By Doug Porter
Early Thursday afternoon media reporter Ken Doctor at Newsonomics broke the news, saying Papa Doug Manchester was about to sell San Diego’s daily newspaper to the corporate owners of the Los Angeles Times.
Southern California, poking northward into Santa Barbara and stretching southward to the Mexican border, will soon become Tribune Territory.
In a deal intended to be soon announced, Tribune Publishing will buy UT San Diego (the former San Diego Union Tribune) for about $80 million — and the assumption of growing pension obligations, recently upped to more than $100 million, I’ve learned through several confidential sources.
A couple of hours later UT-San Diego made it official:
Austin Beutner, the Times publisher and chief executive, will hold those posts at both companies after the deal closes in coming weeks. Employing about 500 journalists in the Times newsroom and 175 at the U-T, the combined companies would offer subject-matter expertise that no competitor can match, he said.
“That’s our comparative advantage; … we have more voices and more content, and that’s how we win in a digital world,” Beutner said in an interview before the announcement.
“We compete by having the best content.”
To that end, Beutner said a regional operating parent, called California News Group, would keep the Times and U-T as distinct brands and separate newsrooms. Yet he said they would share some stories, photos, video and other content, when doing so can best serve readers.
Most people won’t notice any changes, aside from improved coverage, Beutner said.
One change would be hard to miss, however: Executives will consider returning to the name The San Diego Union-Tribune, the brand since 1992 (when The San Diego Union and The Tribune merged) that was compressed to San Diego U-T in 2010 by former owner Platinum Equity, and to U-T San Diego by current owner “Papa” Doug Manchester.
The UT coverage included a “letter to readers” from Beunter:
I am pleased to announce that Tribune Publishing Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, has agreed to acquire The San Diego Union-Tribune. At the close of the transaction, I will serve as publisher of the Union-Tribune, which will join the Los Angeles Times as the flagship publications of a newly formed California News Group.
For San Diego and for all of California this is an important day, a recommitment to the values of independent journalism. The Union-Tribune, which traces its history back 146 years, will continue its role in the San Diego community, reaching an audience of more than a million readers every week.
California is a state defined by its geography and its people. Mountain ranges and coastlines, waterways and fault lines have shaped its cities and created urban identities as unique as its personalities and landmarks.
San Diego, the birthplace of California, is a city of both “pleasure and innovation,” to borrow a line from its great local scribe, the late Neil Morgan.
We take pride in the accomplishments of baseball greats like Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn, literary lions like Theodor Geisel and L. Frank Baum, philanthropists like Joan Kroc and the Copley family and visionaries like Jonas Salk and Roger Revelle.
And we look to the next generation of talent emerging from San Diego’s universities, biotech and communication industries, from the Old Globe and Comic-Con, from the border and military bases — at all points where this rich metropolis engages with both the nation and the world.
With four Pulitzer Prizes among the Union-Tribune’s honors, we are mindful of its role in the community, and we will preserve the independence of the Union-Tribune’s newsroom and its award-winning writers, photographers and editors.
I am aware of the fierce devotion that readers of the Union-Tribune bring to their hometown newspaper, and the Union-Tribune will continue to be a destination for trusted journalism delivering essential news, analysis and commentary that engages all viewpoints. I also know that Los Angeles will benefit from a closer connection to its southern neighbor.
When Neil Morgan visited Jonas Salk’s laboratory in La Jolla more than 50 years ago, he asked the scientist why he had left New York. Salk looked to the sea and answered, “I see San Diego as an empty canvas on which to paint my dreams.” Many of those dreams have come true; many have yet to be realized.
The San Diego Union-Tribune will be there, continuing to engage and inform you.
Look for more coverage and some analysis late Friday morning in The Starting Line column.