for your money, y’all.

For me as a journalism student, watching Pearlstine refrain from asking Soon-Shiong yes-or-no questions presented a real-life scenario of what reporters do. Pearlstine didn’t always leave it open-ended but included details allowing Soon-Shiong to expand on his answers.

So when Pearlstine mentioned print journalism, he also asked how Soon-Shiong saw the publication’s brand. I took his response to represent the role of all news outlets — including The Accolade — to provide local news and information to inspire the nation. (We might not inspire the nation, but school is a good start.)

He also said the Times is responsible to find stories that are of interest to the readers, not necessarily the advertisers.

“Now this is not a pitch to subscribe,” Soon-Shiong said, “but it is a pitch to subscribe,” prompting laughter from the packed crowd.

Pearlstine added, “But don’t think you can leave this room without signing up.”

And Soon-Shiong again, “It’s the only way for us to survive.”

This didn’t just remind me of the often rumored dying industry that is print journalism, but the popular YouTube tagline urging viewers to like videos and subscribe to the channel. (Be sure to write me in the comments — er, Leave a Reply section — down below!)

Sharing his background as a Chinese, non-white, South African, Soon-Shiong said it taught him the “dignity of strength [and] generated, for me, an empathy” for people today who feel unrecognized, misunderstood and dissatisfied with their state-given rights. When those people say others don’t understand because they didn’t walk in their shoes, Soon-Shiong said he has walked and lived in those shoes.

I see myself as an empathetic person also, and although I have not encountered extreme racial inequality, I tried to put myself in the shoes of older generation reporters at the festival.

One attraction that I visited after listening to these newspaper bigwigs featured typewriters, some colorful and others in glossy black, but all old. I tried to use one and found myself stumbling over letters and leaving them out when I didn’t punch a key hard enough.

Every time I missed a letter I had to keep spamming the backspace button to go backward and type the letter again.

Even seeing how the machines worked without an electric plug or anything was amazing. Imagine reporters several decades ago stabbing away at a clunky keyboard to sell a story (reminds me of some funny scenes in a movie called “The Front Page”). Must have been a great workout, but such a pain to compared to today’s almost-silent butterfly computer keyboards.

Today, the future of physical newspapers seem bleak. Like future-generations-will-be-in-awe-of-such-an-inconvenient-relic bleak. But that will change if print journalism gets more readers — that means you!

This is not a pitch to read The Accolade, but it is a pitch to read The Accolade.

If our reporters aren’t putting the interest of readers first, tell us in the Letters to the Editor; don’t worry, it’s email or social media now, not a snail mail letter.

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