Change is coming to The San Diego Union-Tribune. That much is certain a day after Beverly Hills-based Platinum Equity sold it to local hotelier Doug Manchester.
John Lynch, the former radio executive slated to become the local paper’s new president and CEO, talked about what changes he and Manchester think are needed during a roughly 30-minute interview with me Thursday.
Lynch said he wants the paper to be pro-business. The sports page to be pro-Chargers stadium. And reporters to become stars. Some of his comments about the sports page, which he wants to be an advocate for a new Chargers stadium, have attracted attention and criticism from across the country.
Here’s a fuller transcript of my conversation with Lynch that rounds out some of his comments.
Why buy the paper?
We bought a very viable, exciting, profitable business and we only intend to improve upon it. We think Platinum has done a good job from a business perspective. We think also the paper ought to be in the hands of local San Diegans. We’d like to be a cheerleader for all that’s good about San Diego.
There’s no other clandestine reason for doing this other than it’s a good business transaction.
Platinum Equity left a mark on the paper by turning it around financially. In five years or 10, what will people say your mark has been?
Our mark will be the full integration of a media business — no longer just a newspaper. Our writers will have to have as much ability on the web and electronic media as they do with the pen. And our sales people are going to have to change the way they do business and be more client-oriented. We’re stepping back and looking at this as a new day — we’ll be client-centric and serving the community through the website. Times are changing. And if you don’t change the paper and make it appealing to a younger set of people, you won’t have a newspaper.
As the newspaper sale neared, I read speculation that the printed newspaper might be eliminated altogether. Do you have plans to do that?
People are talking about it more like in 10 years. But our challenge and charge to our staff is to get younger people more interested and become our readers. There’s ways to do it. There hasn’t been a lot of creativity. It’s been a horrid time where they’ve had to cut enormous amounts of staff. I think it’s time to turn that by taking advantage of the cross-promotional activities. I want to bring other media into our building. And do things that are precedent setting in the industry. You change now or you die.
Do you want to bring Bob Kittle back as editor of the editorial page?
I don’t know. In terms of the editorial page, we’re looking at more macro issues than specifics. Honest to God, you’re the first person that’s brought that up. We’re going to look at grander, bigger things and that kind of thing will take care of itself.
Does Jeff Light stay as editor?
I think Jeff is doing some exciting things. Jeff has a skill set, a tremendous appreciation of digital. We’d be excited to work with him.
Does Ed Moss stay as publisher?
We’d like him to. I’ll be the one there every day, hopefully working with Ed and his team.
Does the newsroom stay the same size? Do you lay off reporters or expand?
We haven’t talked about newsroom size. What we’re going to look for is people who can do more than write a newspaper column but really report in multiple venues — the web and the newspaper. We want to see people step up and become stars. It’s news information, but it’s also show biz. You get people to tune in and read your site or the paper when there’s an “Oh wow” in the paper.
It’s clear that under Platinum Equity the once-influential conservative editorial page softened. Both your politics and Manchester’s are conservative. Do you see the editorial page taking that direction?
Our motivation, both of us, was to do something good for San Diego.
That’s one of the things that has not been happening — pointing out what’s good and showing what businesses and institutions are doing good for the economy or taking a position when things are askew. We want to have an editorial page that people talk about every day. We want to have an incredibly strong sports page that supports the Chargers, the Padres, USD, SDSU, that advocates for a new stadium and calls out those who don’t as obstructionists. To my way of thinking, that’s a shovel-ready job for thousands.
Several people I spoke with say Manchester is very hands-on, that they expect him to be involved in everything at the newspaper down to what stories reporters cover. (I relayed one encounter, described in today’s story, from someone who worked with Manchester in 2003.) What’s your take?
Clearly I think there’s an editorial direction given by an ownership of media. And that will happen — we are more pro-business than anything else. That benefits everybody in our city. We better start creating jobs that attract business. That’s one of the things we would probably do.
Doug’s at a different stage of his life. He’s traveling a ton. He’s a very, very hands-on aggressive business guy. He loves media, what it can do for San Diego, but I think he’s one of the smartest people I know and will respect the journalistic integrity. A lot’s happened since 2003. Things are entirely different for him — in a positive way.
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0529.
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