Word that San Diego financier and philanthropist Malin Burnham is organizing a bid to take over U-T San Diego through a nonprofit corporation, as reported here Saturday, has local politicos and participants in the city's media scene mulling a daunting array of future scenarios.
If Burnham can pull off his ambitious effort to assume control of U-T San Diego from current publisher Douglas Manchester, will it change San Diego’s game of politics as currently played?
Republican Manchester's U-T coverage and his hefty six-figure personal campaign donations have received much of the credit for the victory of GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer over Democrats Nathan Fletcher and David Alvarez.
Faulconer holds office until 2016, when he again faces voters. The absence of Manchester at the city’s biggest media power switch might prove problematic for the former public relations executive as he fights for reelection.
In 2012, Burnham gave $25,000 to an independent expenditure committee calling itself ICPurple that backed Fletcher's then-independent bid for mayor in the race ultimately won by Democrat Bob Filner.
Other questions regarding the Burnham newspaper takeover plan center on how a newly reconstituted U-T, funded by philanthropic dollars, might impact the city's three current nonprofit news organizations. The largest, San Diego State University's KPBS, has long dominated the nonprofit media fundraising landscape here, and those in the know don't expect that to change.
Of the other two, the Voice of San Diego news-and-opinion website, founded by La Jolla financier Buzz Woolley in conjunction with ex-Tribune editor Neil Morgan, would appear, some say, to have the second-best chance for survival in the highly politicized world of news charity fundraising.
According to the Voice’s most recent financial filing with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, dated May 21 of this year and covering calendar 2013, the group posted total revenue, largely derived from grants and contributions, of $1,342,167, down a bit from $1,432,471 the previous year. Its net assets grew from $489,217 to $604,342, according to the report.
Federal law does not require nonprofits to disclose the identity of their donors, but since it is state-owned, KPBS is compelled to make its finances public under the California Public Records Act. The Voice voluntarily provides a list of donors on its website.
According to the information each has made public, both operations have derived major financial support from La Jolla Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs, the Qualcomm founder who with his son Paul were the major political forces behind the mayoral hopes of Nathan Fletcher in a nasty battle with the GOP's Lincoln Club, backed by Manchester. Jacobs also backs the reelection bid of House Democratic freshman Scott Peters, another Burnham favorite.
San Diego's third media nonprofit goes by the name of Inewsource.org.
Founded in 2009 by ex–Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner and her close friend and fellow ex-U-T employee Lorie Hearn and originally called the "Watchdog Institute," it, too, has close ties to KPBS, maintaining a so-called news partnership with the taxpayer-backed stations and receiving free office space from San Diego State.
“The relationship between the Institute and San Diego State University will be mutually beneficial,” said a proposal presented at a July 15, 2009, meeting of the SDSU’s Academic Deans’ Council regarding the collaboration.
“Work produced by the Institute will further the University President’s goal of having the University be a leader in setting the agenda for a regional ‘civic society.'”
According to the organization's website, "Teaching, training and mentoring at San Diego State University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, where Inewsource is based, is a dual priority."
Unlike KPBS and the Voice, Inewsource keeps the identities of its funding sources closely held.
However, last year the group posted an unredacted federal financial filing, revealing a complete list of its donors. Reached by phone, Hearn said the posting was inadvertent and argued that making the information public would be harmful to the group's future fundraising and thus local journalism.
According to the document, covering calendar year 2011, ex–San Diego city manager Jack McGrory, a Fletcher backer, gave the news organization $10,000. Board chairperson Winner, also politically active and listed as a 2012 Fletcher endorser, gave $27,500.
The Price Family Charitable Fund, now known as the Price Philanthropies Foundation, run by Robert Price, who has been a big-dollar Fletcher backer, kicked in $25,000.
Nita Van Der Werff, daughter of the late San Diego real-estate developer James Dallas Clark, a key figure in major property deals across the city, came up with $125,000, the largest single contribution. In its report for 2012, the organization reported total revenue of $427,602.
In April of this year, the Price fund announced that it was also financing the Voice of San Diego in a deal with San Diego State. "A two year matching grant will support the hiring of an investigative reporter focusing on land use issues in San Diego and the startup of a paid internship program for journalism students at San Diego State University," according to the fund's website.
Reached last week by phone, Hearn, who is employed by San Diego State as a lecturer in its school of journalism, according to SDSU's website, said that the next filing, minus donor identities, will likely occur in November.