After the U-T San Diego’s new CEO, John Lynch, told me last November that the paper’s sports pages would call out Chargers stadium opponents as obstructionists, a media analyst I spoke to made a promise: The U-T’s new ownership will eventually become national news.

It took just more than six months. On Sunday, The New York Times’ media columnist, David Carr, sized up the implications of the ownership change at the U-T San Diego with a critical look at local hotelier Doug Manchester’s reign there. Carr writes:

There is a growing worry that the falling value and failing business models of many American newspapers could lead to a situation where moneyed interests buy papers and use them to prosecute a political and commercial agenda.

That future appears to have arrived in San Diego, where The U-T San Diego, the daily newspaper bought by the local developer and hotelier Douglas F. Manchester, often seems like a brochure for his various interests. …

In a sense, it’s back to the future for newspapers, to a time when they didn’t make much money but could enrich their owners by advancing their agendas in other areas. …

As the only game in town, it seems determined to not just influence the conversation, but control it.

Manchester has left a clear stamp on the paper since he bought it late last year. The paper has attacked the Unified Port of San Diego, which oversees waterfront development, after the agency rebuffed the newspaper’s proposed vision for a downtown football stadium and arena. It was a two-pronged attack: While editorials criticized the port’s finances and leadership, the news pages investigated spending at the public agency.

The newspaper has gotten attention most recently for firing Tim Sullivan, a sports columnist who had criticized Lynch and questioned a new Chargers stadium long before Lynch took over as CEO. Sullivan was fired just more than a week ago and said he believed that his questions about the need for a new Chargers stadium were partly responsible for his firing.

That situation continues to be unresolved. Sullivan has since said he’s been told he’s now on vacation, not fired, and Lynch told Carr that a truce was possible. (Whatever that means.) “That door is not closed yet,” Lynch told Carr.

In the long-term, serious questions remain about the message that Sullivan’s firing sends to other newspaper employees who might otherwise offer critical coverage of a stadium initiative or any other of Manchester and Lynch’s stated interests. In a response to Carr’s piece, Matt Hall, the newspaper’s new columnist, said he remains committed to fairness in his writing, which has included Chargers stadium coverage.

But as I told Carr:

The U-T is an important institution in this city and you want to see it succeed, but there is a very real fear here that it will not be advocating for the public’s good, but the owner’s good instead.


One other media-related bit of news to pass along.

While Manchester expressed interest in buying the Orange County Register and recently said a deal was close, another buyer stepped in.

A private Massachusetts-based investor bought the Register’s parent company today. Terms have not been disclosed.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at Voice of San Diego. You can contact him directly at 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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