Four Key Takeaways on Manchester’s New Paper

Four Key Takeaways on Manchester’s New Paper

Photo by Paul Body

Doug Manchester

 

When hotelier and U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester bought the North County Times last week for $11.95 million, he consolidated control over both of San Diego’s major daily newspapers. With the purchase, the man who calls himself Papa Doug became the county’s most powerful media figure.

Here are four key takeaways I’ve tried to drive home when I’ve made radio and TV appearances talking about the North County Times purchase and what readers should expect.

1. Manchester spent roughly $122 million for two newspapers, he can do what he wants with them. Buy a newspaper, and you can print all the front-page editorials you want. You can support and criticize whatever candidates and initiatives you like.

But cutting loose comes with risk. Just because you can doesn’t mean your community will like it. San Diego County has a nearly equal number of Democrats and Republicans. An editorial page that caters to an extreme of just one party is going to disenfranchise a whole bunch of people.

The U-T under Manchester and CEO John Lynch has become more strident and doctrinaire, a tack its editor, Jeff Light, tried to steer the paper away from a few years ago.

Light’s push toward inclusiveness in the paper’s opinion page came while its then-owner, a private equity firm called Platinum Equity, was working to rehabilitate the U-T, to make it stop hemorrhaging subscribers and become profitable again.

Manchester has pushed in the opposite direction from Light’s approach, infusing the U-T with a brash conservativeness that’s clearly driving some readers away. Listen to the phone calls from listeners during my appearance on KPBS Friday. (In short: They weren’t happy.) What’s not clear is whether just a vocal few are canceling their subscriptions or indicate a larger trend.

Manchester and Lynch say subscriptions — some are being offered for 5 cents for a year — have increased. We’ll know whether that’s true later this fall when the U-T’s circulation figures are released for the six-month period ending in September.

2. Readers should be aware of Manchester and Lynch’s interests and how they might color the North County Times’ coverage. They like sports and the military. Regulations not so much. They like businesses. They dislike Chargers stadium opponents.

In a meeting last week with Times staff, Manchester told the newsroom he would be hands off. But he also said he expected reporters to write positive stories. Manchester told reporters to be particularly positive when writing about business owners “who are employing lots of people or risking their capital,” according to an account in the Times.

As I explained on KPBS: “He says on the one hand that … he wants the news reporters to write whatever they want. … But he adds, I do want you to write things that are positive. And so which is it? Sometimes the truth is not positive.”

What form might that expectation take? The U-T has featured people with ties to Manchester in front-page news stories. And Manchester has said he wants the paper to be a cheerleader for the military, local sports teams and area businesses.

But the U-T under Manchester has also gone on the attack, using both its news and opinion pages to lambaste the Unified Port of San Diego, which opposed a major U-T waterfront stadium and arena proposal.

At the U-T, Manchester and Lynch have blurred the line between shaping the newspaper’s editorial page and its news content. Lynch told me last year he wanted the sports page to call out opponents of a new Chargers stadium as “obstructionists.” A sports columnist who’d questioned Lynch and the need for a new stadium was later let go.

3. Whatever happens to the North County Times’ brand, the paper’s readers will get a product that is more partisan, petulant and provocative than what they receive today. I’ve repeated that line over and over. Changes at the Times won’t be subtle. The U-T has been renamed and rebranded, launched a TV station and put up an online pay wall. Those changes happened quickly. The Times deal closes in October.

4. We can say goodbye to the Times as an important second newspaper voice in the county. The U-T and North County Times tussled over the same turf, but they weren’t as competitive as newspapers in cities that have (or had) two big metro dailies. Here, the U-T was the impersonal metro paper trying to connect with 3 million people. The Times was the community paper with a story about your kid’s football team in it.

Still, having a second large newspaper in San Diego has by default meant more competition — a good thing for the region. It’s meant more reporters trying to right wrongs or simply tell the community what’s happening around it.

Now that voice is being consolidated under Manchester’s control. As I noted on NBC, that’s a political boost for Manchester — even in a post-print age where newspapers face a staggering decline in ad revenues.

View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.

Observers across the country have been watching to see whether ideologues like Manchester are solely interested in newspapers because they’ve become an affordable megaphone they can use for personal political gain.

In San Diego County, that experiment just started in a second Petri dish: The 75,000-circulation daily serving the North County.

♦♦♦

If you want to learn more about Manchester and who he is, be sure to read our in-depth profile of him. And watch our San Diego Explained segment, produced in partnership with NBC 7 San Diego.

View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.

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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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.

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34 comments
Bob Hudson
Bob Hudson subscriber

Amen! I spent about 30 years on and off in print and broadcast journalism and even the decisions about WHAT to cover or WHERE to run a stort (front page, back page, inside) was the product of editorial bias. Doug Manchester thinks the military deserves upfront coverage - KPBS, meanwhile, has apparently decided that the world really should care most about immigration and the border so it hypes its Fronteras Desk at every opportunity. Proposed changes to Balboa Park and the hotel taxes seem to be VOSD's current causes so they get more attention here that they do in other local media outlets.

Bob Hudson
Bob Hudson

Amen! I spent about 30 years on and off in print and broadcast journalism and even the decisions about WHAT to cover or WHERE to run a stort (front page, back page, inside) was the product of editorial bias. Doug Manchester thinks the military deserves upfront coverage - KPBS, meanwhile, has apparently decided that the world really should care most about immigration and the border so it hypes its Fronteras Desk at every opportunity. Proposed changes to Balboa Park and the hotel taxes seem to be VOSD's current causes so they get more attention here that they do in other local media outlets.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The UT has a long history of fluff reporting, ignoring anything that might scratch the facade of "Americas Finest City", now it is changing to a pro development pro sports paper, but there is no hard hitting journalism at risk in So Cal, and you can always go with one of the local alternative publications that have an audience of dozens.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The UT has a long history of fluff reporting, ignoring anything that might scratch the facade of "Americas Finest City", now it is changing to a pro development pro sports paper, but there is no hard hitting journalism at risk in So Cal, and you can always go with one of the local alternative publications that have an audience of dozens.

Richard Riehl
Richard Riehl subscriber

Looks like it's up to online sources like the Voice of San Diego to try to provide a balance.

RichardRiehl
RichardRiehl

Looks like it's up to online sources like the Voice of San Diego to try to provide a balance.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

I read your Blog column and you did trash the incoming publisher, and I am not certain that Lee Enterprises still owns the paper. I read two Lee papers daily, the NC Times and the Garden Isle of Kauai. I am sad that Lee found the need to sell, but I am not dismayed by a conservative newspaper -- there is a surfeit of liberal newspapers available and in fact the vast majority of the printed, urban newspapers.

Akamai
Akamai

I read your Blog column and you did trash the incoming publisher, and I am not certain that Lee Enterprises still owns the paper. I read two Lee papers daily, the NC Times and the Garden Isle of Kauai. I am sad that Lee found the need to sell, but I am not dismayed by a conservative newspaper -- there is a surfeit of liberal newspapers available and in fact the vast majority of the printed, urban newspapers.

Richard Riehl
Richard Riehl subscriber

I've written columns critical of the NCT editorial board's positions and have never had a one censored. I don't blame the editor for not running my column. He is no doubt aware of Papa Doug's vindictiveness and how it could affect him and his staff if he ran it.

RichardRiehl
RichardRiehl

I've written columns critical of the NCT editorial board's positions and have never had a one censored. I don't blame the editor for not running my column. He is no doubt aware of Papa Doug's vindictiveness and how it could affect him and his staff if he ran it.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

You can attack all you want from these sidelines, but you can't from within.

Akamai
Akamai

You can attack all you want from these sidelines, but you can't from within.

Richard Riehl
Richard Riehl subscriber

See here how fear of Manchester is already censoring a North County Times columnist: www.carlsbadistan.com.

RichardRiehl
RichardRiehl

See here how fear of Manchester is already censoring a North County Times columnist: www.carlsbadistan.com.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

And besides, And hey, it's not like gas prices doubled during Obama's first term, is it? Oh wait...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

And besides, And hey, it's not like gas prices doubled during Obama's first term, is it? Oh wait...

Gregory Hay
Gregory Hay subscriber

I am also sad to read how some of these commenters do not understand the need and importance for NEWS REPORTING to be objective. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch finally has killed the concept of journalism.

haydesigner
haydesigner

I am also sad to read how some of these commenters do not understand the need and importance for NEWS REPORTING to be objective. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch finally has killed the concept of journalism.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

One example that convinced me that the UT is pure propaganda was when the constant editorial attack on President Obama made the egregious claim that his re-election would inevitably lead to $8 gasoline and 70% taxation. I don't subscribe to lies even though they are embedded in opinion.

fryefan
fryefan

One example that convinced me that the UT is pure propaganda was when the constant editorial attack on President Obama made the egregious claim that his re-election would inevitably lead to $8 gasoline and 70% taxation. I don't subscribe to lies even though they are embedded in opinion.

Leslie DeLashmutt
Leslie DeLashmutt subscriber

Doug Manchester has forced me to get my news from online and the neighborhood weekly papers. And until Manchester drives the U-T out of business and someone else buys it, that's the way it will have to be for me.

LFDeL
LFDeL

Doug Manchester has forced me to get my news from online and the neighborhood weekly papers. And until Manchester drives the U-T out of business and someone else buys it, that's the way it will have to be for me.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

Akamai--I wonder what you think about the U-T's omnipresent "Watchdog" feature, often front page "news" even when it involves things like a minor governmental board that can't provide receipts for some lunch reimbursements. Is that what you mean by Woodward/Bernstein syndrome? Just wondering.

fryefan
fryefan

Akamai--I wonder what you think about the U-T's omnipresent "Watchdog" feature, often front page "news" even when it involves things like a minor governmental board that can't provide receipts for some lunch reimbursements. Is that what you mean by Woodward/Bernstein syndrome? Just wondering.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

Both writers and publishers have lines they must not cross, and overreaching is a tendency for everyone.

Akamai
Akamai

Both writers and publishers have lines they must not cross, and overreaching is a tendency for everyone.

Terry Shewmaker
Terry Shewmaker subscriber

This is an important story and the more reportage on it - the stronger the light brought to bear upon it - the better!

thoughtfulbear
thoughtfulbear

This is an important story and the more reportage on it - the stronger the light brought to bear upon it - the better!

Sara_K
Sara_K subscribermember

How does pro-military Doug Manchester feel about the First Amendment?

Sara_K
Sara_K

How does pro-military Doug Manchester feel about the First Amendment?

Bill Otto
Bill Otto subscriber

This aggression will not stand, man.

blotto
blotto

This aggression will not stand, man.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

The new paper willbe visible to each subscriber, and they can make their own decisions.

Akamai
Akamai

The new paper willbe visible to each subscriber, and they can make their own decisions.