— The San Diego Union-Tribune, which for years has been one of San Diego Unified school superintendent Alan Bersin's most unquestioning backers, may be changing its ways. During last year's school-board races, the paper missed much of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by labor unions and the chamber of commerce to elect trash-company lobbyist Johnny Perkins. It also failed to report early on about Los Angeles billionaire developer Eli Broad's backing of pro-Bersin candidates Katherine Nakamura and Clyde Fuller, along with Broad's sponsorship of Al Ziegaus, a public relations man used by Bersin to hype Bersin's achievements. An entire Sunday opinion section claimed that Bersin's controversial reforms were working. Lately, though, the paper has been holding informal focus groups with district parents attended by editor Karin Winner, who hands out free U-T coffee mugs, labeled "Community Dialogue with the Union-Tribune." Winner assures her audiences that the paper will soon be charting a fresh course when it comes to coverage of local schools. Already, editorial praise of Bersin seems to be a bit less effusive. Now comes an internal memo from school district PR woman Peri Lynn Turnbull alerting insiders to the U-T's latest moves. "Wanted to advise you, that there have been some changes at the Union-Tribune, and I understand that some different reporters may call for board members," writes Turnbull. "Firstly, Karen Clark is the new education editor responsible for coverage of SDCS. Previously this was John Gilmore, who retains several education reporters, but not the one assigned to us. As you may know, Chris Moran is currently the beat reporter while Maureen Magee is on maternity leave. Ms. Clark, in her metro editor role, also has neighborhood reporters on her team. They will cover more school-related issues on a localized neighborhood basis while Moran will continue to cover larger issues." The memo adds that the U-T has suddenly taken an interest in how the billion dollars plus raised by the Prop MM bond issue is being spent. Allegations of Prop MM waste dogged the campaign of Katherine Nakamura, whose husband's architectural firm has contracts with the district but were barely noted by the U-T. "Ms. Clark, whom I met today, has expressed a renewed interest in both Proposition MM and the education reform occurring in the classroom. As a result, we understand that David Washburn, one of her reporters, is conducting research to do a series of articles on Prop MM. He may call board members directly to ask questions on the bond measure. He has already met with [Prop MM chief of staff] Lou Smith and Lou's team is working to provide information for his research."

General Henderson An unsung player in the ongoing battle over whether taxpayers will be on the hook for a new $400 million plus Chargers stadium has turned out to be Bruce Henderson. The ex-city councilman, first to warn of the ticket guarantee and the so-called trigger clause in the infamous Chargers contract, is on the city's advisory panel on what to do next. But he is infrequently mentioned in Union-Tribune coverage of the task force; one of the paper's reporters says it's because "Henderson always says the same thing." Undaunted, Henderson's latest warning, via his e-mail distribution to friends and interested parties: "The Task Force has voted against using General Fund revenues for a new stadium. However, the Task Force and the editors of the San Diego Union-Tribune appear to have immediately endorsed the contribution of perhaps hundreds of millions of General Fund revenues to the stadium project by way of the back door. There's a slippery slope here, which depends on the definition of 'General Fund' revenues." Henderson goes on to point out that money from leases of city-owned land near the Sports Arena, which some want to give to the Chargers, actually belongs safely tucked into the general fund, for such mundane uses as police and fire protection. "These particular revenues are almost all generated from rent from shopping centers and other such activities that just happen to be located in the vicinity of a city street named 'Sports Arena Blvd.' "

War is bad PR Another local academic has gone national in his opposition to the way George Bush is handling his confrontation with Iraq. "Our international support is really in tatters. The public opinion is turning. I think the Bush administration has boxed itself into a corner. This is the worst public relations debacle I've seen in any administration," Dipak Gupta, a political science professor at San Diego State, told the Boston Globe last week ... Audrey Geisel, widow of Ted "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, is suing Charlotte, North Carolina-based Morris Costumes for allegedly misappropriating the Cat in the Hat.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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