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Sunday's Union-Tribune had an excellent column by Logan Jenkins honoring Neil Morgan, longtime columnist, editor, book author, and oft-times gadfly who has played a major role in San Diego history. My only quibble with Jenkins's column is that he said that Morgan is "arguably San Diego's greatest journalist." I would have left out the word "arguably."

Morgan, now 88 and in fragile health, according to Jenkins, left papers at the Mandeville center at the University of California at San Diego library. A San Diego writer went through those papers and told me about them. In the early 1990s when Copley management was thinking about merging the Tribune (of which Morgan was editor) with the Union, Morgan told Helen Copley that the Tribune was journalistically superior to the Union. Morgan told Tribune editors to shape their narrative to state that Helen agreed that the Tribune was the superior product. Morgan encouraged his editors when they ranted about the Union's inferiority. At the same time, he urged Helen Copley to give him the title of associate editor of the combined paper with columns three times a week, and time out for travel. (Morgan was granted all those things.)

But as he pleaded with Helen Copley, Morgan was astutely taking steps to move on if he got turned down. He prepared notes for a friend who wrote to Shelby Coffey, editor of the Los Angeles Times, suggesting that Coffey hire Morgan. Alas, Coffey said the economy was too weak for him to do that. Then, a New York friend wrote to Pete Wilson, urging him to hire Morgan as his press secretary. The friend sent a copy of the letter to Morgan.

Finally, a prominent establishment San Diegan wrote to Morgan in 2003, warning that Mayor Dick Murphy's plan for the downtown ballpark was seriously flawed; it would allow the Padres to profit from the sale of land in the ballpark district. (Some say that John Moores raked in $700 million to $1 billion from the sale of land in the ballpark district.) I don't remember whether Neil reported that, but he did give Diann Shipione a boost when she revealed how sick the pension system was. In one of the most disgraceful actions in San Diego journalism, the U-T fired Morgan in 2004. I have always said Neil was fired by people who weren't even half as smart as he was. He proved that when he hired a lawyer and got a very generous settlement. He then went on to co-found Voice of San Diego, the online publication.

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Comments

Visduh Sept. 10, 2012 @ 8:02 p.m.

Having read the Jenkins column, I still have to sprinkle some rain on this parade. In the Trib, that Neil Morgan column, even when he wasn't writing it, was full of mindless local boosterism more often than not. Over and over again, he would quote some visitor to SD extolling the place for its appearances. Corporate chieftain, Nobel laureate, national politician, movie celeb, . . . it didn't matter. When they spoke in glowing terms of the city, he was johnny-on-the-spot to quote them. The basic message was something like "Aren't we soooo lucky to live in Paradise? Why would we ever want to be elsewhere? Be so happy with what you have here!" To me it was a classic example of local boosterism taken to extreme. Earlier in my life I'd resided for a time in Seattle and both papers there had at least two columnists each who did much the same thing. You mean that people could make that dreary, wet, endlessly rainy and perpetually overcast city sound like the Garden of Eden? Oh, yes, and they were very good at it, too. So, Neil's job as a columnist was easier. San Diego has sun, sea, warm-but-not-too-warm temperatures, and a hang-loose attitude. But as to his journalistic skill, I'm far from convinced of his virtuosity.

Sorry, Don, but on this we are not in our usual agreement.

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Don Bauder Sept. 10, 2012 @ 9:07 p.m.

It's true that Neil was sometimes a blatant civic booster, but he also served as a conscience often, and he could be very critical of the establishment -- not enough for me, but enough for his audience. He was an excellent author and a good leader of the Tribune when he was editor. He had a feel for San Diego in his 60 years of writing. He connected with his audience very well. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Sept. 10, 2012 @ 9:25 p.m.

You are right about his ability to connect. I've read his books and they were at least entertaining, although I don't recall anything profound. As to his being critical of the establishment, all I can think of is a couple times, once just prior to his being fired, when he actually deviated from the Copley party line. He jumped on the Alan Bersin bandwagon when that yo-yo was placed in charge of the school district and wailed at length about the fact that the teachers (along with the parents and a host of other stakeholders) just would not go along Bersin's dictates. Neil really missed the boat on that one. Perhaps you evaluate him in light of what might have been if he had not been around, while I ask what could have been with some more independent-minded journalists.

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Don Bauder Sept. 10, 2012 @ 10:31 p.m.

I don't remember that Neil backed Bersin, who was incompetent in the school job (and other jobs). If Neil did support Bersin, he was not going against the Copley party line. Bersin was worshipped by the U-T's editorial page. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Sept. 12, 2012 @ 4:21 p.m.

I didn't mean that in backing Bersin he was bucking the Copley line, although that's how it came across. There was something there right at the end of his time at the U-T that had him squarely at odds with the editorial page, and I cannot remember what it was. But that sort of thing was rare.

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2012 @ 5:35 p.m.

Neil backed Diann Shipione while she was exposing San Diego's terrible pension problem. I don't remember where the U-T editorial page stood on that issue, but I suspect that early on, the U-T didn't want it to come out in the open because the ballpark bonds hadn't been sold. That may be what you are thinking of. Best, Don Bauder

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Darren Sept. 10, 2012 @ 9:14 p.m.

Dear Don, yesterday to a private email list and in SDUT I posted this comment: "As a kid growing up in San Diego the name Neil Morgan brings back memories and his longevity at San Diego Union-Tribune is commendable. He defines old fashioned journalism with the 5 W's/1H. Like Morgan, Don Bauder (former SDUT business editor) and Jack White (anchor- KGTV) are others that we need more of in the news biz. Godspeed to all. "

Then today, I heard KPBS interviewing some guests (sorry, did not catch their guest list) about SDUT buying North County Times and The Daily Californian. I almost lost control of the car (kidding). This consolidation reduces true fair, balanced and accurate news reporting and opinion. The journalist's creed is about objectivity. I was also against the consolidation of AM talk radio starting in the 90's with Jacor and then Clear Channel, where post 9/11 but preceding the Iraq War, AM talk hosts in their neocon fashion (psyops) would denounce any caller that disagreed with the Iraq War as a traitor or siding with terrorists. See the SDBJ article here: http://www.sdbj.com/news/2012/sep/10/u-t-buys-north-county-times-and-californian/

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SurfPuppy619 Sept. 10, 2012 @ 10 p.m.

Jack White- have not thought of him in some time......News 8 Mitch Duncan either..............

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Don Bauder Sept. 10, 2012 @ 10:41 p.m.

Maybe someone can tell us what has happened to Jack White. I think he was about my age (mid-70s) and may be retired now. I hate to admit it, but I don't remember a Mitch Duncan, although the name rings a bell. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 Sept. 11, 2012 @ 10:16 a.m.

Mitch Duncan was a news 8 anchor for years...I rememnber all the old Anchors, like Captain Mike, my Fav of all-tme Bob Dale, and Denise Yamada.....why Denise was let go who knows-loved her.

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2012 @ 11:11 a.m.

Wasn't Denise Yamada fired by one station because she did a story casting aspersions on auto dealers? And then wasn't she hired by another station? Or was that somebody else? Best, Don Bauder

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tomjohnston Sept. 11, 2012 @ 11:54 a.m.

I once read that Jack White was the reason Anchorman ended up being set in a city that bears a striking resemblance the world of San Diego TV news of the 1970s. The director had lunch with Jack White and White spent the afternoon telling the tales of the SD news biz.

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2012 @ 1:42 p.m.

That is certainly possible. It was an interesting movie. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 10, 2012 @ 10:37 p.m.

You mean the U-T printed a sentence praising Don Bauder? I don't believe it. I agree that radio consolidation has been bad -- everywhere, not just San Diego. I can remember the days (several decades ago) when a bunch of SD radio stations presented the news. And I hope Manchester doesn't do to the NC Times what he did to the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

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Darren Sept. 11, 2012 @ 11:13 a.m.

Last I heard Jack White was doing good. Retired some time ago. Either he or his father had started some kind of H.O. train shop somewhere in San Diego. I never stopped by. But Jack is a true gentlemen and one of those few in TV news that never let his ego get ahead of himself. He actually would fact-check news before just reading it. OF course we could get into some real trivia by talking about Bob Mills, Bob Dale, John Culea, Adriene Albert (sp), Paul Bloom, Cathy Clark. All nice people!

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2012 @ 11:33 a.m.

I worked with some delightful ones on TV and radio: Laura Buxton, Cathy Clark, Bill Holland, Bill Ballance....the list goes on and on. I particularly remember Billo, or Bill Ballance. I would be on his show for a couple of hours, droning on about exogenous variables and reverse splits. We would get only a few calls; I could almost hear the audience snoozing. I would leave, turn on the car radio, and listen to Billo handle those who called in to brag about their sex lives (the other kind of reverse splits). The board would light up as calls poured in. The words would just ooze from Billo's mouth as he played ping pong with the callers. He was silver-tongued. But, actually, Billo -- a very intelligent guy -- was more interested in exogenous variables in the economy. He was a Civil War and World War II buff, among many things. Best, Don Bauder

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Darren Sept. 11, 2012 @ 11:43 a.m.

Thanks for those memories Don. Bill Ballance was super intelligent and I wish I had only 50% command of his vocabulary. He was doing radio in an age of not having to worry as much about political correctness. "Reverse splits"...now we're talking! :o)

Bill Gordon was always nice too, he was I believe on the old KDIG-FM which I think is now KIFM (98.1). Another nice chap was Lawrence Gross. He had a talk show for a while. Intelligent and treated his guests/callers with much respect. Later went on to do movie reviews for KCST (UHF 39) which is KNSD (7/39). Heard Lawrence went into a depression after his adult daughter got killed on her bike riding in town. I think that was his only child post divorce.

Can't wait for Anchorman II to be released. Take care.

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2012 @ 1:25 p.m.

I don't remember that I was ever on Lawrence Gross's show, but he would often call me with tips that were very useful. He knew where bodies were buried in town. Very nice person. Best, Don Bauder

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fsphill Oct. 24, 2012 @ 7:35 p.m.

I came across this column while doing a random search of what is going on in San Diego lately. I grew up there from the age of 12 in 1964 until I moved away for the last time in the mid 1990s. I know your name because you wrote my favorite book about San Diego. I think is was called Captain Money and the Golden Girl. I knew a number of the characters as a lawyer in San Diego and you got them right. Seems like such a small time scam in light of later financial misdeeds, but still one of the most interesting. Funny to think that Bernie Madoff was doing much the same thing at the same time and got away with it for almost another 15 years in the financial capital of the world.

I wanted to comment on two things. I will always remember Neil Morgan fondly. He helped me with some great referrals and a couple of nice mentions in his column when I was starting out as a lawyer. Yes, he was a civic booster. But I was always impressed with his integrity.

The other comment is that with all of the mentions of news people from San Diego's past, Harold Keen's name can't be left out.

Thanks for the memories, and I feel terrible about what Manchester has done to the UT. It is barely a newspaper anymore. Stopped reading it online months ago.

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