Photo by Paul Body
For nine months now, the greatest show in San Diego has been the circus Doug Manchester and sidekick John Lynch have mounted since they purchased the Union-Tribune and turned it into the U-T San Diego.
They’re on a shock-and-awe tour. A free-spending thrill ride to collect depressed assets, flex media muscle and maybe, just maybe, turn a profit.
I find it exciting, frankly.
What has been most curious to me, however, has not been the new TV station or the staff changes, or the front-page editorials. It’s not the new auto museum or even the astonishing purchase of the North County Times.
What is really interesting is the strange disconnect between what Doug Manchester (who goes by Papa Doug) says he wants to do with his new media portfolio and what he’s actually doing.
When news that he and Lynch had purchased the North County Times became official Tuesday, Manchester went on KPBS and described his goal for the evolving media company.
“It’s been very clear that our vision has been that, for so many years, the news media has not championed the military, has not championed the many success stories that are here in San Diego and we have tried to, in fact, point out what’s right about America’s Finest City. We want to continue to do that,” he told KPBS.
A North County Times reporter, Brandon Lowrey, tweeted that Manchester visited his new staff at the paper that he told them he wants them to be “positive” and to write nice stories about business owners.
Manchester added this in his KPBS interview Tuesday:
“We’re a champion of San Diego and we’ve had an increase in actual subscriptions. We do not apologize for our editorial position.”
They are most definitely not apologizing for their editorial position. One of the things I’ve watched with great interest is this experiment, this ideological innovation, that the new U-T is carrying out. Lynch and Manchester are trying to be open and proud of a supposedly conservative world view governing the newspaper.
This has enormous and interesting implications. If it works as a business strategy it could set a precedent for a more openly partisan press at a time when anything that works in the business of journalism is big news.
Before you send me the email that the press has always been partisan, let’s be clear. Whether it has or not, most newspapers have bent over backward to prove they’re nonpartisan. What I’m talking about here is open partisanship as a business strategy.
The U-T thinks it has promise. It just launched a new website “Seeing Red: A conservative view of politics.” CEO John Lynch scrapped the community editorial board that editor Jeff Light had set up.
Recent editorials have predicted a war on God and hellscape on Earth should Obama win a second term as president.
Carl DeMaio, a Republican running for mayor, got two unprecedented front-page editorial endorsements from the paper. Actually, they weren’t even on the front page — the editorials were wrapped around the page as though they were even more important.
Far from cheerleading, the editorial page has turned vicious. It said DeMaio’s rival, Nathan Fletcher, had put his loyalty as a Marine in question when he bucked the Republican Party. The paper later, bizarrely, compared Fletcher to a socialist prohibitionist who ran for Assembly in 1918.
They accused the Unified Port of San Diego of running its books like one of the most awful frauds in American business history.
They’ve been hysterical. I don’t mean hysterical as in funny. It’s true hysteria laced with negativity.
Again, I’ve got no problem with that. Go ahead. It’s the disconnect between that and what Manchester says he’s doing that is weird.
Note what Manchester said when Rob Davis profiled him:
“I never go to roasts anymore,” he said. “I don’t like it. I like to go to toasts. I like to toast people and to look at what’s right and good in San Diego and maybe not what’s negative.”
Does this guy have some kind of personality disorder? On one day he’s a warm, sensitive booster, and on another, he’s a ferocious inquisitor.
The fact is, the U-T editorial page, which is where Manchester has his most direct influence on the paper, has hardly been trying to “toast people” and avoid negativity. Quite the opposite.
The disconnect parallels his baffling politics. Manchester told KPBS he supports “limited government” and yet he advocates for massive military spending and taxpayer support of a new football stadium. On the one hand, he hates the idea of a new City Hall, but he’s wildly supportive of the Navy’s effort to build a new headquarters, which benefits, of course, him.
In fact, he’s a fan of big government as long as it is based on religious authoritarianism, provides for private enrichment off public assets and spends what’s left on unquestioned militarism.
All of this makes sense, though, and I think his desire to toast people is sincere.
It’s his definition of “people” that might be worth questioning. Maybe, to him, the real people are Christians, Republican defense contractors and football team owners.
Most importantly, actual people are people who agree with his vision for San Diego.
He wants to toast people, yes. But you’re not a person if you cross him.
That’s, of course, just one interpretation. There is a chance that Manchester does not actually control his newspaper. That would mean all this negativity spilling out of the U-T’s editorial page makes him uncomfortable and that he is, right now, pleading with Lynch to not be so negative.
Somehow, I doubt this is the case.
Manchester may want a world where we toast each other. But he’s not trying to create it. And that’s perfectly fine.
Just don’t pretend that’s what you’re actually setting out to do as you build your media empire.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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