By Doug Porter
Another chapter in San Diego’s media history is closing, “Papa” Doug Manchester is selling San Diego’s Daily Fishwrap to Tribune Publishing, owners of the Los Angeles Times.
Today I’ll attempt to answer some obvious questions, re-cap reactions, and engage in aimless speculation about what the future will bring. Suffice it to say that those expecting a new era of enlightened journalism are bound to be disappointed, at least in the short run.
The good news here is that certain downtown interests are now “uncertain” about what the future will bring.
The Basics of the Deal
The number bandied about as the selling price for UT-San Diego is $85 million. It’s a cash and stock deal.
For $73 million in cash and $12 million in common stock Tribune Publishing will get the daily paper, eight community weeklies and assorted websites. They will also acquire an estimated $111 million in pension liabilities.
UT-San Diego currently has 622 employees, 173 of them in the newsroom. The LA Times coverage quoted Editor Jeff Light, saying:
“The business opportunity, and the journalistic opportunity, is very big…. Without a doubt, there will be some savings — which, unfortunately, is another way of saying layoffs.”
The most recent figures on its circulation are: Sunday: 271,564, 190,000 (Average) Daily. This circulation includes whatever readers (estimated to by be 78,000+) stayed on after the North County Times was folded into the UT.
The figures cited in the Alliance for Audited Media report for March 2013 were: 409,796 Sunday, 250,678 Daily.
Longtime observer (and former UT reporter) Don Bauder has written articles at the Reader claiming circulation figures posted during the Manchester era were inflated.
More from the LA Times coverage:
“We’re combining two of the most enduring institutions in California,” said Austin Beutner, Times publisher and chief executive. “We can take the best of what each newsroom can offer, and offer it to a broader customer base.”
Beutner will serve as publisher of both papers and as chief executive of the newly formed California News Group, which will oversee Tribune Publishing operations in the two markets.
He said the U-T would remain a separate newspaper, with an “authentic voice” reflecting its community. Beutner pledged to preserve its editorial independence. He added: “I also know the Los Angeles Times will benefit from a closer connection with its older sibling down south.”
Executives at both papers are examining how operations can be consolidated. One possibility is that The Times will print the San Diego paper.
Not included in the deal are: UT-San Diego’s Mission Valley headquarters, Papa Doug’s illegal classic car museum, other real estate holdings or the printing presses.
The newly formed California News Group will have a short-term lease for the editorial and business offices at the current location. They will be actively searching for a new location in the coming months.
Manchester has plans to build a complex including several hundred apartments at the paper’s current location. The real estate holdings kept by him in deal are valued at $43.6 million.
Getting the Deal Done
My best guess is that Manchester got tired of the media business. His political bets didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped. His real estate vision for a downtown stadium complex never caught on. His ham-handed attempt to threaten the Port District with bad press blew up in his face.
And Manchester’s prowess as a media mogul wasn’t working out either.
After months of boasting about how his video/cable operation would have a national reach, it was all-but-shuttered.
Just a few years ago the UT publisher was in the running as a buyer for the Boston Globe.
After losing out on the deal Manchester’s minions were quoted in various press accounts whining about being shut out of the deal for political reasons.
From the American Thinker:
Doug Manchester is reviled in the journalism world for having bought the U-T and having turned it in a conservative direction.
Yada, yada, yada… Obviously those folks had never read the paper in its Copley days.
As Dan Kennedy at Media Nation noted, the sale of the Globe to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry was done in large part because he was offering cash. Manchester was offering a complex financing scheme that would have taken many months to close.
Chris Cassidy reports in the Boston Herald that the group headed by Douglas Manchester, the right-wing businessman who owns the paper formerly known as the San Diego Union-Tribune, is squawking because its executives believe they offered more money for the Globe than Red Sox principal owner John Henry. Cassidy quotes John Lynch, the chief executive of U-T San Diego:
“We bid significantly more than Henry. At the end of the day, I’m certain our bid was higher and could have been a lot more higher if they had just asked. I’m just stunned. I thought this was a public company that had a fiduciary duty to get the most by its stockholders…. From the beginning, I don’t think they wanted to sell to us.”
Thereafter it was reported that Doug Manchester was in the running to buy the Los Angeles Times. That deal didn’t work out after the Tribune Company decided to split into two entities rather than sell off its assets piecemeal.
Last summer word leaked out that Manchester was looking to sell UT-San Diego.
From Ken Doctor at Newsonomics:
[The] Tribune outlasted two San Diego-based would-be buyers. Radio exec and sometime Manchester associate John Lynch, whose duties were diminished more than a year ago, has worked since last summer to put together a deal. He told me his last period of negotiating “exclusivity” ended 10 days ago. Lynch had been working to cajole various monied partners to buy out Manchester for awhile.
Businessman and philanthropist Malin Burnham had worked tirelessly to put together a civic nonprofit. He aimed at running a daily operation deeply tied to community, but couldn’t raise sufficient money to convince Doug Manchester to keep the paper locally owned. Burnham’s group wanted a keep-it-in-San Diego discount; it made its final offer to Manchester on Monday morning.
Reactions to the Sale
Ken Stone at the Times of San Diego, posted some local reactions:
Among those reacting was former Union reporter Paul Krueger, now with NBC San Diego, who said on Twitter: “Fantastic News! Tribune Publishing reportedly buys UT San Diego. We’ll have a legit newspaper again!”
On Facebook, San Diego’s Diane Shelley Voit wrote: “YES!!! We can finally subscribe again! Good riddance to Manchester.”
“Its a good day,” tweeted former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, later telling another commenter why he felt that way: “Existing owner never called you to say that he would use his paper to destroy you. #myperspective”
@tristanloper, 3.5 years since Papa Doug bought UT-SD to champion a stadium and still couldn’t get that “damn good thing done in this city”.
— Andy Kopp (@andykoppsd) May 7, 2015
UT-San Diego carried reactions from local bigwigs:
Former Mayor Jerry Sanders, who now helms the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, bemoaned the loss of the paper’s longstanding hometown ownership.
“It’ll be hard not having someone not understanding the history of San Diego as the new publisher,” Sanders said. “Probably everyone is apprehensive. The chamber has had a great relationship with the newspaper, and we hope that continues with the new publisher.”
The sale is a good move if it means preserving a daily newspaper in San Diego, said longtime County Supervisor Ron Roberts.
“The world is changing, and it’s having an enormous impact on newspapers. And to have a group that knows the newspaper business and that will provide good, quality reporting in San Diego, that’s first and foremost the important thing happening here,” said Roberts. “You’re still going to have to have people here doing the real work, and I’m confident that is going to happen.”
Malin Burnham, the wealthy developer who led a group that worked over the last year to buy the U-T using a nonprofit ownership structure to support local charities, was a bit let down by the news.
“I’m personally disappointed that Papa Doug didn’t sell it to us, but he’s the owner and that’s his privilege, so I’m not complaining,” Burnham said.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer sounded an optimistic note: “The U-T has an incredible track record of excellent journalists and quality reporting, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”
The Future of the Union-Tribune
The announcement from LA Times publisher Austin Beutner used the term San Diego Union-Tribune to describe the paper, and several news accounts have mentioned executives considering reverting to the brand created following the merger of the morning and evening papers in 1992.
The most obvious change–and the deal won’t be closed until June 30th–will be the elimination of “Papa” Doug Manchester’s voice.
I’d bet in the short term very little else will change. Jeff Light will remain as editor. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith will still have the newsroom on his speed dial (or AOL frequent contacts list, as it were).
From Ken Doctor at Newsonomics:
It’s hard to consider any print-based company a monopoly these days, but the outsized power of one company editorially should be the subject of concern and debate. U-T editor Jeff Light has done an admirable job of holding together a newsroom and a product under challenging owners, budgets, and policies over five years.
Further, San Diego’s civic community has never liked the shadow thrown on it by bigger Los Angeles. What will local mean as the Tribune/Times takes control of the property? We can expect that the U-T will maintain the brand – and that the Times will then consolidate all business and editorial efficiencies possible.
So hold the champagne, folks. The Union-Tribune isn’t going to morph into the Daily Worker or even the Los Angeles Times. Newspapers are like ocean liners in that they don’t make hard right or left turns. If we get lucky, word will leak out that the Koch brothers are looking for a few scribes in the run-up to 2016 and some of the more offensive types will migrate.
The best we can hope for at this point is a newsprint representation of San Diego without a human who thinks it’s acceptable to be called Papa at the helm. If that reality makes Jerry Sanders and the Chamber of Commerce nervous, I consider this to be a good start.
Oh, and the Bring the LA Times Back to San Diego Facebook page can officially shut down.
On This Day: 1945 – President Harry Truman announced that World War II had ended in Europe. 1970- About 200 construction workers in New York City attacked a crowd of Vietnam war protesters four days after the Kent State killings. More than 70 people were injured, including four police officers. Peter Brennan, head of the New York building trades, was honored at the Nixon White House two weeks later, eventually named Secretary of Labor. 1985 – “New Coke” was released to the public on the 99th anniversary of Coca-Cola.
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