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Manchester’s Foray Into Journalism Elicits Praise And Worry

Famed newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer acquired newspapers as a way to attain power.

Developer Doug Manchester's multi-million dollar investment in a television channel and his purchase of U-T San Diego and the North County Times has left many long-time readers wondering if Manchester is doing the same.

Aired 10/23/12 on KPBS News.

U-T San Diego reporters and former staffers complain that Doug Manchester's boosterism and strident editorials are dimming the paper's heft.

Aired 10/25/12 on KPBS News.

Part Two

Aired 10/25/12 on KPBS News.

Part Three

They believe he’s using the paper to wage a propaganda campaign on matters close to his heart. They point to over-the-top anti-Obama commentary, the paper's front-page editorials endorsing San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio or the open championing of the use of the waterfront at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal to build a sports complex.

U-T reader Christina Schaefer, who works as a biologist, canceled her subscription to the paper this summer because she said she saw echoes of positions taken in the paper's opinion section in news coverage of downtown development.

"The U-T became a vehicle for Doug Manchester to promote his agenda," Schaefer said. “I felt bullied almost into a position."

San Diego State University journalism professor Tim Wulfemeyer said it’s a positive that the U-T is under local ownership, because he believes Manchester cares about the region. But he's also concerned about what he calls the paper’s mean-spirited viewpoints.

"It starts out on the editorial page. 'We're out to get Filner or we're out to get Obama. We don't want those people re-elected and so we'll say and do just about anything to keep that from happening,’” Wulfemeyer said. “Well, pretty soon, people might wonder if that kind of mean-spirited unbalance is going to seep into the traditional news coverage."

U-T CEO John Lynch stands by the paper’s editorials.

“We make no apologies for what we do on the editorial page,” he said. “We’re very actively involved. Papa Doug Manchester and I have views that are very consistent and we communicate regularly and try to reflect those views on what’s important to us and what we think is best for the community.”

Manchester said he’s aware that readers are canceling subscriptions over news coverage and editorials, but he claims circulation is up.

“Listen, we’re interested in serving everybody in San Diego because we love the city,” Manchester said.

That said, he added, “I’ve always said under Ronald Reagan, we had Steve Jobs, we had Johnny Cash and we had Bob Hope and under Obama, we have no cash, no jobs and no hope.”

But both Manchester and Lynch maintain the firewall between news and opinion remains.

“Our newsroom runs itself through the leadership of Jeff Light,” Lynch said.

U-T editor Light did not respond to requests for comment. But U-T staffers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Light most often sides with his bosses over his staff.

They tell of a review of the self-published book, "Capitalist at Large: Reflections of an International Entrepreneur." The reviewer blasted the book as "self-congratulatory" and "unreflective." The review was not published, according to insiders, because it was negative. The book’s author mentioned Manchester in the index positively four times.

"There's a sort of adolescent mentality that's running the newspaper," one reporter said. "It's petulant and not particularly thoughtful. If you have a really good story, I don't know if it would get into the paper if Lynch or Manchester didn't like it or it was too controversial. Morale is terrible. People are distressed."

They also said Lynch and Manchester are far more hands-on than their predecessors in pitching story ideas, angles and people to profile. The reporters said the two men suggest their friends as subjects for the paper’s front-page “Making a Difference” stories. Lynch shrugs off any criticism of that process.

“I see nothing wrong with saying, 'Here’s Father Joe who’s done an awful lot, let’s put him up,’” Lynch said. “Sometimes we have a purview to people through our charitable involvements that the people in the newsroom don’t have.”

Several reporters also worry about what effect Manchester's insistence on rosy stories will have on the paper's credibility. The new motto on the U-T’s front page reads, “The world’s greatest country and America’s finest city.” Manchester has said the ability to order up positive copy is why he bought the paper.

"I'd like to be in a position where we point out what's good and right about the city of San Diego as opposed to some of the negativity that has permeated prior,” Manchester said.

But former U-T reporter Craig Rose said the paper’s quality will suffer if its ownership doesn’t understand that’s not the role of journalism.

"There are armies of public relations people,” Rose said. “It is their job to crank out positive news and they do. The newspaper's role when they're at their best is to point out the uncomfortable truths."

Developer David Malcolm said the public not only needs facts but a silver lining too.

“Everything I get on this thing is negative all day long,” Malcolm said, pointing to his cell phone. “Greece is falling apart. Europe is falling apart. It is great to have a news organization that says our number one goal is going to be a cheerleader for San Diego. There are a lot of great things going on in this town and in the state but you don’t read that. And they dare to say we’re going to try to create something positive. I like that.”

Malcolm said Manchester is following a shrewd business model.

"Fox News, regardless if you like them or hate them, created an incredible cash cow,” he said. “There hasn't been a conservative newspaper in the U.S. other than the Wall Street Journal. What's the most successful newspaper in the U.S.? The Wall Street Journal.”

But Manchester’s goal may extend beyond creating a successful media outlet.

When he bought the paper, some assumed he was really after the prime real estate underneath the building in Mission Valley. Whatever the motive, it’s clear Manchester now wants to reprise the days when media owners had real clout in shaping events.

Like all newspapers, the U-T has had a lousy five years with shrinking revenue, falling circulation and budget cuts But Lynch believes he can reverse the decline.

“A lot of people think we’re crazy because we’re probably the only people in the country re-investing in newspapers,” he said.

He thinks the paper can once again be a player.

“If you look at the history of San Diego, this newspaper was really very active in changing history in San Diego,” Lynch said. “Jack Murphy in bringing the Padres to San Diego and bringing the Chargers to San Diego and building Qualcomm Stadium with Neil Morgan collaborating with Pete Wilson and Ernie Hahn to build the entire Gaslamp center and for the past 20 years, this newspaper has been AWOL in terms of leadership.”

The leadership Lynch speaks of includes kingmaking. Almost as soon as Manchester bought the paper last December, he and Lynch met with San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio at Manchester’s hotel, the Grand Del Mar.

Six months later, DeMaio and two other City Council candidates, Scott Sherman, who has since won, and Ray Ellis, met with Manchester. DeMaio says the meetings had nothing to do with city business.

“They relate to campaign activities," DeMaio said.

Lynch and Manchester also gave DeMaio a boost in two front-page editorials.

“We felt very strongly that we needed a mayor who could lead us economically out of the morass that we were in,” Lynch said.

Manchester’s endorsement of DeMaio raises questions about what he might expect in return if the man he wants as mayor is elected. An I-Newsource/KPBS investigation last month showed the financial and political ties between the two men go back a decade.

Manchester’s plans for San Diego’s waterfront go back even further. Soon after he built his first Manchester Grand Hyatt tower 20 years ago, Lynch says Manchester eyed the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal as the next coastal land to develop. Right after he bought the U-T, the paper touted its vision on the front page to build a sports complex and hotels. He said the motive was purely visionary.

“Whether or not it’s a stadium, whatever it is, I don’t have control over that,” Manchester said. “If Filner or anyone else thinks I’m backing DeMaio for maybe developing that, I have no interest in that, nor would I have any interest in doing anything ever again with the Port of San Diego.”

The I-Newsource/KPBS investigation found that Manchester bought stock in Host Hotels & Resort when he sold his waterfront hotels to the conglomerate in 2008. The piece provoked a debate about whether Manchester was using the paper to advance his financial interests, a charge Manchester denied.

“If Host shares increase in value, there would be an opportunity to have a share increase, but I have so little shares, it’s immaterial,” he said.

Even so, the paper’s ownership has been willing to use the paper as a club to get Tenth Avenue redeveloped.

In August, Lynch sent San Diego Port Commissioner Scott Peters an email asking how he planned to vote on a multi-year lease with Dole Food Company. Lynch also wrote that the contract should contain a provision that would allow Dole to drop off its bananas in National City if the Port goes away. The email says otherwise the U-T will be forced to lead a campaign to disband the Port.

Peters viewed that last line as a threat.

"The comments seemed intended to influence my vote,” he said.

Lynch initially said that line was not meant to intimidate.

"It was not a threat,” he said. “It was a call to action. This was a giveaway of public property."

University of Southern California journalism professor Gabe Kahn said there’s a long history of media owners with vast business holdings and political interests strutting their power to settle scores and promote agendas. But that approach could tarnish the U-T’s credibility.

“That does not help the brand or the business model of the newspaper,” he said.

Evening Edition

Comments

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | October 23, 2012 at 9:13 a.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

One thing is clear, and I think Manchester would even admit this - his is not a long-term model of success.

The UT is going in one direction, and the city in another.

There may be enough elderly, conservative voters to keep him afloat for the time-being, but San Diego is slowly progressing and he will continue to alienate the majority of citizens with his assault on journalism and his FOX "news" approach.

My guess is he wants to have fun with it now, throw his agenda in people's faces, use the "news"paper to elect his pals and push his waterfront plan through and THEN sell it off or dissolve it and develop the land.

For someone who claims to love this city, Mr. Manchester sure is ruining it for many.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'josephmonroe'

josephmonroe | October 23, 2012 at 9:26 a.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

So many people are cancelling or not renewing their subscriptions to the "U-T"
If I were an advertiser, I would be very wary of their circulation numbers. Manchester is not growing that newspaper, he is destroying it.

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Avatar for user 'sacooper'

sacooper | October 23, 2012 at 10:24 a.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

I cancelled, too. First the Ut, then the NCT.. Thank goodness for KPBS, the Fallbrook Village news, and the LA Times. But I miss my daily local papers.

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Avatar for user 'loudlong'

loudlong | October 23, 2012 at 11:24 a.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

Hilarious. The comments of Manchester reflect a mentality (if it even rises to that level of sentient thought) that is infantile. And kudos to KPBS for getting disgraced developer David Malcom, who pled guilty to conflict of interest violations, to endorse the journalistic approach. This paper is an embarrassment to San Diego.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 23, 2012 at 12:04 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

Historical amnesia much? Doesn't anyone remember the propagandistic columns by Cold Warrior Vic Krulak? And strident? Maybe. But NO ONE beats GBLT militants for strident.

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Avatar for user 'nosralmat'

nosralmat | October 23, 2012 at 12:11 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

I'm the guy who wrote the review of "Capitalist At Large," which was censored by the UT.

Here's the story from my website.

http://www.thomaslarson.com/publications/articles/238-book-critic-censored.html

Thanks for reporting on what, for me, amounts to business as usual: developers buying/using newspapers as though they were politicians who will advance their interests and changes in technology that cause businesses to implode, in this case, the print edition going under and the online presence diffused. Once the UT is online (like Newsweek) it will lose its clout. Speed up the process. Stop subscribing now.

Thomas Larson

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Avatar for user 'poindextrous'

poindextrous | October 23, 2012 at 2:28 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

This was terrific reporting. We need more of this! I had to create an account online just to comment. This is the best, most important and most hard-hitting reporting I've heard on KPBS in a very long time. I live in Vista and am deeply troubled by Manchester's purchase of multiple news outlets. He quickly changed the format of the North County Times, and now the Letters page--always filled with letters from locals, about all sorts of issues, has been pared back to nearly nothing. That was the most interesting part of the paper, and it's a shame to see it go.

It is so critical to a healthy democracy to have a tenacious media that keeps a clear separation between themselves and government officials and candidates for office. Manchester makes no bones about tearing down that wall, and that is a very sad, very bad thing for all of us.

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Avatar for user 'boingo'

boingo | October 23, 2012 at 5:08 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

One word for this " Megalomaniac "

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Avatar for user 'pbslvr'

pbslvr | October 23, 2012 at 6:32 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

Thanks nosramat for your article. It is nice to hear news of this travesty from the inside. It would be nice if KPBS did more clandestine research to see how newspaper journalism has suffered in our city. I also dropped my subscription but I have to admit that I am suffering from daily withdrawl. Papa AH (figure this out for yourself) says that subscriptions are up but I doubt that. I have lived in conservative areas most of my life and I have accepted the fact that the editorial page would not reflect my views. However, now opinions are on the front page. Even though Manchester thinks that the wall between journalism and opinion has not been crossed that is a total lie. In one example there was a front page article on how Obama is to blame for high gas prices and then a few days later Crook Hedgecock basically repeated the article. I found a video from Fox news, during the Bush days, that refuted that the president has the ability to affect gas prices. Conservative opinions change based on the administration.

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Avatar for user 'pbslvr'

pbslvr | October 23, 2012 at 6:50 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

In recent news articles I saw that Manchester is planning on buying the Tribune Corporation. That includes the Chicago Tribune, numerous other papers, but for our region, that means the LA Times. I have sent a letter of complaint to our senators. I have asked them to investigate this based on one organization becoming too much of a monopoly. If you are concerned that a rich businessman wants to dominate Southern California then we need to stop Manchester.

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Avatar for user 'pampam'

pampam | October 23, 2012 at 7:16 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

I also cancelled my subscription to the UT (after 28 years) due to the front page editorials, the biased full-page ads, the biased reporting, and the total redo of the Sunday paper to reflect Manchester's political views. Editorializing belongs on the editorial page. A newspaper is for reporting the NEWS! The LA Times outshines the UT exponentially! Perhaps Manchester could learn a thing or two by reading a quality newspaper.

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Avatar for user 'tdselgas'

tdselgas | October 23, 2012 at 8:24 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

I also canceled my subscription. Every newspaper should take a stand and endorse their favorite. But, they can't manipulate the news

Manchester is shortsighted in not being an honest journalist.

I subscribed to the LA Times. Hopefully they will have an SD edition'

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Avatar for user 'herberg'

herberg | October 23, 2012 at 8:46 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

I have sent this letter to the editor of the UT:
Editor:
As a registered Republican who feels strongly that our democracy needs ethical journalism to work properly I was pleased with the quality of the reporting that increased during the brief previous ownership. I was inclined to vote for DeMaio for Mayor but now after painfully enduring numerous full page ads that distort any Democrat and no separation between a biased editorial page and the front page and being nauseated by Manchester's use of the paper to promote his personal financial greed interests I have concluded that maybe Filmer might be better than you have striven to depict him. So I am going to vote for Filmer for Mayor. And in order to preserve my self respect, please cancel my subscription. You don't meet any of the standards of professional journalism anymore.
Rollie

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Avatar for user 'herberg'

herberg | October 23, 2012 at 8:49 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

Encouraging LA Times to create a SD local news supplement to the Times is a great idea. Competition is useful. I'm going to suggest that to them.

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Avatar for user 'kayob64'

kayob64 | October 23, 2012 at 9:52 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

I am glad I am not alone! I heard the first of the Manchester/Lynch/Light report today. After 4 generations of living here, I too, have cancelled my subscription for all the same reasons:propaganda, bullying and gloating by badly-behaved adolescents in adult bodies. But what do we do now? We need a decent newspaper in San Diego and a voice of reason. I now have a subscription to the LA Times but local news is missing. The thugs are taking over the local internet and TV. Where do we find reason and integrity? Can KPBS fill in the void or at least point us in a direction? I would like some answers/suggestions. Thank you!

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Avatar for user 'macfanruss'

macfanruss | October 23, 2012 at 11:42 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

When the takeover occurred, I assumed that there might be some effort to be low key. The "Worst President" was the final clue that there wasn't any attempt to mask the indoctrination. Full of GOP talking points which were full of untruths.

Then the news some actual voter fraud came out, I thought: This is just what the GOP needed to justify "Voter ID" and other means of vote suppression legislation targeted at 2008 Democratic voters. Ironically, the fraud was perpetrated by the GOP in Florida and several "swing" states. I never saw any mention of this news printed in the UT. Did I miss it? I assumed that it didn't pass the Manchester filter which is called censorship.

How about originality. That "no hope" zinger has been around since 2005:
http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=140183

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 24, 2012 at 9:50 a.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

BAM BAM writes: "I also cancelled my subscription to the UT (after 28 years) due to the front page editorials, the biased full-page ads, the biased reporting, and the total redo of the Sunday paper to reflect Manchester's political views."

Err, I think a lot of people and not just Manjester's can be accused of "biased reporting." And what about some of the UT staff like Matt Hall? You would think he was the scourge of the earth the way he was blasted by pro-death penalty posters for his endorsement of Prop 34! I guess of all you missed that.

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Avatar for user 'sdurban'

sdurban | October 24, 2012 at 1:47 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

This comment thread is becoming a public proclamation of cancelled UT subscriptions. Just wanted to add my username to the list. We cancelled on day one of the Manchester takeover.

Papa Doug and Lynch are among the worst possible people to be representing San Diego.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | October 24, 2012 at 2:25 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

Recent articles indicate that the sale of the LA Times, apparently owned currently by some hedge funds, could bring in as much as $400 million by itself. Others interested besides Doug Manchester include Rupert Murdoch and Aaron Kushner, the man who bought the Orange County Register.

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Avatar for user 'Suzanne Marmion'

Suzanne Marmion, KPBS Staff | October 24, 2012 at 5:28 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

kayob64, at KPBS, we've been prioritizing our resources to cover local news, with the understanding that other outlets are shrinking. Our newsroom has grown (our investigations desk has expanded, including through our partnership with the data-driven nonprofit embedded in our newsroom, Investigative Newsource, and we've added positions such as an additional border reporter on our Fronteras desk, a Science & Technology reporter, and a military blogger who join our existing beats in education, business, health, metro etc.). We've also expanded our news programming with more in-depth features, more web stories, and added a nightly TV news program, KPBS Evening Edition, to offer an alternative to commercial newscasts.
I came to work here two years ago because KPBS stands out in the public media world for its commitment to local news and its innovative multi-platform model which lets us maximize our reach and public service. Our hope is that with continued support we'll continue to grow and have a news staff that can rival a daily paper's, but with the approach of fairness and context that distinguishes public media.

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Avatar for user 'aztec69'

aztec69 | October 26, 2012 at 4:16 p.m. ― 2 years, 1 month ago

The more I study Papa Doug's words and actions the more I realize he's just another Donald Trump wannabe.

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