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Though Doug Manchester's U-T San Diego has yet to report it, the biggest threat to keeping the Chargers in town may turn out to be Manchester's current effort to sell the paper to the owners of the Los Angeles Times.

As previously noted here, word circulating in what remains of the world of big daily newspapers has it that the voluble Manchester wants to unload the once-proud Republican organ, formerly known as the Union-Tribune, to Chicago-based Tribune Publishing.

"While the acquisition could have closed as early as today,” reported media maven Ken Doctor in a March 3 blog post, “it’s now been held up by a familiar concern in newspaper property sales: pension obligations.

U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester had given Tribune Publishing a short-term exclusivity agreement, as it worked to a completed purchase agreement. That exclusivity is lapsing, as further due diligence is being done and bids reconfigured."

Continued Doctor, "The purchase price would likely be in the range of $80–90 million, with the buyer also assuming the pension obligations of the U-T, estimated at more than $60 million."

So far, no details have emerged about the pension obligations or what the extended due diligence may have discovered, but according to Doctor, Manchester — San Diego's GOP godfather of funding and political spin — wants to dump his journalistic emporium on Tribune as quickly as possible.

That, keen-eyed city hall insiders note, would coincide neatly with the threatened move of the Chargers to points north, thereby creating a lucrative new sports and advertising franchise for the L.A. Times, Tribune's flagship property.

A Times owner running the San Diego paper would be much less likely to favor efforts to force the football team to stay in the city by use of litigation, goes this line of thinking, and might even be willing to throw the new stadium game by baldly promoting untenable proposals, including a billion-dollar-plus taxpayer-funded subsidy for the team's wealthy Spanos family.

Douglas Manchester

Douglas Manchester

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

Manchester has been plotting to unload the paper for at least a year, say insiders.

The first public word of a possible transfer of ownership came here last September, when Don Bauder broke the story that Point Loma yachtsman and real estate mogul Malin Burnham was organizing a nonprofit corporation to take control of the paper with Manchester's blessing, depending on how the deal was done for his benefit, tax-wise.

Burnham's move is seen in some circles as a way for wealthy locals — perhaps to include Qualcomm co-founder and Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs — to use the U-T to pull the strings of public opinion with a combined strategy of factual omissions, biased coverage, and editorial attacks on political enemies, much as Manchester’s critics say he has done.

A likely political beneficiary is identified as Nathan Fletcher, the ex-Republican Assemblyman who switched his registration to decline-to-state and then to the Democratic Party in a thus-far futile effort to be elected mayor with the help of Jacobs.

A sale to the L.A. Times, while introducing its own biases — including a lock-in of the Chargers’ move north — would block the locals' political power play.

“There would be real concern among people in San Diego about L.A. people coming in, of sending down Times reporters,” ex-Cox cable chief Bill Geppert told Doctor. Geppert is associated with Burnham in the nonprofit venture.

"Geppert says the group of about 15 local philanthropists has pledged more than half the money needed to buy the newspaper assets," Doctor reported. "The group’s driving theme: sustain the paper through more digital dislocation — and add back to the reporting staff."

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Comments

danfogel March 5, 2015 @ 4:18 p.m.

Trust me. Los Angeles doesn't want them any more than San Diego does.

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danfogel March 5, 2015 @ 1:38 p.m.

I had read that the deal would be exclusive of the UT real estate. I don't find a mention of that in the article. Has that changed?? How about the other potential suitor, the odd couple of John Lynch and Ron Burkle. I don't see a mention of them either. Have they fallen by the wayside?

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dwbat March 5, 2015 @ 3:05 p.m.

Manchester will still keep the real estate, whether it's mentioned or not.

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danfogel March 5, 2015 @ 4:17 p.m.

According to the article cited in the story, a purchase by Lynch would include the real estate.

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monaghan March 5, 2015 @ 3:27 p.m.

Interesting to read about how an LA Times-owned U-T might guarantee a Charger departure from America's Finest City to Carson in the LAT's principal market area -- causing political disappointment to various non-profiteers down here.

I've heard that a business alliance between John Lynch and Ron Burkle would be unlikely, given their disparate political leanings. And I don't get how you buy a newspaper without the real estate it occupies: I guess in this digital age you don't need land or presses. But it is surely a sign of tough new-times that Tribune Co. out of Chicago peeled off its television assets before releasing the newspapers, and now the surviving LA Times might buy a San Diego U-T without the accompanying real estate.

Loved that expression of concern from Bill Geppert, former head of cable goniff Cox TV, worrying about the advent of a genuine newspaper to our town.

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danfogel March 5, 2015 @ 4:15 p.m.

It's not the LAT that is bidding, it's Tribune Publishing, which owns LAT. According to the Ken Doctor article cited in the story, published on 3-3, Lynch says he is "submitting a new bid this week". Burkle has tried to by a paper before, the LAT attempt comes to mind, so maybe such an alliance is not so unlikely, especially when considering Lynch is Dougie's fair haired boy and has reportedly encouraged Lynch to buy the company himself.

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dwbat March 5, 2015 @ 9:52 p.m.

Newspapers in major cities used to have huge staffs of reporters and editors. That's not the case anymore. The LA TIMES building has lots of unoccupied space in it. Also, they put up the property for sale sometime back and apparently got no acceptable offers. Why would Tribune want the U-T's real estate when they couldn't even sell their L.A. property?

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danfogel March 6, 2015 @ 7:34 a.m.

Maybe it's just me, I would think that if one were buying a newspaper, then one would want to at least own the real estate on which the newspaper sits..

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Visduh March 6, 2015 @ 7:59 a.m.

That notion is considered quaint now. Especially when newspapers have shrunken staffing and printing plants that are underutilized, there is no need to have a monumental structure, and leasing both building and land may be a cheaper way to go. Dougie wants to redevelop the Mission Valley building which is partly vacant now, and would probably prefer to relocate the press operation to an industrial area. In the case of the LA Times, their complex comprises four buildings I think, including one that is called the Mirror Building. (The Mirror was an afternoon paper that the Chandlers shut down in 1962. But they still needed the space for many years afterward.) Now the paper could probably operate out of one of those structures.

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dwbat March 7, 2015 @ 9:49 a.m.

Here's another example. Years ago Microsoft tried to buy San Diego's Intuit, because they wanted Quicken (far superior to the crappy Microsoft Money software). Bill Gates didn't want the company's real estate; he just wanted the best-selling financial software. Of course, the Feds stepped in and wouldn't allow the sale to go through.

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swell March 5, 2015 @ 5:55 p.m.

For some thoughts on how the UT/Manchester real estate might be developed see Matt's other story here: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...

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AlexClarke March 6, 2015 @ 5:59 a.m.

What happened to Malan Burnham? Did that non-profit ship sail? The UT has little value if it does not include the land. Even my stuck-in-the-good-old-days 80 year old neighbor canceled the newspaper.

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dwbat March 7, 2015 @ 11:33 a.m.

I guess your neighbor doesn't have any birdcages! ;-)

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