If downtown hotelier Doug Manchester buys The San Diego Union-Tribune, expect a familiar partner of his to be in the deal: John Lynch, the former local radio executive.
Manchester, who on Monday confirmed that he was interested in buying the local newspaper, said today that Lynch would be a partner if that happened.
"John and I are good friends and have been partners before," Manchester said. "If we do anything in media, we'd do it together. John and I are great friends, we'll continue to be good friends. If we do something, he'd be involved."
Lynch, reached on his cell phone, declined comment.
The Union-Tribune announced in July that it had hired an investment firm to explore options for its future. The same firm, Evercore Partners, helped broker the 2009 sale of the newspaper from former owner David Copley to Platinum Equity, the firm founded by billionaire investor Tom Gores.
Since Platinum bought the newspaper in 2009, it has hired a new publisher and editor, slowed the loss of print subscribers and put an increased focus on the paper's online site. The newspaper was redesigned, rebranded and reinvigorated after suffering through three listless years as Copley downsized the flagging paper without offering any coherent strategy for what it would become.
Manchester and Lynch have worked together before. Manchester had an ownership stake in Lynch's radio company, the Broadcast Company of the Americas, before selling it to the Viejas Indian band in 2005 for $7.5 million, the Union-Tribune reported. The broadcast company owned the Mighty 1090 AM sports-talk station. In 2010, Lynch was ousted from the company he'd helped start, the newspaper said.
Lynch and Manchester were also investors in ipayOne, a discount mortgage company that went bust in 2007 as the housing bubble popped. They've even traveled together to Iraq on a trip to support the troops. Lynch is the father of the former NFL Pro Bowl safety of the same name.
If Manchester, a developer, bought the newspaper outright, he'd get a key piece of property that local real estate analysts have said was a valuable part of the Union-Tribune's sale to Platinum: The company's main building, which sits on 13 acres in Mission Valley, just south of the Fashion Valley mall. Lynch's presence would add media experience to Manchester's development background in a deal long thought to be centered on both the property and the paper.
At least one other potential buyer has expressed interest in the newspaper. Mike McKinnon Sr., the owner of KUSI-TV, told me today that he'd submitted a preliminary bid for the newspaper this year, just as he'd done in 2009 when it was previously up for sale. He described the paper as a fragile business, but said he saw an opportunity to create a seamless newsroom with television and print reporters.
"The U-T does great stories," McKinnon said. "But it just needs to be more than one-dimensional. You can't go to your iPad and see the interview the reporter did. It leaves me still hungry."
McKinnon founded KUSI in 1982. He previously owned three Texas television stations that he sold last year. He said his interest in buying the Union-Tribune was on hold while Manchester negotiated with Platinum Equity, the Beverly Hills-based private equity firm that bought the newspaper in 2009.
Manchester sought to tamp down speculation that any deal would be immediately forthcoming.
"Stand by," he said. "There's nothing to report right now. It's all conjecture right now."
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0529.
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