Every once and a while when we write about The San Diego Union-Tribune’s business operations, we get an e-mail accusing us of gleefully exploiting the newspaper’s problems.

So I wanted to take a minute to briefly explain why we’ve been covering the newspaper’s layoffs and buyouts, the shrinking size of its paper product, and its sale.

This is a historic time for a major cultural, political and economic institution in San Diego. It is facing most likely its biggest challenge in its long history. Its business model is undergoing a revolution, as is the basic platform for its product. It is shedding employees at a rapid pace. The vital product that it provided us just a few years ago is substantially smaller today.

A newspaper is one of a city’s most prominent and influential icons. And now, quickly, that icon is changing before our eyes. It’s not what it once was and people both inside and outside the industry now recognize that newspapers in some cities across the country are fighting for survival altogether. It’s unclear exactly what the status is here in San Diego because Copley Press is a private company and its books aren’t open to the public.

This is a very important local story. And it’s really not getting covered anywhere else. The paper itself is barely writing about it outside of a handful of buried briefs.

I suppose there’s a certain level of awkwardness because our reporters to compete with their reporters for stories in a certain number of areas. But we’re not trying to replace them. We see ourselves as a different animal. And yes, my colleague Scott Lewis is hard on them sometimes, like he was on the editorial page last night. But he does that to a lot of people and institutions, and that opinion writing doesn’t influence our news decisions.

Either way, these stories about the newspaper’s business side aren’t about battling for stories or what the newspaper prints on its editorial page. They’re about the institution’s struggles and what that means for San Diego’s civic life and its consumers of news.

Nobody here rejoices in the challenges faced by the Union-Tribune. We are all journalists who want to see the news business survive.

But we’re trained to find compelling and interesting stories. And right now in San Diego, this is one of the most fascinating and important.

(As an aside, next week we’re going to be rolling out individual blogs for all the journalists here. This is mine, The Clipboard. I’m going to be doing news and analysis there, but I’ll also be doing things like this — explaining our news decisions and answering reader questions. Feel free to start sending me questions.)


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