Media Mash Up: Union-Tribune Circulation Down Again, City Beat Reporter Smokes DA’s Office

by on November 1, 2009 · 8 comments

in Media, San Diego

The decline in U.S. newspaper circulation is accelerating, according to figures released by Audit Bureau of Circulation last week, and our local fishwrap is no exception. The report shows that the Union-Tribune’s circulation has now dropped to 242,705, a -10.05% decrease from the same reporting period (six months ending in September) in 2008. Extrapolating from their media campaign that claims the San Diego daily has 1.15 million readers weekly, that decline could seem to indicate that the U-T has recently lost 115,000 readers. Of course, that’s probably no truer than their inflated readership claims, but it doesn’t seem to bode well for the paper.

fishAccording to Ed Moss, the publisher installed by the U-T’s new owners last May, speaking out in an interview with Voice of San Diego, things are looking up. He points out that, “Others had much more significant losses than we did.” And he goes on to claim that circulation has actually begun to increase in the last few months.

The local daily has been making some moves recently, starting with the formal emergence of the Watchdog Institute, a non-profit news gathering group funded by the Union-Tribune. (Go here to read our reporting on the Watchdog Institute.) The paper clearly hopes to be able to claim tax write-offs for funding the group, but there are hurdles yet to be crossed with that strategy. From another article on Voice of San Diego:

According to an article published last spring by the Poynter Institute journalism think tank, the IRS is concerned about non-profit organizations whose work benefits their parent for-profit companies. The issue is whether the non-profit favors the “mothership” when it provides services while the parent company gets a tax break.

Another recent move involves integrating the paper’s news and marketing staff with KGTV/Channel 10 in a partnership arraignment that will allow Union-Tribune reporters to appear on news programming at the station’s studios, as well as live feeds from the newspaper’s offices and interviews from the field. Video from the San Diego ABC affiliate will also be included on the newspaper’s Web site.

Soon to come will be an overhauling of the newspaper’s website. Ads referring to “San Diego’s New Homepage” have been appearing in the print edition lately, along with a circular orange and blue circular logo reminiscent of the one used by the Obama campaign.

Publisher Moss seems completely oblivious when it came to discussing the underlying dissatisfaction in the community with the paper’s history, a narrative that includes a heaping spoonful of support for right-wing causes and pointedly obnoxious or neglectful coverage of individuals, causes or communities that were at odds with its version of the “truth”.

Here’s what Moss said to Voice of San Diego:

Since I’ve been here, we’ve been accused of being too liberal and too conservative. What I think is the most important thing is that we provide a balance of both views, whatever issue we’re referring to. If the editorial board has one view, we want to open the pages for an opposing view.

Really? That leads us to part two of this posting, rookie reporter Dave Maass’ excellent** follow-up reporting in the alt-weekly City Beat on the Sept. 9 raids on 14 local medical cannabis dispensaries, led by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

citybeatIn its coverage of those raids, the Union-Tribune printed as fact three broad assertions made by the DA’s office. None of those assertions, according to Superior Court records reviewed by City Beat, turned out to be correct, ranging from the amount of money seized, to the number of guns supposedly apprehended, and the claim that the raids were spurred by supposed crime increases in neighborhood near the clinic. Crime actually went down in some of the neighborhoods in question. But, who needs facts when you have such a self-important point of view?

The U-T followed up with an editorial that stated:

Law enforcement raids last month shut down 14 storefront dispensaries, with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis saying the stores “appear to be run by drug dealers.”

In their lust for snuffing out the reefer madness in town, the paper’s editorial board apparently failed to realize that most of the raided dispensaries are, in fact, still open. Those damn facts, again!

Finally—for this mashup anyhow—has anybody wondered how it is that the San Diego Reader for two weeks running has managed to recycle a bunch of news blurbs from earlier in the year into cover stories? My guess is that they’re finally abandoning any pretense of reporting. Good for them. Maybe they can change the name of the paper to the Facelifter’s Weekly. Maybe we can run a contest on that….

**PS—I have it on good authority that Frank Gormlie, who questioned the City Beat’s decision to hire Maass, likes his crow sautéed with shallots and a red wine reduction.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie November 1, 2009 at 11:34 am

Dave Maass appears to be earning his local credentials rapidly. My general criticism of the habit of local online news enterprises hiring from the outside still stands however, altho the OB Rag did make an exception when we hired Doug Porter.


Patty Jones November 1, 2009 at 11:36 am

Saying we “hired” Doug may imply that we’re paying him….. ;)


Frank Gormlie November 1, 2009 at 11:37 am

We are paying Douglas … with love and props and kudos… and sexy T-shirts.


annagrace November 1, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Doug- great smackdown of the mashup.


doug porter November 1, 2009 at 7:12 pm

the U-T went live today with their new website. it is re-designed. it’s too early to tell much else about it, as they were pretty buggy this morning–clicking on “america’s finest blog” gave up a blank page….and that’s one bug they can keep as far I’m concerned.


fstued November 2, 2009 at 9:15 am

Doug needs a big 25% raise


Frank Gormlie November 2, 2009 at 9:35 am

Stu – he’s got it. C’mere Doug, I’ll give you a big hug.


lane tobias November 4, 2009 at 9:09 am

Not so sure giving the website a facelift is going to change anything for them; the UT has seen a rapid increase in competition at a time when all newspapers are struggling….i think the only good thing they got going over there is the sports section, and the LA times covers the chargers better…probably because the chargers want to move there.


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