A Newsmaker Buys the Local Newspaper

A Newsmaker Buys the Local Newspaper

File Photo by Sam Hodgson

The San Diego Union-Tribune's Mission Valley headquarters.

 

Hotelier Doug Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday, returning the paper to local ownership in a sale that would appear to turn a big profit for a private equity firm that bought it two years ago.

In a brief interview, Manchester said he paid “above” $110 million for the newspaper. “The asking price was a lot higher than that,” he said. The price is more than double what the Wall Street Journal said Platinum Equity bought the paper for in 2009.

Manchester, a prominent conservative downtown hotelier who insists on being called “Papa Doug,” takes the reins as owner; John Lynch, a former radio executive, will become the president and CEO of the newspaper company. Manchester declined other comment, saying the parties in the sale had agreed to stay silent until the deal was finalized between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15.

“Taking ownership of a 143-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization comes with great responsibility,” Manchester said in a prepared news release. “We believe San Diego is the finest city in America and pledge to be strong advocates for the city’s interests and conscientious caretakers of the Union-Tribune and its legacy.”

During a newsroom meeting, a source said Publisher Ed Moss welcomed the sale and reported that Manchester was interested in the newspaper — not just the 13 acres in Mission Valley that comes with it. The paper’s headquarters sits on valuable land just south of the Fashion Valley mall.

Though many journalists at the paper were relieved when the newspaper was sold in 2009, today’s reaction was mixed, the newsroom source said.

“Nobody was crying,” the person said, “but nobody was screaming with joy.”

After Platinum bought the newspaper in 2009, it hired a new publisher and editor, slowed the loss of print subscribers and put an increased focus online. The newspaper was redesigned, rebranded and reinvigorated after suffering through three listless years as Copley downsized the flagging paper without offering any coherent strategy for what it would become.

But with the 2009 sale, the family-owned paper also became just another distressed asset waiting to be rehabbed and flipped. Unlike Copley, whose family name was synonymous with the Union-Tribune, Platinum’s identity wasn’t defined by the paper. The Union-Tribune’s new top leaders weren’t local. The conservative editorial page softened.

Now the newspaper is again owned by a man with a clear identity and politics. Manchester is easier to label: Waterfront developer. Downtown hotelier. Gay marriage opponent. Tony Perry, the Los Angeles Times’ longtime San Diego bureau chief, described Manchester as “a minor league Donald Trump.”

Subscribe to the Morning Report.

“He enjoys the game,” Perry said. In any deal, “he enjoys the negotiating and manipulating and dreaming about what it could be.”

He also thrusts the Union-Tribune’s newsroom into what is an awkward position for any newspaper. It will have to report on its master. Manchester is a newsmaker. Look no farther than the newspaper’s website Wednesday night, just hours before the sale was announced. Two of its top stories online were about Manchester. One about his Del Mar resort hotel earning five stars, another about his $1.3 billion development planned on Navy property downtown.

Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, said he welcomed the sale to Manchester, whom he described as “a brilliant guy.”

“Anybody who can get something built in San Diego has to be one of the higher primates, because it’s so hard to get anything done in this city,” Nelson said. “He’s a smart guy. Could it be any worse than Platinum? Probably not. There’s a part of me that says: ‘Let’s see what he can do with this paper and whether he can save it.’ I’m willing to let him give it a try.”

Manchester has been a polarizing figure, one known for his brash negotiations and controversial politics. He sponsored a 1994 effort that sought to move the city’s international airport off the waterfront and to the Marine base at Miramar. The $125,000 he donated to the 2008 initiative to ban gay marriage in California attracted a high-profile boycott of his local hotels. His stand on marriage drew attention to his own divorce a year later.

“He has a well-earned reputation for being a small-minded, resentful, mean-spirited man,” said Fred Sainz, the former spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders. “And those are not the character traits you want in the publisher of your newspaper. It’s going to be hard to believe the editorial positions of the newspaper were arrived at in a thoughtful and unbiased manner.”

Sainz said he thought the community needed to stage an intervention. “It’s putting way too much power in the hands of one person with a multitude of agendas,” he said.

Across San Diego, the sale prompted speculation about what was in store for the newspaper’s politics and what was once an influential conservative editorial page. But Perry, the L.A. Times bureau chief, said whatever Manchester’s politics (he’s a conservative who has supported Mitt Romney), the editorial page would lack the influence it once had.

“The days when people could use that to shape public events is pretty much gone,” Perry said. “If anyone thinks they can buy it and become the king of Siam, they’ll find out to their chagrin that it won’t happen.”

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Rob Davis

Rob Davis

Rob Davis is a former senior reporter for Voice of San Diego. He is currently a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at robdaviswrites@gmail.com or 619.259.0529.

  • 152 Posts
  • 3
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

47 comments
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

She's asking who will not editorialize in news stories and headlines; who will keep the lines of communication open by not restricting public comment to membership in "facebeook;" who will go after a Police Chief who sees, speaks and hears no evil; who will pursue secrecy in high public places such as the office of the Strong Mayor; who will uncover chicanery in the administration of redevelopment agencies; who will question closely and persistently all candidates for public office about their philosophies and their past records; who will not forget to tell the stories of the poor and their struggle to stay working, healthy and able to properly educate their kids. She's asking who will adequately fund a journal who can staff and do all these things and more.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

Manchester must be slipping badly as a businessperson: He is going to spend mega-millions to buy something he and the other downtown business-developer interests already "own."

fryefan
fryefan

Manchester must be slipping badly as a businessperson: He is going to spend mega-millions to buy something he and the other downtown business-developer interests already "own."

Charles Rickman
Charles Rickman subscribermember

I am very glad Mr Manchester and Lynch bought the UT. Now they can build a Chargers stadium where the UT stands now and pay for it themselves. Good Work Gents!

tellmewhy
tellmewhy

I am very glad Mr Manchester and Lynch bought the UT. Now they can build a Chargers stadium where the UT stands now and pay for it themselves. Good Work Gents!

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

"Newsmaker" seems like such a kind description for Boss Manchester. How much does Manchester contribute to VOSD every year?

Don Wood
Don Wood

"Newsmaker" seems like such a kind description for Boss Manchester. How much does Manchester contribute to VOSD every year?

Eva Vargas
Eva Vargas subscriber

I didn't know where else to place this msg . . . Here's a good place as any. Mr. Manchester is pro business, so what else is new. I know the reasons he'll give, but again what else is new. All I fear is WHO IS FOR US? The general population of San Diego is fighting to survive. Businesses for the most part want to be rich no matter what the cost to the San Diego public, but what's worse they want to get rich on the sweat of our backs. Occupy San Diego HAD the right idea and now it has piddled out. Don't get me wrong I do my part, I'm part of the San Diego Organizing Project an organization who organizes people to speak for themselves and make changes and not just TALK about making changes or what's wrong with San Diego. AND they're not socialists.

evavrgs
evavrgs

I didn't know where else to place this msg . . . Here's a good place as any. Mr. Manchester is pro business, so what else is new. I know the reasons he'll give, but again what else is new. All I fear is WHO IS FOR US? The general population of San Diego is fighting to survive. Businesses for the most part want to be rich no matter what the cost to the San Diego public, but what's worse they want to get rich on the sweat of our backs. Occupy San Diego HAD the right idea and now it has piddled out. Don't get me wrong I do my part, I'm part of the San Diego Organizing Project an organization who organizes people to speak for themselves and make changes and not just TALK about making changes or what's wrong with San Diego. AND they're not socialists.

Dale Peterson
Dale Peterson subscribermember

As to the Fred Sainz comments. Did Sainz work for the mayor, or did he work for the U-T Op.Ed board---and which one of those two did Bob Kittle work for? As I recall, the two of them seemed to be working both sides of that street as the co-PR directors for Jerry Sanders, strong mayor to the rescue. Conflicts of interest nothing new in San Diego.

Dale Peterson
Dale Peterson

As to the Fred Sainz comments. Did Sainz work for the mayor, or did he work for the U-T Op.Ed board---and which one of those two did Bob Kittle work for? As I recall, the two of them seemed to be working both sides of that street as the co-PR directors for Jerry Sanders, strong mayor to the rescue. Conflicts of interest nothing new in San Diego.

Renee Perry
Renee Perry subscriber

All I can sasy is Thank God! I was getting ready to cancel our subscription because of the Left leaning newspaper! We were sick and tired of reading the Editorial page and most articles from the New York Times and other Left leaning commentators! I don't mind a moderate stance but this Liberalism was ridiculous already!

reneeca
reneeca

All I can sasy is Thank God! I was getting ready to cancel our subscription because of the Left leaning newspaper! We were sick and tired of reading the Editorial page and most articles from the New York Times and other Left leaning commentators! I don't mind a moderate stance but this Liberalism was ridiculous already!

susanf
susanf subscribermember

hoping this will be really good for membership of VOSD.

susanf
susanf

hoping this will be really good for membership of VOSD.

Frances O'Neill Zimmerman
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

Manchester worse than the Copleys? Not unless he brings back Bob Kittle and General "Brute" Krulak (who actually may be dead, so that would be really hard.) The big question is whether publisher Papa Doug will weigh in on the upcoming Mayor's race.

Barbara Stevens
Barbara Stevens subscriber

This coming from Fred Sainz? Hahahaaahaaaaa!!! He would be the expert on THAT topic!

skeptic6
skeptic6

This coming from Fred Sainz? Hahahaaahaaaaa!!! He would be the expert on THAT topic!

George Holbrook
George Holbrook subscriber

The day of people reading the editorial page with any seriousness is long past. The UT has about as much political clout as the Penney Saver.

geoh808
geoh808

The day of people reading the editorial page with any seriousness is long past. The UT has about as much political clout as the Penney Saver.

Diane Edge
Diane Edge subscribermember

Good bye UT. No renewal at this household.

d2voice
d2voice

Good bye UT. No renewal at this household.

Jeff Brazel
Jeff Brazel subscribermember

nd his "agenda" as some worry, will be over ruled by the need to see a return on investment, and he will need more than condos in mission valley to make this investment work.

JB619
JB619

nd his "agenda" as some worry, will be over ruled by the need to see a return on investment, and he will need more than condos in mission valley to make this investment work.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

I don't think the UT has been consistently left or right. It has, however, been consistently bad.

sdguy
sdguy

I don't think the UT has been consistently left or right. It has, however, been consistently bad.

Greg Martin
Greg Martin subscriber

When I called to cancel my subscription, they offered to extend it for 10 cents per week. I turned them down. It appears they are artificially trying to maintain their subscriber base.

SDGreg
SDGreg

When I called to cancel my subscription, they offered to extend it for 10 cents per week. I turned them down. It appears they are artificially trying to maintain their subscriber base.

Nick Gomogda
Nick Gomogda subscriber

I personally like Manchester's outlook on San Diego as a city. The man has drive and has the money to make things happen. These types of things happen in big cities all over the world. I certainly hope he doesn't use this ownership as a tool to control the minds of us San Diegans, but i believe that he has a good plan for this city.

SDRHYTHM
SDRHYTHM

I personally like Manchester's outlook on San Diego as a city. The man has drive and has the money to make things happen. These types of things happen in big cities all over the world. I certainly hope he doesn't use this ownership as a tool to control the minds of us San Diegans, but i believe that he has a good plan for this city.

Steve Mehlman
Steve Mehlman subscriber

That, my friends tells you all you need to know about the death of reasonable, responsible, moderate politics in America.

stevefromsacto
stevefromsacto

That, my friends tells you all you need to know about the death of reasonable, responsible, moderate politics in America.

Will Dawson
Will Dawson subscriber

This will not be good for the 99%. For a real look at how the insiders and the likes of Manchester have controlled SD for nearly 100 years get a copy of "Under The Perfect Sun" by Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew and Jim Miller scary then and with Manchester in charge of "NOISE" @ the UT scarier still.

Sandawg
Sandawg

This will not be good for the 99%. For a real look at how the insiders and the likes of Manchester have controlled SD for nearly 100 years get a copy of "Under The Perfect Sun" by Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew and Jim Miller scary then and with Manchester in charge of "NOISE" @ the UT scarier still.

Fred Smith
Fred Smith subscriber

Did the article say conservative??? The Copleys were extreme libs. I refused to read the rag when the Copleys ran it into the ground.

Fred
Fred

Did the article say conservative??? The Copleys were extreme libs. I refused to read the rag when the Copleys ran it into the ground.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Maybe we can get a little more centrist view from the paper now, instead of their slant to the left.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Maybe we can get a little more centrist view from the paper now, instead of their slant to the left.

lifesaver1
lifesaver1

I agree with Fred Sainz. Manchester has shown himself to be a rapacious, cold-blooded capitalist with little real interest in San Diego as a community, other than to the degree it might benefit his business or improve his perceptions of himself. He may like to be called Papa Doug, but Boss Hogg would be a better nickname. The value of the Voice of San Diego increases exponentially with this unfortunate devolution in San Diego journalism.

Bill Paul
Bill Paul subscriber

And most of us thought the UT was already very "right wing". Manchester and his politics scare the **** out of me. This is a very influential man with very right wing agendas in a right wing, federally-controlled, military town. I am most certain this will effect the UT's already slanted reporting in a very bad way.

SirVivor
SirVivor

And most of us thought the UT was already very "right wing". Manchester and his politics scare the **** out of me. This is a very influential man with very right wing agendas in a right wing, federally-controlled, military town. I am most certain this will effect the UT's already slanted reporting in a very bad way.

Sherry Rednour
Sherry Rednour subscriber

I am a loyal newspaper reader and subscribe to the Union Tribune, even though it is a very poor excuse for a newspaper. I have been threatening to cancel my subscription for years. Today is the day!

Sherry
Sherry

I am a loyal newspaper reader and subscribe to the Union Tribune, even though it is a very poor excuse for a newspaper. I have been threatening to cancel my subscription for years. Today is the day!

Gayle Falkenthal APR
Gayle Falkenthal APR subscriber

While everyone is apoplectic about Doug Manchester, there needs to be more focus on the other key player in this deal, John Lynch. Lynch is a former broadcast executive with direct experience running a media operation, which is sure to inform his tenure at the Union-Tribune.

gfalke1
gfalke1

While everyone is apoplectic about Doug Manchester, there needs to be more focus on the other key player in this deal, John Lynch. Lynch is a former broadcast executive with direct experience running a media operation, which is sure to inform his tenure at the Union-Tribune.