Eight Ideas for the New Union-Tribune Owners

by on May 7, 2009 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Election, Environment, Media, San Diego

The Copley era at the Union-Tribune drew to a close this week. Given that the new owners aren’t really experienced in the media world, (and, yes, I know that it was the real estate that really made this deal work for them) I have a few modest suggestions for improving the paper.

1) Wake up and smell the coffee. San Diego isn’t the Navy retirement village that it used to be. Most of the City’s electorate is somewhere to the “left” of the newspaper’s editorial policies. The next employees that are offered buyouts should be: Karin Winner (Editor), William Osborn (Senior Editor/Opinion) and Robert Kittle (Editor of the Editorial Page). The litmus tests for their replacements should be an open mind and a commitment to what’s best for the people of San Diego, the nation and the world.

2) Take most of the “National” news off the front page, unless it’s original content or has a direct local twist. The Wall Street Journal’s summary of noteworthy national stories is a good model for what you could do with the front page, given that your reading public gets most of its news elsewhere, anyway.

3) Make a real commitment to local coverage. What goes on at City Hall and the County Building is only part of the picture. San Diego is made of neighborhoods and what goes on in those districts gets largely ignored unless it’s crime, scandal or sexually related. While I understand that all those things sell newspapers, I also know that there are a million other–sometimes positive–things that occur. If opening local bureaus isn’t feasible financially, then “outsourcing” may be a solution.

4) Pick a local issue (or two) and use your bully pulpit to make a difference. Education, for instance, is a much larger issue than simply trying to find bad things to say about the teacher’s union. (Do magnet schools work?) Or transportation. Or urban sprawl.

5) Commit coverage to the activities of everyday people. For too long the paper has been a platform for the Copley family’s rich friends to show off their new gowns and tuxedos while attending dinners in support of the bourgeois charity of the moment. You know what story got the most hits on the OBRag website? Pictures of the Christmas parade. Go figure.

6) Integrate the “paper” part of your media business with the web. Review websites, share cool links, reprint (& pay for) the best local blog postings. Have you ever looked at the number of foodie blogs in San Diego? It’s just about become a cottage industry. The same can be said about local sports blogs. And, of course, there are neighborhood blogs.

Oh, and, while you’re at it, your website really, really sucks.

7) Get off your dammed pedestal. The era of “we know what’s best” journalism and editorializing are over. There are a lot of voices out there. The AP stylebook is not The Bible. Make sure that you hear, respect, and even-gasp-give some of them the opportunity to replace some of your tired old op-ed columnists.

8) Having said all this, there are parts of the paper that I would urge you to continue. The comics and the puzzles are no-brainers. (The paper’s failure to monetize these sections is perplexing to me, however.) Scott Lafee’s science articles are actually informative and, given the large numbers of people employed in science related industries, it would seem to me that this kind of reporting would be something worth expanding, even.

Have a good day. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie May 7, 2009 at 10:44 am

Leave it to Doug to turn something negative into a positive thing. I emailed him 9 wrong things about the U-T and look what he did! He turned them around and gave really good advice in a friendly, positive manner, unlike my grumpy style.

Do you have other suggestions for how the new U-T should change? C’mon, I know you do. List them here.


avatar Frank Gormlie May 7, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Whoops – this story is unfolding as we type. The ‘new’ U-T just laid off 20% of its staff.


avatar mr fresh May 7, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Excellent article from the Columbia Journalism Review….
“American journalism is in trouble, and the problem is not just financial. My profession is in distress because for more than a decade it has been chasing the false idols of fame and fortune….”


avatar Molly May 7, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Number 9: Hire Doug Porter and Frank Gormlie as columnists.


avatar doub May 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

thanks molly, but then who would write for the OB RAg?


avatar Frank Gormlie May 7, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Here’s my 9 problems or recommendations to the new U-T unedited. Sorry.:

1. stop being propaganda tool for GOP
2. stop being tool of developers – now that ad money from builders is drying up
3. fire Bob Kittle
4. fire Karin Winner
5. better and more investigative reporting
6. expand editorial perspective – include wider variety of viewpoints
7. Hire us as columnists
8. Expand and better coverage of Tijuana
9. Expand San Diego neighborhood coverage

and here’s a
10. read the OB Rag blog!


avatar doug porter May 7, 2009 at 4:13 pm

the City Beat has posted a list of employees that got “cut” today:


avatar Frank Gormlie May 7, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Don’t miss my companion piece “Despite the old Union-Tribune, we still have democracy” http://obrag.org/?p=7120


avatar Gary Gilmore May 8, 2009 at 7:58 am

It’s gotten to the point where I barely read anything in the trib except the comics and the science stuff. As far as international. news goes I get that from other more reliable sources on the web (believe it or not, Al Jazeera is pretty good). I give the local section a quick scan to see if OB is mentioned. (usually not). Better coverage in advance of local neighborhood happenings would be beneficial. I stress that the coverage be in advance of the happenings because so many times I’ve read about something that happened yesterday that if I had known about it sooner I would have participated. What’s happening in the world of San Diego’s high tech industry should be a regular section along with what’s happening in San Diego’s bio tech industry. More coverage of what’s happening in the local high schools (not just sports) could bring back a younger demographic which has all but abandoned newspapers in general.


avatar Dave Gilbert May 8, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Man, times have sure changed, and for the better I hope. My 1st job as a kid was delivering the San Diego Union as a paperboy. I had to get up at the crack of dawn so I didn’t do that gig for a super long time though.

Back then there was the morning paper “the Union” and the evening paper “the Tribune” I forget exactly when they merged but that had to be the proverbial writing on the wall.

Now days about the only thing I would read from the U-T is their sports section because it’s about our local teams first and other teams next. Nick Canepa, Kevin Acee, Tim Sullivan & I thought Jim Trotter all seem to do a respectable job and while I do enjoy the funnies as well, there’s just way too many other places to get my (preferably spin free) news.

Great work Doug and Frank!!!


avatar Wireless Mike May 9, 2009 at 2:25 am

I didn’t see Bob Kittle on City Beat’s list of people who got fired. That’s a shame. I have no doubt that Kittle’s venomous misrepresentations of Mike Aguirre helped cost him the election.

For the new owners to gain the confidence of the San Diego public, they need to dump the Copley way of doing things. They should stop kissing up to the mayor and his staff, and start investigating any “funny business” at City Hall. They should report on land development as it affects regular San Diegans, not just how much it will benefit developers. They should put more emphasis on regular San Diego people, not just the ultra-rich, ultra-powerful elite. They must realize that most San Diegans are not wealthy conservative land owners, and we are not particularly interested in reading about the people who are. They should look out for their readers, not just look out for the rich and powerful.

I am hopeful that the new owners can clean up the U-T, but I will be a lot more optimistic when Kittle gets fired.


avatar PSD May 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Agreed on the need for more and better local coverage, both in the realm of news and human-interest pieces. As someone mentioned, with Canepa, Acee, and Sullivan the sports section is probably where the paper’s strongest writing is found. Why do I read it? Easy – they focus on the local teams. Why is the ever-slimming regional section of decreasing interest? It’s mainly tiny blurbs about criminal happenings, rarely stories of substance. Better yet – why do I care about national news off the AP line? Are there not a million places on this here interweb that I can get the same info for free? Trim down the reliance on all but the basic national/worldwide stories and free up space/cost for more of the local goods.


avatar mr fresh May 21, 2009 at 10:11 am

did anybody notice that the UT’s front page today was ALL san diego based stories? where’s the thank you note to porter? OR you can just send $$$ to OB Rag via pay pal….


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