The San Diego Union-Tribune’s approach to online journalism may be getting an extreme makeover if a Canadian publisher’s approach to local news coverage takes hold here.

Black Press CEO David Black will play a major role in determining the U-T’s future if a planned sale goes through. His company owns two metro dailies in the U.S., and their websites are much more focused on local news than the U-T’s.

In fact, the websites of The Akron Beacon Journal and (Honolulu) Star-Bulletin barely devote any space to international or national news.

By contrast, the U-T’s site, SignOnSanDiego.com, often highlights non-local news stories. Today, for example, the site leads with stories about President Obama’s visit to Los Angeles and congressional action regarding AIG bonuses. As of Thursday evening, only one of five stories with the largest headlines is local, and it’s about the U-T’s sale.

In Ohio, Akron paper’s lead story on its website is about a local illegal gambling trial. Other top stories include a piece about a new website pets section and an article about elementary students helping African orphans.

The Star-Bulletin, meanwhile, leads with stories about a state festival, an endangered ferry service and census data. Website visitors must scroll down the home page to find “Top U.S. news” stories.

In other U-T-related news, bloggers continued to predict the newspaper’s future and at least one denounced its past.

In a post of “hope and loathing,” San Diego Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna wishes the sale had come earlier:

It was with great sadness that I read yesterday of the sale of the Union Tribune to a private equity group and the ending of decades of Copley Press in this, America’s finest city. Great sadness, that is, because I didn’t read about such a sale a year ago. Or five. Or ten. Or twenty-five. The UT — particularly its editorial page brought to you courtesy of Bob “Bowtie because if its not the 1950s then it darn as well should be” Kittle and his band of un-renown known the UT Editorially Bored — has been in reverse-lockstep with the people of San Diego since Ronald Reagan hung up the spurs and went back to the Ranch in the 1980s. One can only hope the new owners can take steps to bring the paper into maybe at least the early Clinton years?

Michael Grant, a former columnist at The San Diego Union prior to the creation of the U-T, remembers a different era of cutbacks:

When I started writing a column for The San Diego Union in 1978, my “hole” was 30 column-inches. When I wrote my last column in 1992, my hole had shrunk to 16 column-inches, and the paper’s pages themselves had shrunk as costs rose and revenues flattened. I took note of that in my goodbye column, saying newspapers were “trimming their newsprint sails, in an effort to stay afloat.”

At The Wall Street Journal, an investment banker who worked on the U-T deal answers questions about the future of the newspaper business:

You have seen people outsource everything from printing to editorial and indeed, any kind of journalism where your scale in the local community does not provide you with an advantage should be gotten elsewhere. If you find out how many people the large papers sent to the national conventions, you would wonder whether that’s economically justified. You have to focus on your competitive advantage, which is local. When the smoke clears, the local newspaper, which may not be the sexiest part of the newspaper industry but is overwhelmingly the largest and most profitable part of the industry, will be a smaller and more-focused enterprise whose activities will be directed to those areas where their local presence gives them competitive advantage and they will continue to generate as a result better profits than the supersexy businesses in the media industry asking for government or nonprofit help like movies and music.

And at the grimly named newspaperdeathwatch.com, consultant Paul Gillin asks and answers questions about the U-T’s future:

What would you do if you were an employee of the Union-Tribune right now?

I’d think hard about how to justify my value to the organization, not in terms of my length of service or number of awards but rather relative to the company’s bottom line. When business managers with no newspaper background took over at Tribune Co., they started measuring journalist productivity by column inches of copy. The new owners at the Union-Tribune probably aren’t that dense, but they will almost certainly take a financial analyst’s approach to managing the operation. Employees who can’t demonstrate why they are critical to the business will be most at risk, as will those who carry the highest salaries.

— RANDY DOTINGA

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