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Doug Manchester, the U-T San Diego publisher, confirmed to KPBS today that he’s close to buying the Orange County Register, a deal that would represent a major expansion of a fledgling media empire that Manchester has already used as a political bludgeon.

Patch.com broke the news this morning that John Lynch, the newspaper’s CEO, told a downtown Lion Club gathering Tuesday that the deal was near. Manchester, the hotelier who bought U-T San Diego late last year, told KPBS’s Joanne Faryon a formal announcement is premature but that a deal is close and could come next week.

Since paying roughly $110 million for the Union-Tribune last November, Manchester has openly acknowledged interest in expanding his newspaper portfolio. Manchester in March told us that he was interested in buying the Register, a move that would give him control over two of Southern California’s largest daily newspapers. He said then he had not bid on the 280,000-circulation Register.

In addition to the Register, he told us late last year that he was considering whether to purchase the North County Times, the 75,000-circulation daily that covers San Diego County’s northern cities. No deal has been struck.

The U-T under Manchester has become more partisan, petulant and provocative. He has used the paper to support his political views, most recently endorsing mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio in a wrap-around front-page editorial. Manchester, who made his name as a downtown developer, has proposed a mega sports project on San Diego’s downtown waterfront, then turned the paper into a weapon when his idea didn’t get traction.

After proposing a waterfront football stadium, arena and hotel, the newspaper launched a two-pronged attack against the Unified Port of San Diego, which controls land use there and opposed the idea. The U-T’s editorial page then lambasted what it called the port’s “Enron-style” finances, while its news pages launched an investigation into port spending.

Manchester has also announced plans to fully develop the U-T’s land in Mission Valley, last week proposing a $200-million, mixed-use project with 198 condos and retail space.

The Register would give Manchester’s politics an expanded reach, while enabling the two papers to consolidate business and printing operations. The benefits of merging their newsrooms are less obvious, as their coverage today has little overlap. But the Patch report said Lynch wanted the papers to be unified under one brand, which could give a wider audience to the television station the newspaper is currently developing.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at Voice of San Diego. 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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