Friday, November 18, 2011

Doug Manchester, the new San Diego Union-Tribune owner, thinks of himself as Richard III

November 18, 2011
Paper Will Call Out Stadium Opponents as 'Obstructionists'
Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego

Local hotel magnate Doug Manchester is buying The San Diego Union-Tribune, and heads are going to spin, if not roll: the paper's incoming president and CEO promises big changes.

John Lynch, a former local radio exec who's set to be that top boss, "said he wants the paper to be pro-business. The sports page to be pro-Chargers stadium. And reporters to become stars," our Rob Davis reports. In fact, Lynch said he wants the sports page to "call out those who don't (support a new stadium) as obstructionists."

Wow. However, Lynch said he expects that Manchester will "respect journalistic integrity" and adds that "we'd like to be a cheerleader for all that's good about San Diego."

Manchester says he paid above $110 million for the newspaper. That suggests the Platinum Equity firm, which bought the paper in 2009, made a tidy profit by flipping it.

Both Manchester and Lynch are known for their conservative bona-fides; in 2006, Lynch referred to then-Councilman Donna Frye, an iconoclast politician and hero not only to liberals, as "to the left of Mao."

So who's Manchester? Local reporter Tony Perry of the L.A. Times calls him "a minor league Donald Trump."

He's a polarizing figure, known for the moniker he insists on people using ("Papa Doug"), his stand against gay marriage (although he says he's not anti-gay and supports domestic partnerships), his luxurious hotels (a five-star rating for one of them made a big splash in the U-T this week), his push toward development (a state agency just rejected his mammoth $1.3 billion project planned on Navy property downtown) and his divorce after 43 years of marriage (it was messy).

* Check our reader's guide for a look back at the U-T's road from the glory days of the mid-2000s to post-boom heartache and dashed dreams under Copley ownership.

* News of the sale immediately sparked anger and threats of subscription cancellations. ("Manchester and his politics scare the **** out of me," wrote commenter Bill Paul, while Chris Brewster bemoaned "this unfortunate devolution in San Diego journalism.")

Fred Smith complained that the Copleys were "were extreme libs" (a comment that will send eyebrows rocketing skyward all over town) and says he "refused to read the rag when the Copleys ran it into the ground," while Darrell Thomas referred to "extreme left rags" like... the L.A. Times. (The sound you hear is even more wayward eyebrows.)

And then there's commenter David Hall. He weighed in with a zinger: "I don't think the UT has been consistently left or right. It has, however, been consistently bad."

In the U-T's defense, bashing the local rag has been a national pasttime since the first time headlines met hot type.

For more opinions, check our compilation of Twitter comments.

* And what of U-T employees? They're already sucking up to ... er, greeting their new owner. "We believe this is a step in the right direction for The San Diego Union-Tribune," the U-T's "Team" declared on Facebook. "As Dean Nelson pointed out, Doug Manchester is a brilliant guy. We're excited to have local owners who are in-touch with what's going on in our city and we look forward to the amazing things the future holds for our newspaper."

The U-T's story about the sale included not a discouraging word (or even a slightly non-positive one) about the paper or the owners, but had plenty of things-are-just-peachy verbiage.

We have two principal stories: one immediate analysis looking at the sale and getting reaction, and a second turning to the biggest question: in what direction do Manchester and Lynch take the news and editorial pages.

Tidbits about the U-T's New Owner

* A video on Manchester's website quotes a man identified as Jim Jameson as saying: "If Shakespeare were alive today, Shakespeare wouldn't write about most of us. But he would write about Doug Manchester. In the sense of Richard III or Julius Caesar, Doug has heroic qualities that are just extraordinary. He also has the human frailties that we all have. So that the mentions of these heroic qualities and frailties together, Shakespeare would write about today."

The video is, as San Diego Magazine puts it, "super odd."

Richard III and Julius Caesar, by the way, didn't come to good ends, either in real life or in Shakespeare's plays. (Maybe Manchester should watch his back, beware the ides of March and always keep a horse on hand?)

* As you might glean from the video, Manchester is not the humblest of men. San Diego Magazine found this quote on his website: "He creates and applies the magic that creates positive experiences. His memory-makers have routinely defined and enriched San Diego's skylines and landscapes. And when he reaches beyond San Diego, which he often does, his visions dot the landscape of America. This is what Papa Doug has done and from what he draws satisfaction."