A big change just happened in San Diego. You might not know it to read the paper, though.
The San Diego Union-Tribune, the region’s largest newspaper, is now officially owned by local hotelier Doug Manchester, a controversial developer who has shaped the city’s downtown waterfront.
When Manchester struck a deal to buy the paper Nov. 17, the newspaper announced the tentative agreement and said it would close before Dec. 15.
On Tuesday, the deal became final. Manchester’s name appears in all caps in a small column on the newspaper’s second page. His name and those of two new executives are also on the opinion page. Manchester’s title: Publisher.
He quickly put his stamp on the Union-Tribune’s slogan atop its printed front page. What once read “More Than 1,000,000 Readers Weekly” now says “The World’s Greatest Country and America’s Finest City.”
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, those subtle changes were the only public acknowledgements from the paper that anything was different. The region’s dominant media outlet changed hands and barely noted the transition in its own pages. Its website carried an Associated Press wire story at 3:06 p.m. Tuesday, but didn’t put it on the front of the site. Instead, up top were stories about the weather, San Diego State football and a fire.
San Diego CityBeat was the first to report the ownership change. The alternative news weekly published a memo sent to newspaper staffers that said the paper’s current publisher, Ed Moss, had “gracefully agreed” to stay as an adviser to the new ownership.
Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Newsonomics, said the newspaper’s near-silence was a troubling step for new owners who’ve already gotten national attention for suggesting they would blur the line between independent news gathering and advocacy work.
The paper’s new vice president has said he wants its sports pages to advocate for a new Chargers stadium and call out opponents as obstructionists.
Doctor said how a newspaper reports a change in ownership is the first test for its new owners. He told me:
If Manchester says, ‘Let’s just do the story tomorrow,’ you want an editor who says: ‘We could do it tomorrow, but someone will say something about it. We should do it today.’ It doesn’t bode well — the fact that they can’t even get it together to do the basics to say we bought the paper and be interviewed about it. It’s amazing. That’s just weird. They have a public trust there, whether they realize it or not.
I called Union-Tribune Editor Jeff Light for an explanation. I’ll update this if he responds.
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0529.
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