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Last December, shortly after buying what was then The San Diego Union-Tribune, local hotelier Doug Manchester told me he was interested in also buying the North County Times, San Diego County’s other major newspaper. The Times’ parent, Lee Enterprises, had just filed for bankruptcy.

The deal was finally consummated Monday, according to an unsourced report in the San Diego Business Journal — a report immediately disputed by John Lynch, CEO of what’s since been renamed U-T San Diego.

The Business Journal said it knew the U-T had bought the North County Times, but it wouldn’t say how it knew. The U-T simply denied it. Lynch hung up on me when I called (“I’m busy,” he said.) But he told a North County Times reporter:

U-T San Diego is continually evaluating investment opportunities to grow its media portfolio. Given the challenging economic conditions, The U-T does not comment on any transactions that are not complete. At this time, U-T San Diego has not purchased The North County Times.

Lynch made a similar comment to the U-T’s staff. Here’s how I summarized it on Twitter.

Strange: SD Biz Journal, citing no one, says U-T bought NC Times. U-T, citing someone (its CEO) says nope. This is why sources matter.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

This is turning into a perfect lesson for journalism students. NCT says it hasn’t been bought by U-T.…

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

The Business Journal initially said a news conference was scheduled for Tuesday, a claim it subsequently deleted from its story.

Regardless of whether the newspapers are close to a deal, the U-T’s denial left the Business Journal in an awkward spot: Resting its credibility on a scoop that it won’t explain how it knows. I called Reo Carr, the Journal’s editor, to ask what gives.

Just spoke to Reo Carr, editor of San Diego Business Journal. “We’re standing behind the story,” he says, declining further comment.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

Let me share a quick anecdote that demonstrates the importance of confirming rumors about the U-T before printing them. This one involved the rumored sale of the Orange County Register to Manchester (who’d also told me months ago he’d like to buy it).

Quick story. Few months ago, late on a Friday, we got a call: OC Register sale to Manchester was done deal. Final. Rumors finally true.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

I salivated: A chance to beat the U-T on its own news? I called John Lynch. Asked: Is it true? Nope, he said. That was that. No story.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

Few weeks later, OC Register gets sold. But to Manchester? Nope. Which is why confirming rumors is essential to me keeping my job.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

And why sourcing news matters. SDBJ’s no-source decision says: Trust us! We just know. But what if deal falls thru? They get blamed.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

If NCT-UT deal does happen, SDBJ can claim a scoop. But at what cost? They’ve hooked their credibility to the deal going through.

— Rob Davis (@robwdavis) September 10, 2012

With the Register, Manchester and Lynch both said they were close to buying it. Lynch told a downtown group. Manchester told KPBS the same. And yet it never happened.

We got another one of those phone calls this past Friday. Manchester had bought the North County Times. Done deal. But we couldn’t verify it. Will the rumor be like the speculation that Manchester would buy the Union-Tribune (which ended up being true) or the Orange County Register (which was sold instead to a Boston investor)?

We remain on watch.

Why would Manchester want the North County Times? Some reasons:

• He’d be buying a printing press that would allow him to consolidate printing operations. That could save money and clear the way for redeveloping the U-T’s Mission Valley headquarters. Lynch said recently that the newspaper’s printing operations would have to be moved out of Mission Valley to clear room for the company’s proposed $200 million condo-and-retail project.

• It would give the U-T a stronger presence in North County and likely enable some consolidation between the two papers’ operations. Manchester could expand his audience for the fledgling U-T TV. And he could tap into advertisers and readers interested in expanded coverage of the military, which Lynch has called a priority (the Times covers Oceanside and reports on Camp Pendleton’s marines).

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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