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It's Official: U-T San Diego Is Buying North County Times

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Dean Nelson, Point Loma Nazarene
It's Official: U-T San Diego Is Buying North County Times
GUESTS:Doug Manchester, Owner, U-T San DiegoKent Davy, Editor, North County TimesDean Nelson, Director, Point Loma Nazarene University's journalism program

CAVANAUGH: Confirmation that the North County Times has been sold, and the buyer is UT San Diego. We talked about the reports of the sale on the show yesterday. Today, Lee enterprises, the publisher of the North County Times says it's selling the paper to UT San Diego for a price of almost $12 million. The sale is expected to be completed in early October. Joining us now is Doug Manchester, owner of UT San Diego. Welcome to the show. MANCHESTER: Good to hear your voice. How you doing? It's the first day of the rest of our life. We got to live it like it's the super bowl only without any instant replays, right? CAVANAUGH: I wouldn't disagree with that. Why did you want to buy the North County Times? MANCHESTER: Well, it's just a natural as the fact that we're very honored that the North County Times and the California will become a part of our vision to better serve San Diego and the Temecula area through a multi-platform strategy as I mentioned in the press release. CAVANAUGH: Will the North County Times maintain a separate identity or will it be more like UT San Diego North County? MANCHESTER: You know, all of that is still up in the air, and we haven't made a final decision on that. But certainly we will in fact have the opportunity to better serve that area with all the resources that we have at the UT. CAVANAUGH: Do you envision the North County Times having its own editorial board? MANCHESTER: We will definitely have editorial input from the North County area. CAVANAUGH: Will it have a separate board? MANCHESTER: That is yet to be determined. CAVANAUGH: How about the staff? The reporters at North County Times. Are you intending on keeping members of the staff? The whole staff? MANCHESTER: Once again, you know this has just been announced, and we we will not even take over the paper until October or so. We're in the process of analyzing all of that. And obviously we want to in fact have the very best reporting for the North County area, and so therefore we will have the opportunity to retain the very, very best. CAVANAUGH: Now, you were talking about how it completes or expands very vision for San Diego. What is your vision as a media owner in San Diego? MANCHESTER: Well, it's been very clear that our vision is that for so many years the news media has not championed the military, has not championed the many success stories that are here in San Diego. And we've tried to in fact point out what's right about America's finest city. And we want to continue to do that. So our vision is really to continue to be supportive of business and charitable and all of the great things that San Diego has to offer. CAVANAUGH: Now, we heard that there were rumors in the past that you were trying to buy the Orange County register. That didn't work out. This now did work out, North County Times. What other accusations are you looking at in the media world here in the San Diego region? MANCHESTER: In the San Diego region, we do not have any immediate plans to acquire any additional media outlets. But we are looking at others throughout the country. CAVANAUGH: Anymore in Southern California? MANCHESTER: We're looking at all the opportunities that are available. CAVANAUGH: What would be your destiny in the sense of looking at your as a media mogul? How many papers? MANCHESTER: Well, first of all, I don't refer to myself as a media mogul. But we want to in fact be the very best we can be. CAVANAUGH: Now, I have to tell you, KPBS has received letters, we've heard some anecdotal evidence that UT subscribers, many UT subscriber, I will characterize it that way, have canceled their subscriptions because of the aggressive conservative editorial policy in UT San Diego now. And I'm just wondering, what do you say to people who are looking for an objective voice in their city's newspaper? MANCHESTER: Well, we're a champion of San Diego. And we have had an increase in actual subscription. You can't look at one without looking at the other. There's a lot of people that canceled their subscriptions over the years because of the editorial stance that the previous previous owners had. So we want to report the news accurately and not influence the news. But we want to also be in a position to state our editorial position on certain issues that face the City of San Diego, and the State of California, and for that matter, the country. And our editorial views are reflective in our editorial writings which is we support free enterprise and limited government, and that's our editorial stance. CAVANAUGH: Some people have said -- it's highly unusual for a newspaper to run editorials on the front page, and yet that seems to be something that you do with a certain regularity. Do you plan to continue doing that? MANCHESTER: Absolutely. CAVANAUGH: Okay. And at the new North County Times too? MANCHESTER: Absolutely. CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well -- MANCHESTER: We are not -- we do not apologize for our editorial position. And we we salute the military. We live in the greatest country in the world, the greatest city within that country, and all we're here about is to salute what's right and good about it. And we want to increase -- North County Times has done a fantastic job as far as covering high school sports and other activities, and civic events, and we want to do everything we can to keep that tradition going forward. CAVANAUGH: Doug Manchester, I really appreciate your taking the time out to speak with us today. MANCHESTER: God bless. CAVANAUGH: Right now joining us is Kent Davy. He's editor of the North County Times. And Kent, welcome. Thank you for doing this. DAVY: My pleasure. CAVANAUGH: I take it this was not a happy day at the North County Times. DAVY: Well, I -- there are people who are -- some of my folks are, I guess, you'd say a little shocked or stunned. And certainly there's a fair amount of fear about the unknown. Nobody at this point in times knows exactly what's going to happen to the current structure of the paper, the brand. Any of the employees. Mr. Manchester from his remarks, it's clear that he's not certain exactly how the papers will be integrated or if it'll be left as a stand alone brand. So uncertainty always breeds fear. That being said, and I can say this only personally, this is not the worst day of my life. There have been vastly more tragic days. So it's okay. CAVANAUGH: Well, can you tell us a little bit about what this paper means to people in the North County? DAVY: Yeah. I said -- I have said to people at the Union Tribune, here in the community, and I spend a fair amount of time talking to community groups about the paper, I think that this paper serves the local community as well as any midsized daily in America. We have never won any great big national awards. But on a day in, day out basis, I think that what we have been able to do is better than anybody else, or almost anybody else -- well, let me take that back. There are certainly people who did better than we, but we do a pretty good job of setting the table for the community, giving them information about themselves, allowing the community to have a conversation with itself about its good things and bad things. We have been part of an effort that has created a North County identity, North County and southwest Riverside County. I think we've fulfilled our mission. And what we do as a journalist, we don't work for corporate masters, no matter what their name is. What we do is we work for reader, and we work for the notion of doing good work. And what we do is -- while it's not probably as good as being a missionary or a doctor or a hospice worker, it's good work. We right wrongs, we show the community both its successes and its failures. We find ways to celebrate the people in our midst, to hold a mirror up to the community and say this is us. And I think that's good work. CAVANAUGH: Will you be staying with the North County Times? Do you know? DAVY: I have no idea at this point. CAVANAUGH: I really want to thank you. I think you've been very eloquent on the show today. Thanks for taking the time out and speaking with us. DAVY: My pleasure. CAVANAUGH: Dean Nelson is here, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene university. What do you make of all this? NELSON: It's interesting, isn't it? This takeover of the North County Times has been rumored for a long time. The takeover by the UT and the expansion of the media empire of Doug Manchester. So it's not a great surprise, but it's always kind of astounding when it actually happens. I think a lot. People have been expecting it. CAVANAUGH: Now, is this kind -- I'm just wondering from your viewpoint, as a journalism instructor. Is this a news media story that people who work in news are mostly concerned about? Or do you see this as a story that the general population of San Diego will have a lot of interest? NELSON: In part, it's just those of us who are in the news media care the most about it. But that's probably not as it should be. We in the news media don't do a very good job of explain what we do and why we do it. I thought Kent Davy's explanation of what happens in a community newspaper was just profound. And I wish we preached that sermon maybe a little more often. So if we were to do that, then the general population would care far more about who owns the paper than maybe they do right now. CAVANAUGH: What we've been hearing from people, and indeed this is nonscientific, just anecdotal, but there have been people who have contacted KPBS with their concerns about the direction that UT San Diego is headed in. Concerned that a highly opinionated editorial staff will start to filter into the news stories themselves. And now we have the North County Times being acquired by that same organization. Is it healthy for San Diego to have multiple media sources owned by one highly opinionated ownership? NELSON: Well, the best kind of journalism in any community is a journalism that has competition. And when you take away some of that competition, and on some stories, the North County Times did compete with UT San Diego, not all the time, but sometimes they did. And that's healthy, healthy, and it keeps both organizations accountable. When you have an owner of a dominant voice, you have lose a little accountability for the kind of journalism that could be happening in a community. I hope that's not what happens. But it's conceivable. I would teach that the value of competition is always going to increase the quality of the journalism. And in this case, I think it's actually a smart business decision by UT San Diego. Mr. Manchester is a very smart guy. A very smart business person. When you think of taking over another paper, and maybe consolidating some of the advising and some of the productions and things like that, it's actually a very smart move because the business model that has existed for newspapers over the last several years is broken. And so here is an effort to actually try to make some money on a newspaper. The other reason I think it's good is that it furthers the commitment to local journalism. I know he said they're looking at stuff around the country too, but this is a commitment to local media. Now, whether it's done well or not in the absence of competition, we're going to see, aren't we? CAVANAUGH: Now, we see in UT San Diego that the acquisition of the paper was in a sense a launching pad to a convergence of news media. UT San Diego new has a cable TV show. NELSON: UT TV. CAVANAUGH: They have a presence on the web. So is perhaps acquiring a newspaper now a gateway into having more of a media presence across the board? NELSON: Oh, sure, sure. And they're doing a very smart thing by having this TV presence. The presumption I think is that people will leave their computers on while the UT TV is on in the background. So it's a very smart move. I going back to the community's concerns about whether the journalism is being done well. And that's -- without competition, there's not much incentive other than just personal integrity on the part of the reporters, which when you think about the UT staff, they are a committed, professional, awesome group of reporters. When there isn't that competitive edge though, there may not be that same commitment to, well, let's make that extra phone call, let's really hold someone's feet to the fire. I do get concerned when I hear Mr. Manchester talking about championing the successes of San Diego. Okay. What about that watchdog function that the news media has, of let's hold someone accountable, whether it's government or I business entity or something like that? They do have a watchdog series in the paper. They've done a good job with that. But I wonder about would there be a watchdog kind of approach if we found something in the military or in real estate? Would we actually see those stories being done in the UT or in the now UT-owned North County Times? That concerns me a little. CAVANAUGH: We'll just have to keep watching. NELSON: Yeah.

North County Times bought
The Owner of the U-T San Diego buys the North County Times.

Lee Enterprises' Announcement
Lee Enterprises' announcement that it well sell The North County Times.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.
John Lynch's Letter
U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch's letter announcing the purchase of The North County Times.
North County Times Sold To U-T San Diego
The owners of U-T San Diego announced today that they are purchasing the North County Times.

The ownership of U-T San Diego announced today the purchase of the North County Times, paving the way for San Diego County's only two major daily newspapers to be owned by the same company.

U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch said the company that owns the 144-year-old U-T has reached an agreement to buy the North County Times and its sister publication in southwest Riverside County, The Californian.

Hotelier and real estate developer Doug "Papa Doug" Manchester teamed up with Lynch to buy U-T San Diego from Beverly Hills-based private equity firm Platinum Equity late last year. The publication's name has been changed -- it was previously The San Diego Union-Tribune -- and a webcast television component has been added.

"We intend to super serve each and every market in which we enter," Manchester said in a statement. "Since San Diego is our home, this is a logical acquisition."

Manchester, speaking on "KPBS Midday Edition," said no final decisions have been made about the eventual form of the North County Times or the future of its employees.

"This has just been announced and we'll not even take over the paper until October," Manchester said. "We're in the process of analyzing all of that and, obviously, we want to in fact have the very best reporting for the North County area, so therefore, we will have the opportunity to retain the very best."

The North County Times' editor, Kent Davy, told KPBS that no one there knows what will happen, so employees are concerned.

"Uncertainty always breeds fear," Davy said, adding that "this is not the worst day in my life."

Dean Nelson, a journalism professor at Point Loma Nazarene University called the purchase a smart business decision and signals a commitment to local journalism. The question is how well that commitment is carried out, given a lack of competition, he said.

"When you have one owner of a very, very dominant voice, you do lose a little accountability for the kind of journalism that could be happening in a community," Nelson said. "I hope that is not what happens, but it is conceivable."

U-T San Diego under the reign of Manchester and Lynch has been criticized for a sharp tilt to the right side of the political spectrum on its editorial pages.

North County Times reporter Brandon Lowrey posted updates to Twitter during a staff meeting with Manchester and Lynch Tuesday afternoon.

Lowrey tweeted Lynch said "he wants all NCT staffers to interview to keep their positions."

"He said he wants to keep all of the 'winners,'" Lowrey wrote. "Interviews will start Monday with UT HR, Lynch says."

Lowrey also said Manchester told staff he would "control editorials in his own way."

"Except he wants us to be 'positive' in writing news, and to write nice stories about business owners, Manchester said," Lowrey wrote.

The North County Times and The Californian have been owned by publicly traded Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises since 2002. The editions have an average daily circulation rate of 75,606 and 80,789 on Sunday for the six months ending March 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Corrected:
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.