Using the Newspaper as a Weapon

Using the Newspaper as a Weapon

Photo by Paul Body

John Lynch

 

John Lynch, who became CEO of the U-T San Diego late last year, set a tone for the newspaper’s direction under its new ownership before the sale was even final.

On the day downtown hotelier Doug Manchester struck a deal to buy the paper for about $110 million, Lynch told me that he wanted its sports page to advocate for a new downtown Chargers stadium and call out opponents as “obstructionists.”

Since Lynch has taken the reins, his mark on the newspaper has been clear. The U-T has bullied the Unified Port of San Diego in its news and opinion pages for opposing a massive waterfront development the newspaper proposed downtown.

The paper has become more partisan, provocative and petulant, drawing the attention of media analysts who say it’s an important national case study to see whether ideologues like Manchester are solely interested in the newspaper industry because they can use it for their personal political gain.

The latest reinforcement of that narrative came from the San Diego Reader’s revelation Wednesday that Lynch had obliquely threatened to use newspaper coverage in a dispute with the city over a $1,000 fine the U-T faced for hanging a banner from its Mission Valley headquarters.

Emails the Reader obtained between Lynch and Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s office focused on two issues. Lynch didn’t want to remove the banner. And he wanted to meet with Faulconer to discuss a digital sign the U-T wants to build on its headquarters.

While Faulconer’s chief of staff, Katie Hansen, tried to set up a meeting about the new sign, she told Lynch that the banner had to be removed or the U-T would face a $1,000 fine. Lynch acquiesced. But he didn’t sound happy. He wrote:

I have instructed that the banner to be taken down. If it weren’t for the digital sign pending approval, I would instruct our folks to run a piece on how this is so reflective of this city being anti-business.

We are fighting to keep this business vital and if it were ever to go away, there would be 700 San Diego jobs that go with it.

As I quickly noted on Twitter:

It’s also evidence that Lynch is on unfamiliar ground at the newspaper’s helm. Months ago, he acknowledged that he was wrong to say he’d have sports reporters call out football stadium opponents. He told me his background was radio, where being provocative was vital. But the latest incident shows a basic lack of understanding between what’s acceptable for newspapers (using the institution to advocate for the public good) and unacceptable (using it to advocate for the ownership’s personal benefit).

I emailed Lynch for comment. He said he hadn’t seen the Reader’s story. So I sent it to him.

He responded: “Sounds like a major story, critical breaking news!”

I pushed for more. In follow-up emails, Lynch said he’d made the comments to Faulconer, a friend, in jest. (The threat was made to the councilman’s chief-of-staff.)

“No threat, it is a statement of fact that our City is anti-business,” he wrote. “We will do everything we can to motivate all in our City to address an overall anti-business approach and atmosphere.

“However, I think you are trying to blow up something that no one will care about. Most will agree, that it is indicative of an anti-business pervasiveness. I didn’t even know we had a banner hanging that was a violation of anything…”

Some cared about Lynch’s email threat. Here’s some of the reaction from Twitter.

After I questioned whether Lynch’s comments suggested he wanted to influence the paper’s news or opinion pages, this response came:

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at Voice of San Diego. 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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12 comments
Jennifer Reiswig
Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

Until this year, I thought the main way to use the newspaper as a weapon was to get the Sunday NYT and hit someone on the head with it. Who knew.

bmljenny
bmljenny

Until this year, I thought the main way to use the newspaper as a weapon was to get the Sunday NYT and hit someone on the head with it. Who knew.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross subscribermember

The current staff don't even know what traditionally belongs in each section of the paper. The front section historically was for national and international news in the current U-T its comprised of a society page and full page ads. The paper's main use today is to line pet's litter boxes or wrapping up kitchen garbage. The worst joke of all is having former columnist Chris Reed as the editorial writer. So when my current subscription runs out I will join my neighbors.

Activist
Activist

The current staff don't even know what traditionally belongs in each section of the paper. The front section historically was for national and international news in the current U-T its comprised of a society page and full page ads. The paper's main use today is to line pet's litter boxes or wrapping up kitchen garbage. The worst joke of all is having former columnist Chris Reed as the editorial writer. So when my current subscription runs out I will join my neighbors.

George McMurray
George McMurray subscriber

I am a local business owner who is frustrated with the unfriendly state and local business climate, but I don't trust either of these guys agendas. They make a motley pair. Let's not forget how Mr. Lynch treated his own BCA radio employees and the outcome there.

SDUSDDAD
SDUSDDAD

I am a local business owner who is frustrated with the unfriendly state and local business climate, but I don't trust either of these guys agendas. They make a motley pair. Let's not forget how Mr. Lynch treated his own BCA radio employees and the outcome there.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

Ian, it already has ceased to be a newspaper.

fryefan
fryefan

Ian, it already has ceased to be a newspaper.

Ian Trowbridge
Ian Trowbridge subscribermember

Most importantly, however, if Manchester ever interferes with news articles for his own purposes that is when the UT ceases to be a newspaper by any definition.

iantrowbridge
iantrowbridge

Most importantly, however, if Manchester ever interferes with news articles for his own purposes that is when the UT ceases to be a newspaper by any definition.

Charles Walls
Charles Walls subscriber

Businesses bring jobs. Jobs provide personal income AND an ever-expanding tax base. We can't all work for the city/state/fed or The Voice of San Diego so we NEED businesses of all kinds to feel like San Diego is a hospitable place to set up shop. Rules, regulations and guidelines are essential but shouldn't be allowed to threaten job creation.

CharlesWalls
CharlesWalls

Businesses bring jobs. Jobs provide personal income AND an ever-expanding tax base. We can't all work for the city/state/fed or The Voice of San Diego so we NEED businesses of all kinds to feel like San Diego is a hospitable place to set up shop. Rules, regulations and guidelines are essential but shouldn't be allowed to threaten job creation.