Douglas Manchester and Malin Burnham
Might San Diego mega-millionaire developer and Republican kingpin Douglas Manchester be willing to part with his U-T San Diego mini-media empire sooner rather than later?
So indicates a new post on the website of the Columbia Journalism Review, quoting yachtsman and real estate mogul Malin Burnham about the latest twist in his plan to take over the paper and its online operation.
As first reported here in September, Burnham proposed forming a nonprofit corporation to assume ownership from Manchester. Now, there's been a change of plans to hurry things up.
"He now says he doesn’t want to wait the months, or even years, that the IRS might take to certify a new nonprofit," reports CJR. "Instead, he’s been talking to existing nonprofits in San Diego about buying the U-T….
"He says he has talked to three of San Diego’s biggest nonprofits about overseeing the purchase: the San Diego Foundation, the Jewish Community Foundation, and National University," the account continues. "A deal could involve more than one of those organizations, Burnham says, though the San Diego Foundation seems the most likely candidate….
"It has $674 million in assets, and focuses, like most community foundations, on civic engagement and grants to local charities. A foundation owner wouldn’t actually put up its own money: Burnham wants to raise the purchase funds from a small group of investors."
With the exception of Burnham, some people involved in the putative deal were keeping their counsel, according to the CJR report.
But San Diego Foundation CEO Kathlyn Mead sent an email saying "her organization has been talking to Burnham about his plans and is generally supportive of his efforts, though the talks are still in the early stages."
Manchester, who earlier told the U-T he would consider the Burnham bid if it ever materialized, did not reply to a request for comment, the item says.
"As for editorial outlook, Burnham says a nonprofit-owned U-T would “support things that are going on [in] the community,” without taking a partisan line.
“None of our nonprofit foundations in San Diego have ever taken political sides, one way or the other. We want fair reporting, and we want quality.”
The matter of exactly who might assume editorial control of the paper is of intense interest to local politicos and their wealthy contributors, in particular Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs.
The La Jolla Democrat has long been at odds with the U-T and its support of local Republicans and the GOP Lincoln Club, including its take-no-prisoners hit pieces attacking Jacobs favorite Nathan Fletcher.
In October 2013, Jacobs's son Paul, then-Qualcomm’s chief executive, accused the Lincoln Club of launching a "slanderous" attack on the big chip-making company and Fletcher, the former Republican-turned-Democratic mayoral candidate who ultimately placed third.
Jacobs already finances two nonprofit news operations in San Diego, the Voice of San Diego, and KPBS, the public television and radio operation run by San Diego State University, and may be interested in expanding his media influence further.
Burnham is a longtime Fletcher backer.
Manchester’s U-T has heavily favored incumbent mayor Kevin Falconer, whose effort was backed by six-figure independent expenditures made by Republicans, at least $356,000 of which came from the newspaper publisher.
Since Faulconer’s election last year, political and media observers from both political parties have noted that the U-T has gone out of its way to favor the mayor, in particular running stories about his Chargers stadium task force that have left out key information about the big money roles its members play in Republican politics.
Observes the CJR item: "One of the complaints about the U-T’s current owner, a real estate developer active in conservative politics, is that, as David Carr wrote in 2012, the paper can seem ‘like a brochure for his various interests.’ John Lynch, Manchester’s business partner and CEO at the U-T, told Carr the paper’s stance was ‘pro-conservative, pro-business, pro-military.’”
Besides the latest Burnham news, media and political watchers have been seeking omens in the announcement two weeks ago that U-T chief operating officer Mike Hodges was departing the paper to become chief of an internet marketing operation, leaving the paper's reins to editor Jeff Light, now said to be doing both jobs.