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At first glance, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and newspaper publisher/developer Doug Manchester don’t seem to have much in common.
One’s a very liberal lawmaker-turned-mayor, who has spent his long career in public service and academia. The other is a very conservative business magnate who has spent his life building big things, signing big deals, and making big money.
But step back. These guys have a lot in common. They’re both 70 and no longer married to the women who helped them build their families and careers. Their careers have been filled with conflict and controversy, creating a lot of bitter adversaries. The best common thread, however, is they both took over powerful institutions — the mayor’s office and the city’s major daily newspaper, respectively — and neither seems to have understood exactly how much influence came with their new jobs. And, after some time in their new roles, they might both be a bit disappointed.
Manchester got to his spot first, so let’s start with him.
When Call-Me-Papa purchased the Union-Tribune, he and sidekick John Lynch clearly thought they were the bee’s knees. They thought they could remake the most valuable section of San Diego’s waterfront by doing a front-page story about their vision for it.
They thought they could influence elections. Again, the front page was the key. They dictated every word of three campaign-season front-page wraparounds.
They thought they could build an entirely new local TV station.
They might still succeed on that last point. The other two haven’t gone so well.
Manchester discovered what every young reporter learns when he or she gets that first front-page story: They don’t really do anything. Journalism can be powerful. But a newspaper cannot easily frame a debate to suit its owner’s agenda. It can certainly try, but the more overt the attempt, the less likely it is to work. To maintain credibility, you have to maintain a credible editor. The credible editor comes with a commitment to fairness. And that’s where everything goes downhill for a partisan publisher dreaming of domination.
The best a publisher can hope for is what savvy publishers learned years ago: Have a broader, macro impact on the writing staff, its leadership and its approach. Hope that, over time, things come out the way you like.
In the meantime, you get your freak on in the editorial pages. And that’s where we find Manchester today.
As for the new mayor, we’re not sure where he’s going to end up. He took his seat and stopped everything in its tracks. He examined every piece of paper he was asked to sign, every nomination, every deal going through, every check being cut and every meeting he was invited to. He was looking for his leverage. He thought he could dictate Unified Port of San Diego commissioners, legalize medical marijuana and force the hotel industry to fork over $30 million (or was it $60 million?) from its special tax to pay for city services.
On all those points, he had to accept defeat. But he did manage to compel hotel owners to consider (just consider) an application for funding the big 2015 celebration at Balboa Park. Score one for the opportunity to apply for a grant! The notoriously indefatigable politician is starting to realize where his power ends and that some of his bigger dreams will take time.
Unless they bobble it, which is entirely possible, Filner and Manchester still have several more years of influence ahead. I, for one, can’t wait to see which one makes more progress on his vision.
This column also ran in the June 2013 issue of San Diego Magazine.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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