New U-T Boss: ‘You Change Now or You Die’

 

Hotelier Doug Manchester’s behavior in the board room is well-documented: He’s brash, bold, confrontational.

But across the region Thursday, one question hovered over the announcement that Manchester is the new owner of The San Diego Union-Tribune, which he said he purchased for more than $110 million. What happens when that brash, bold, confrontational man steps into the newsroom of the region’s largest newspaper?

John Lynch, the former local radio executive who will become the newspaper’s new president and CEO, offered a preview Thursday night of that future. Some parts of the paper may stay the same. Lynch and Manchester want its publisher, Ed Moss, and its editor, Jeff Light, to stay. Lynch said he doesn’t foresee the print product disappearing for at least a decade.

But Lynch said he wants the paper to be pro-business. The sports page to be pro-Chargers stadium. And reporters to become stars.

“It’s news information, but it’s also show biz,” Lynch said. “You get people to tune in and read your site or the paper when there’s an ‘Oh wow’ in the paper.”

He wants that sports page to be an advocate for a new football stadium “and call out those who don’t as obstructionists.”

“To my way of thinking,” Lynch said, “that’s a shovel-ready job for thousands.”

More changes will be evident after the deal closes between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15. Lynch said they want a stronger editorial page and to attract younger readers. Lynch hopes to bring other media into the building. He wants to be a newspaper industry precedent-setter.

“You change now or you die,” Lynch said.

Lynch and Manchester return the newspaper to local ownership after a brief respite. Lynch said their interest was in the newspaper. The 13 acres of property that come with it in Mission Valley are a residual benefit, he said.

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“We’d like to be a cheerleader for all that’s good about San Diego,” Lynch said. “Our motivation, both of us, was to do something good for San Diego.”

Lynch and Manchester step into a local business that has halted a historic slide. After the newspaper cut about half of its staff between 2006 and 2009, it’s no longer shrinking. Credit its seller, Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills-based private equity firm, with turning around the paper’s finances. When David Copley sold the newspaper in 2009, it had made only $1 million in 2008. It was on track to lose $8 million in 2009. Two sources familiar with the figures said the paper is now earning about $25 million to $30 million annually before taxes and interest.

Though it made the paper profitable again, Platinum wasn’t a partisan owner. The paper’s once-influential conservative editorial page softened. Lynch said he sees an opportunity there. He wants people to talk about the editorial page. He and Manchester, both politically conservative, want to forge a stronger, better San Diego.

That desire may cross traditional tenets of journalism, where by design reporters have been walled off from outside influence. But Lynch said he expected the paper to be pro-business. And the former sports radio executive said the paper should have “an incredibly strong sports page that supports the Chargers, the Padres, USD, SDSU.”

While he and Manchester will set an editorial direction, Lynch said, he also expects that Manchester will “respect journalistic integrity.”

Since he took the reins as editor, Light has set that direction. He said earlier this year on voiceofsandiego.org’s radio program that he’s tried to make the paper less doctrinaire and less strident editorially.

“I mean, the world’s a complicated place and I enjoy a diversity of ideas,” he said.

Whether those visions clash is one of the key questions about Manchester as a newspaper owner. He has for years used his wallet as a megaphone. He sponsored a 1994 push to move the international airport from the waterfront to the Marine base at Miramar. He donated $125,000 to the campaign that successfully banned gay marriage in California. He has supported Steve Francis, the businessman who twice lost mayoral elections, and Mitt Romney, who’s running for president.

Now he’s bought a megaphone: The region’s dominant media outlet. Though its circulation has declined in recent years, more than 200,000 subscribers still get the newspaper every day, not counting those who read it online.

Unlike Platinum Equity, the seller of that megaphone, much more is clear about Manchester and his politics. He’s pushing a billion-dollar waterfront development on Navy land downtown. He’s conservative and anti-tax.

Those who know how Manchester operates say his mark on the newspaper will be as distinct as it has been on the downtown waterfront, where he’s built two major hotels.

“Manchester has the reputation for his fingerprints being all over everything,” said Fred Sainz, a former spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders. “There is no doubt that he will be involved at every decision in terms of what gets covered, the way it gets covered, what stories go on what pages.”

Scott Barnett, the school board trustee, worked for Manchester for two brief weeks in 2003. Manchester had just hired Barnett to lead a taxpayer advocacy group. But when Barnett opposed the recall effort against Gray Davis, he said he got a call from Manchester, a friend of Darrell Issa, a major recall backer and North County congressman.

Manchester’s message was clear, Barnett recalled: Stop your opposition or we’re done.

And they were. Now, as a public official, Barnett knows he’ll now have to convince the new, anti-tax newspaper owner of the need for a tax hike he’s pitching to help San Diego Unified. On Thursday, thinking about the challenge ahead, Barnett recalled words Manchester spoke to him years ago: I’m quick to anger, but quick to forgive.

“It wasn’t personal,” Barnett said of their differences in 2003.

“Hopefully he’s forgiven me for that.”

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

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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.

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28 comments
Eva Vargas
Eva Vargas subscriber

If you're sick and tired, quick them, they are unecessary in this day and age.

evavrgs
evavrgs

If you're sick and tired, quick them, they are unecessary in this day and age.

Will Dawson
Will Dawson subscriber

Bringing this NOISE PAPER back from the dead will just morph this rag into a ZOMBIE house organ for Manchester and his right wing anti-gay, pro-developer biased agenda. While the city sinks into insolvency the "CITY BOOSTERS" will enjoy unchecked rampage furthering the wealth and power of the 1 % and ignoring the 99%.

Sandawg
Sandawg

Bringing this NOISE PAPER back from the dead will just morph this rag into a ZOMBIE house organ for Manchester and his right wing anti-gay, pro-developer biased agenda. While the city sinks into insolvency the "CITY BOOSTERS" will enjoy unchecked rampage furthering the wealth and power of the 1 % and ignoring the 99%.

Gerald Hosenkamp
Gerald Hosenkamp subscriber

Get a grip folks! Despite all the talk of journalistic integrity, when have newspapers not represented the views of either the owners or the people they pander to? Was it any different when the Copley family owned the UT? Is it any different at the New York Times or the LA Times? All of this hand wringing brings to mind Will Rogers line, "I only know what I read in the newspapers'. People then got the joke. Now, not so much.

GBH1
GBH1

Get a grip folks! Despite all the talk of journalistic integrity, when have newspapers not represented the views of either the owners or the people they pander to? Was it any different when the Copley family owned the UT? Is it any different at the New York Times or the LA Times? All of this hand wringing brings to mind Will Rogers line, "I only know what I read in the newspapers'. People then got the joke. Now, not so much.

Fred Schnaubelt
Fred Schnaubelt subscriber

So Lynch wants to return the days when Copley secretly owned part of the Chargers and without disclosure pushed for a new stadium and subsequently renaming it after U-T sports reporter Jack Murphy. Hooray, more subsidies for millionaires and billionaires which gives free enterprise a bad name for those that can't discern the difference between capitalism and crony socialism.

Fred Schnaubelt
Fred Schnaubelt

So Lynch wants to return the days when Copley secretly owned part of the Chargers and without disclosure pushed for a new stadium and subsequently renaming it after U-T sports reporter Jack Murphy. Hooray, more subsidies for millionaires and billionaires which gives free enterprise a bad name for those that can't discern the difference between capitalism and crony socialism.

Harry Kessler
Harry Kessler subscriber

I canceled my subscription as protest against the Chris Reed columns. Any thought of renewing was quashed by the slaughter of the paper's arts coverage - and now what little is left will probably be dropped to give more room to pro-Stadium propaganda. Yes, this will be a boon for VOSD, but it is nonetheless nothing to be happy about. Sad day for San Diego.

HarryKessler
HarryKessler

I canceled my subscription as protest against the Chris Reed columns. Any thought of renewing was quashed by the slaughter of the paper's arts coverage - and now what little is left will probably be dropped to give more room to pro-Stadium propaganda. Yes, this will be a boon for VOSD, but it is nonetheless nothing to be happy about. Sad day for San Diego.

susanf
susanf subscribermember

if you want to do something "good" for San Diego, fix the streets or finance a new waste water system or promote solar energy.

susanf
susanf

if you want to do something "good" for San Diego, fix the streets or finance a new waste water system or promote solar energy.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross subscribermember

Athough Manchester had the right idea about moving SDIA to East Miramar he may have bought a pig in the poke. The reason the paper has risen in revenue to the recent owner is the proliferation of full page ads. Newspapers were supposed to present both facts and opinions. If it is all the latter such as calling oponents of the public paying half the cost of a new Charger stadium "obstructionists" then it may well bring about the early demise of the U-T. That will mean IPADs and Laptops will replace the morning paper at the breakfast table.

Activist
Activist

Athough Manchester had the right idea about moving SDIA to East Miramar he may have bought a pig in the poke. The reason the paper has risen in revenue to the recent owner is the proliferation of full page ads. Newspapers were supposed to present both facts and opinions. If it is all the latter such as calling oponents of the public paying half the cost of a new Charger stadium "obstructionists" then it may well bring about the early demise of the U-T. That will mean IPADs and Laptops will replace the morning paper at the breakfast table.

Dianne Parham
Dianne Parham subscriber

Tired....that should have read. I won't. There are television stations I won't watch; there are radio station I won't listen to; I won't read the U-T; and I won't stop expressing my opinion. Oh, for an edit feature on VOSD.

dialyn
dialyn

Tired....that should have read. I won't. There are television stations I won't watch; there are radio station I won't listen to; I won't read the U-T; and I won't stop expressing my opinion. Oh, for an edit feature on VOSD.

Drew Kelley
Drew Kelley subscriber

At least with the U-T, when you read an editorial, you will be reading what is the considered opinion of the ownership of the paper. If you don't agree with it, stop buying the paper.

AD
AD

At least with the U-T, when you read an editorial, you will be reading what is the considered opinion of the ownership of the paper. If you don't agree with it, stop buying the paper.

Dianne Parham
Dianne Parham subscriber

Actually I think VOSD is pretty up front about where its funding comes from. It isn't the funding that is the issue, for me, it is that the will be no effort to create both sides of the story. Instead we will get stories about how we should buy stadiums for billionaires, chase out the middle class and build for billionaires, destroy the environment so corporations can pollute at will, eliminate workers rights, reduce services to the elderly and poor, and all the other agenda the ultra right so adores. I would love to be wrong, but I have no good feelings about his.

dialyn
dialyn

Actually I think VOSD is pretty up front about where its funding comes from. It isn't the funding that is the issue, for me, it is that the will be no effort to create both sides of the story. Instead we will get stories about how we should buy stadiums for billionaires, chase out the middle class and build for billionaires, destroy the environment so corporations can pollute at will, eliminate workers rights, reduce services to the elderly and poor, and all the other agenda the ultra right so adores. I would love to be wrong, but I have no good feelings about his.

Paul Gallo
Paul Gallo subscriber

I think we need a "fact check" on the $25-$30 million dollars in earnings purported in this article. I suspect this will be the beginning on the propaganda that the "new" UT will generate.

pbteacher
pbteacher

I think we need a "fact check" on the $25-$30 million dollars in earnings purported in this article. I suspect this will be the beginning on the propaganda that the "new" UT will generate.

Emmett McMahon
Emmett McMahon subscriber

I do have hope that the UT paper will become a newspaper w/some ads in lieu of what it has turned into - an ad paper w/ some news...

EKM
EKM

I do have hope that the UT paper will become a newspaper w/some ads in lieu of what it has turned into - an ad paper w/ some news...

sdsunset2
sdsunset2

Hail to the Voice of SD and KPBS

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

You probably don't know who owns the VOSD (neither do I), and I don't care. If you knew, would it make any difference to you?

Akamai
Akamai

You probably don't know who owns the VOSD (neither do I), and I don't care. If you knew, would it make any difference to you?