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Doug Manchester, the local developer and publisher of U-T San Diego, said today he’s interested in buying the Orange County Register, a move that would give him control of two of Southern California’s largest metropolitan newspapers.

“There’s no deal right now,” Manchester said today. “Check with me in 30 days and there might be something.”

Manchester, who bought the Union-Tribune in November, said he had not bid on the Orange County paper and that its owner, Freedom Communications, was not currently soliciting bids.

The Register, based in Santa Ana, has a daily circulation of 270,809 and is Freedom’s flagship paper. The Irvine-based company, which owns 24 daily papers across the country, emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. Since November, it has sold three daily papers and struck a deal to sell its eight television stations.

Manchester has expressed a similar level of interest in buying the North County Times, which serves northern San Diego County. Asked whether he’d also consider buying the Los Angeles Times or Riverside Press-Enterprise, Manchester replied: “Sure.”

“I’m interested in all possibilities of extending or acquiring additional media,” he said. But he noted that the U-T’s current focus was on creating a television station, which it calls U-T TV.

Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, said talk of newspaper mergers in Southern California is nothing new. There’s little overlap between the news staffs of the Register and U-T, Nelson said, but their business sides could consolidate. The U-T’s editor, Jeff Light, is a former vice president of the Register.

“If you want a regional advertising consortium, it makes perfect sense,” Nelson said, noting that the papers’ printing operations could also be combined. “From a business standpoint, it may be very smart.”

Since Manchester and partner John Lynch bought the U-T in November and threatened to call out obstructionists of a Chargers stadium, Manchester has most notably used it to advocate a new vision for San Diego’s downtown waterfront.

The paper’s front-page editorial proposed a waterfront football stadium, arena and hotel at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, which is currently used for maritime operations. The idea has been complemented by the paper’s increasingly critical news coverage of the Unified Port of San Diego, which oversees the land and opposes the U-T’s plan. The editorial page, meanwhile, has accused the port of “Enron-style” accounting.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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