It appears the San Diego U-T's $12 million purchase of the North County Times six months ago is turning out to be a financial disaster for the guy who calls himself "Papa Doug." According to this year's semi-annual report of the Alliance for Audited Media, the U-T's average daily circulation has increased by only 20,000 since acquiring the NCT, a newspaper whose circulation at the time was about 80,000.

The new owners promised NCT readers their daily newspaper would retain a local focus while expanding to include regional news, in-depth coverage of professional sports, and business and military boosterism, all delivered with a strongly conservative editorial slant. The ad branding, "We're all San Diegans," stressed unity. But the real story was about a right-wing real estate mogul's pet newspaper losing readers in a city turning bluer with each election. North County's conservative political climate appeared to offer fertile ground for growth.

This morning's U-T North County reveals "Papa" Doug Manchester's retreat from his promises. It's spun by his CEO with the claim that changes are being made in response to reader feedback. Read that, "Our readers have left us in droves."

In today's "Note to Readers" John Lynch writes, "You will notice some changes in today's paper. Based on your feedback, we will be expanding our regional coverage and sharpening our focus on the stories that matter most across the county. This will affect the presentation of some of our local sections, but you will continue to receive strong coverage of the North County community throughout the newspaper."

Here's the front page headline story in today's U-T North section: "Stench Neutralizer Tried at Cove," about bird-poop odor in LaJolla. There were only six other North County community news stories within the section's ten pages. The remainder were devoted to event announcements, a Camp Pendleton page, an opinion page with nary a letter to the editor from a North County resident, and a report of eight arrests for crimes committed in North County over the last three weeks.

That's the extent of today's news promised to focus on the "North County community." Carlsbad is mentioned four times, once in the announcement of a Senior Center class, the other three in the crimes report.

The good news is that if the 60,000 semi-annual loss of the current 250,000 daily U-T readers continues, it should be reader-free by 2018.

Ok, that's very fuzzy math. But a guy can dream, can't he? In the meantime I'll get local news of events, issues, and opinions right here on the San Diego Reader and read the Sunday New York Times to feed my hunger for national and world news.

Richard Riehl writes from LaCosta. Contact him at fogcutter1@yahoo.com

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