When Doug Manchester first bought the Union-Tribune last month, his partner told our Rob Davis they did it because they wanted to be “a real player.”

So this is what he meant.

In a huge front-page Sunday editorial the new U-T San Diego laid out a splashy bid for a remade downtown. The paper called for a mega-project that includes a Convention Center expansion, a new stadium, a new sports arena, a public beach (!) and more — including a mystery to-be-named-later “civic icon” — on a chunk of waterfront land.

Holy moly.

The editorial took up plenty of space on the front page while the opinion pages swooped in with even more details and claims

The paper’s high-falutin’ language matched its giant hopes: “U-T San Diego has come to believe in a new vision” that’s “not just grand but achievable, financially and politically. It would transform the waterfront into a regional economic powerhouse far beyond what it is today. It would produce a convention center that could compete with any other center in the world.”

Our Scott Lewis wasn’t too impressed. He offers up five questions on the idea. He also calls it “half-baked,” saying “the paper glossed over major problems and left many unanswered questions.”

Lewis says the paper is too vague about a key issue (what happens to those cherished jobs at the 10th Avenue Terminal), the need for a sports arena (what is it, again?), and the $1.5 billion cost (“there’s no way it’s this cheap).”

Then there’s this eyebrow-raising declaration by the newspaper” “Beginning today, realizing this bold vision is priority No. 1 for U-T San Diego.”

A reader wondered if maybe the newspaper should be another top priority: namely, reporting the news. (Zing!)

Instead of shutting off the comments, as it did when publisher Manchester got roasted over his Christmas message, the U-T responded: “That is our priority, each and every day. That is the focus and mission of the newsroom. This is an editorial campaign being launched by our publisher and the editorial pages, which is separate and distinct from the newsroom operations.”

Keeping editorial opinions from influencing news coverage is more of a challenge than many newspaper journalists let on. If you were a U-T reporter, would you be brave enough to pitch and write a news story that  questions (or even debunks) the assumptions behind the paper’s grand plan?

This is a test. We’ll soon see if anyone aces it.

A few more notes:

• The last time we checked, B comes before F. Even I know that (and I went to public school!). But in at least some of Sunday’s printed U-T papers, the F opinion section — where more details about the waterfront plan appeared — was inserted just after the A section and prior to the local B section.  

“When we’re talking editorial priorities at UTSD, even the phonecian alphabet takes a knee,” tweeted local journalism observer and substitute Morning Report steward Seth Hall. Ouch!

• If you haven’t already now would be a good time to read our big profile of U-T publisher Manchester, which went live Friday. One of its big questions about “San Diego’s Cheerleader in Chief:” “Will he use the newspaper as a bullhorn — or a bludgeon?”

What do you think? Drop by our comment section on that story and let us know.

Behind the South Bay Scandal

We’re taking a closer look at the scandal that’s swept the Sweetwater school district. At the center of it all: the district’s decision to hire a construction firm to manage a $644 million voter-approved bond. 

“The selection process had been exhaustive, board members were told. Then-Superintendent Jesus Gandara recommended what he said was the top firm: a joint venture of Seville Group and another company, Gilbane. The board hired the venture and handed it $7.5 million in work,” Rob Davis writes.

“But Gilbane/Seville hadn’t initially been the top firm. The district’s internal ratings were tossed out. That happened routinely.”

It’s a case that strikes at the heart of the South Bay political establishment.

However, despite all the talk of it being a bribery case, the elected officials haven’t actually been charged with bribery. They’ve primarily been charged with breaking rules on how much gifts they can receive and not reporting those gifts on disclosure forms.

The U-T San Diego quotes some people in the South Bay wondering, then, why the DA went after Sweetwater officials and not her political ally Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, who also got in hot water over gift reporting.

The supervisor’s spokesman didn’t appreciate the connection. “Any comparison of the two cases is a desperate attempt by an attorney to defend his Sweetwater clients. This isn’t even apples to oranges. This is apples to giraffes,” he said.

Job Picture Brightens, but No Need for Sunglasses Yet

San Diego employment rose at the fastest pace in a long time in 2011, our Rich Toscano reports, but there is still much more progress to be made. He offers several graphics to make his case, a sign that the local chart-production industrial complex remains healthy. 

Don’t Drink the Water (Yet)

A U-T reporter dropped by the city’s Advanced Water Purification Facility to go on a tour of a facility designed to turn “recycled wastewater (Ewww!) into water that is clean enough to drink (Yum!).”

There’s no recycled-and-purified water to drink yet, since the facility’s product hasn’t been certified as ready for prime time. (It wasn’t ready last summer either, when the mayor and others carefully avoided taking a sip.)  But the reporter was impressed by the show, even if one term she learned — “municipal discharges” — doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue.

The story doesn’t say what that means, but I’m going to amuse myself by assuming it refers to local politicians who get sacked on Election Day.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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