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Days after a sweep of many key election races in his favor, San Diego real estate developer Douglas Manchester's U-T San Diego has run an unorthodox front-page pitch for subscribers.

The entire page is blank, except for the headline "Imagine..," followed below the fold by "...your life without the latest news and information.”

"That's why we are here — to make sure you don't have to imagine your life without the information you want and the news you need."

Today's front-page ad

Today's front-page ad

"Keeping you in the know. U-T San Diego.”

A vigorous debate on Twitter greeted the promotion, including: "A plea to subscribers on the front page? This seems desperate." Another U-T critic weighed in with, "Won't somebody please support our local plutocrat? do it for zombie reagan."

U-T’s Twitter maven, onetime city hall reporter–turned–“public engagement editor” Matthew Hall responded to the skeptics' fury with, "If you have specific issues with specific stories or reporters, please let me know."

Defenders of the paper say it is doing the best it can, having laid off most of its best reporters during bad economic times, but to many San Diego political insiders — both Republicans and Democrats — the U-T’s blank front page is a metaphor for a nothing-to-see-here news and editorial policy.

They cite a May 28 editorial urging voters to elect Republican ex-assemblywoman and former Chula Vista mayor Shirley Horton to the state Board of Equalization.

"Horton has been a consistent supporter of lean, smart, business-friendly government and championed legislation to get information about sexual predators online," said the endorsement, which energetically trashed Horton's opponent, Orange County GOP assemblywoman Diane Harkey, raising allegations of fraud against her husband.

"Both Harkey’s refusal to answer basic questions about her family scandal and her decision to depict herself as a victim are unconscionable. She is unsuitable for public service."

Then, at the bottom of its editorial demanding transparency from Harkey, the U-T left some unanswered scandal-raising questions about its own.

"The decision to endorse Horton was made by the newspaper’s owners in consultation with some members of the Editorial Board.

"Editorial and Opinion Editor Bill Osborne, who has a conflict of interest, didn’t participate in this process or in the writing or editing of this editorial."

Readers were left to guess the nature of Osborne's relationship with Horton, which the paper had never before reported on or disclosed in editorials.

Other recent U-T omissions called out by critics include its failure to report that General Dynamics NASSCO, the giant military contractor that financed the Manchester-backed electoral shoot-down of the Barrio Logan Community Plan update, is outsourcing many former San Diego shipyard jobs to Mexicali.

The paper also failed to tell its readers that ex-admirals who were said to be leading the effort and signed the ballot arguments to blow up the plan were actually high-priced executives of military contractors, including General Dynamics.

The fact that Jose Betancourt, another ex-admiral fighting the plan, had copped a plea to federal conflict of interest charges, went unnoted in a May 4 op-ed piece signed by Betancourt and GOP ex-mayor Jerry Sanders.

Manchester hasn't been the only super-rich San Diego media owner coming under fire for selective coverage this election season.

One of his friends and political allies, megamillionaire La Jollan Elisabeth Kimmel, owner of the KFMB TV and radio stations, was blasted by the campaign of fellow Republican and congressional candidate Kirk Jorgensen for allowing longtime Manchester associate and talk-show host Roger Hedgecock to bar Jorgensen from KFMB's air during the recently concluded campaign.

In addition, fundraising emails for Republican ex–city councilman Carl DeMaio, a Jorgensen opponent, bore the KFMB stations' address. Kimmel herself has been a past DeMaio donor. The controversy was not reported by U-T or KFMB.

DeMaio, another of the U-T publisher’s friends, beat Jorgensen and will take on first-term incumbent Democrat Scott Peters in the fall. The closely watched clash is expected to be a tight race that will feel the heavy footprint of Manchester's U-T coverage, both published and left on the cutting-room floor.

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photog921 June 5, 2014 @ 4:26 p.m.

That caveat at end of endorsement was bizarre! And they endorsed Horton for her "character." Pretty funny. Thanks for this piece. This town needs a little political stirring up. Great writing.


photog921 June 5, 2014 @ 4:27 p.m.

I had forgotten about their "World's Greatest Country" banner. Wow, what a crazy place that paper is!


David Dodd June 5, 2014 @ 5:05 p.m.

I was hoping someone would cover this in the Reader. The thing that is unfathomable is that Manchester buys all other well-read dailies in San Diego County, and now threatens to fold things up unless people subscribe to the U-T. There is no real journalism left in that newspaper, much less a hint of integrity.


ayeis June 24, 2014 @ 12:36 p.m.

UPDATE: Manchester just started a new local paper in Encinitas, so I guess your presumptions are incorrect.


Visduh June 5, 2014 @ 9:15 p.m.

That empty front page this morning had me wondering. But, heck, that paper has me wondering all the time. I wonder how it stays afloat, I wonder why Pappy Manchester keeps it going when its circulation falls precipitously, and I wonder why Manchester bought it in the first place. I'd think the message today was that if you want to keep seeing this local rag, you had better start paying for it, by subscription or street sales or whatever. The sad part is that when you progress past the front page, the sections are skimpy and filled with full page ads of such things as pest control, or buybacks of gold. It is not the paper it was even twenty years ago, and loses readers with its missteps and wrongheaded editorials. This case is nothing different. If it fails to add something relevant to a younger generation, the process will continue.


dwbat June 5, 2014 @ 9:32 p.m.

Some say he bought the paper mainly for the real estate, which he plans to develop into a huge multi-million dollar project.


Visduh June 6, 2014 @ 8:04 a.m.

That's true. He also liked having it as a propaganda tool, to support his development plans and those of his buddies. There's been no subtlety in the propaganda, and sometimes the editorials come across as parodies of themselves.


monaghan June 6, 2014 @ 2 p.m.

Though U-T news coverage is skimpy and editorials are promotions for the right-wing of the GOP and Papa Doug's development projects, there are still some excellent reporters laboring in the vineyard. Watchdog reporter Jeff McDonald and his wife education writer Maureen Magee are two of them. And there's no-slouch movie reviewer Anders Wright and the Ishmael of them all, always-interesting columnist Logan Jenkins. I'm just saying....


Visduh June 6, 2014 @ 4:27 p.m.

Shhhh! When Dougie hears that you like those reporters and columnists, their days could be numbered. During the late Copley period and then during the Platinum ownership, it sometimes looked as if the management wanted to get rid of the best people. The ranks of editors were decimated, and that is reflected in some really poor stories from some reporters. A few good ones managed to escape the purge, and they are still trying to report news.


dwbat June 6, 2014 @ 5:19 p.m.

Well, they wanted to get rid of the most highly paid reporters and editors.


anniej June 12, 2014 @ 6:51 p.m.


Monaghan - you are correct there are some great reporters on the payroll, I just hope they can hang in until a real 'get your paper man' purchases it.


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