What’s Next for the “New” San Diego Union-Tribune?

by on May 27, 2015 · 2 comments

in Economy, History, Media, Politics, San Diego

U-T building niteBy Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press

Tuesday, May 26th was the day when the reality of the Tribune Company’s acquisition of San Diego’s daily newspaper became apparent for many who work there. The rest of us are going to have to wait for a while to see how things shake out. [Ed. made minor changes.]

U-T old versionAccording to Don Bauder at the Reader, people working in the printing and business divisions of the Union-Tribune will learn about the parent company’s plans for layoffs today. Much of the work–including printing– currently performed at the company’s Mission Valley location will be folded into Los Angeles Times facilities.

Under the terms of the sales agreement with former owner “Papa” Doug Manchester, the remnants of the local operation will have to find a new location over the next year.

According to Bauder:

People on the editorial side — reporters, desk people, writers, editors, etc. — have been told that perhaps as many as 98 percent will retain their jobs now and will be fairly safe.

The employees I have talked to have high praise for new publisher Austin Beutner and president Russ Newton. Employees believe the paper will improve, particularly with access to the Times’s Sacramento and Washington bureaus. Overseas coverage should improve.

Later in the day after this was published on Tuesday, the hammer came down. From the Associated Press:

A total of 100 people were laid off from operations, including truck drivers, machinists, electricians and pressroom workers. Twenty-nine were cut from circulation and 36 from advertising sales and finance. Only nine of the 173 newsroom staffers were laid off, nearly all from the paper’s video department.

“For readers of the newspaper, they will notice zero impact from today’s layoffs,” Newton said.

The workers were given two months’ notice, and their severance will vary according to their union status.

copley_bellWhen the Copley family sold the paper to Platinum Equity in 2009, 28% of the staff was cut, including prominent non-white members of the editorial board. And that was on top of a across-the-board staffing reduction of 15% in the years preceding the sale. And a 50% (or so) cut before that.

The annual census of newsroom employees at daily papers by the American Society of News Editors declined from an estimated 55,000 people in 1996 to 36,700 in 2014.

Back to the Reader story:

Employees are glad to be out from the Manchester ownership. Among many things, he took away their 3 percent match in the 401(k) savings plan. The new owners, after a waiting period, will provide a 4 percent match for every 6 percent employee contribution, the staff has been told.

Manchester blamed his decision to cut contributions in January 2014 on Obamacare. Local policy wonk Murtaza Baxamusa called this move out for what it was:

The Affordable Care Act is a red herring, a convenient excuse by doomsayers to exert vengeful, ideologically-motivated cuts to employee benefits to camouflage poor management decisions. In fact, insuring the uninsured will lower healthcare costs for everyone, and create more jobs.

 A New Era for an Old Editorial Board

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

This past Sunday’s editorial announced a new path for the Union-Tribune’s notoriously conservative editorial board.

The sale of The San Diego Union-Tribune launches a new era in Southern California. It puts the Union-Tribune and its new partner, the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times, in a position of greater financial and journalistic strength throughout the region. It will better enable both newspapers to navigate the transition to a digital world. It’s about the future.

The future, of course, invariably means change. With change, there must also be a solid connection to the past. This editorial board will not forget where we came from, even as we chart a new course that we believe will better represent our diverse and ever-changing community. Our role is to be “the conscience of the community” – the whole community.

Here is the first change: At the top of the new editorial board is Publisher and CEO of The San Diego Union-Tribune Austin Beutner, who is also Publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times. William Osborne, the Union-Tribune’s Editorial and Opinion Director since 1999, will report directly to Beutner. This will reinforce the separation of news and opinion coverage at the newspaper.

The ‘half empty glass’ version of this future is that William Osborne remains as Editorial and Opinion Director, a position he’s held since 1999. The ‘half full glass’ version is that Papa Doug –along with his apocalyptic hallucinations– is no longer part of the equation.

Here’s a quote from Rob Davis’ January, 2012 profile of Manchester:

Few San Diegans could have evoked the visceral cancel-my-subscription-today reaction that Manchester did when he bought the Union-Tribune. He has a reputation: egomaniacal, short-tempered, litigious, unrelenting. Some fear him. Two politically connected people warned me not to write a negative word about him. “If there is a hell, Doug Manchester is the face of it,” one said.

The absence of an owner who regularly spewed right-wing conspiracy notions (by now the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ should be on the way out the door on US currency, for example) is no doubt a great relief to much of the newsroom staff. I know from conversations with UT reporters that they were embarrassed by the former owner’s reputation and interventions at the paper.

There are, however, remnants of the Papa era remaining at the paper. Back in the day when Manchester was trying to implement his vision (Remember the T&A programming at UT-TV?), changes in funding priorities by the Koch Brothers network resulted in several newsroom hires.

These included Steven Greenhut, formerly vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, along with Trent Seibert of the Texas Watchdog.

Back in 2013, Manchester proudly announced a partnership with the Franklin Center:

Today, the U-T San Diego Editorial Board, in partnership with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, launches a project that we boldly hope will help change the direction of California before the Golden State becomes a failed state. (Emphasis mine)

Obviously it must of worked, right?

Via Twitter

Via Twitter

Greenhut later became California columnist for the paper, thrilling readers with stories about evil unions and big gubmint run amok. Seibert returned to Texas, leaving behind the legacy of having made a campaign an issue of demanding Nathan Fletcher’s college transcripts.

I’m not saying these types (and I don’t know if there are more) need to be gone. Greenhut’s a smart guy, and although we rarely agree, I always read his stuff. (Know the enemy, yada yada)

I am saying that this new enterprise can’t fly with just one very right wing. When Logan Jenkins is the closest thing a paper has to an opposing point of view, it means the leadership has no concept of the “diverse and ever-changing community.”

Once upon a time–when editor Jeff Light was actually running things–the paper launched a Community Editorial Board. (SDFP contributor Ernie McCray was among them)

From Light’s announcement of the program in late July, 2011:

The board members are pioneers in an experiment that will grow over time. In many ways they are a diverse group – a mix of Democrats, Republicans and independents from many neighborhoods and different walks of life. In other ways, they are alike – committed to San Diego, to community service and to advancing a constructive conversation about the issues of the day.

The values… …outline what the new U-T stands for: political independence, the power of the free market, the importance of the public good, honesty, accountability, inclusiveness. They are broad principles designed to encourage a diversity of ideas about making San Diego a better place.

Longtime readers of the U-T will understand that this is a significant departure from the newspaper’s tradition. It grows from a conviction that the publisher, Ed Moss, and I share – that a newspaper must reflect its community.

I’m fully aware that no ‘community board’ is going to change William Osborne’s editorials or even the role a daily newspaper plays in manufacturing consent for the local gentry’s ambitions. But I’m a sentimental sort who grew up loving the smell of printer’s ink and the roar of offset presses at full speed. And I’d like to be able to tone down my revulsion at the UT to the point where I’m able to admit that I read it in polite company.

PS- The Union-Tribune’s coverage of the ongoing scandals at the California Public Utilities Commission has been simply amazing. Bravo.

PPS- I hereby announce a six month moratorium on using the term “Daily Fishwrap” in the body of this column.


The above is an excerpt.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

RB May 28, 2015 at 8:12 am

The loss of the middle class, local jobs are the big story here, IMO.


Goatskull May 28, 2015 at 11:31 am

While this absolutely sucks for the people who lost their jobs, hopefully it will become a better paper .


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