Doug Manchester plans to hang on to the U-T's Mission Valley headquarters
Both the U-T and the Los Angeles Times announced today that they are joining forces. The Times' parent, Tribune Publishing, will pay $85 million for the U-T. This does not include the U-T's Mission Valley headquarters.
Real estate magnate Doug Manchester bought the U-T for a reported $110 million in 2011 and purchased the North County Times later for $12 million, later adding a group of San Diego County weeklies. He then got entitlements so he could develop land on the U-T site.
Manchester bought the paper from Beverly Hills–based Platinum Equity, which paid the longtime owners, the Copley family, around $50 million for it, but then pumped more capital into it.
(Matt Potter, who alerted me to this story, and I have used the $50 million figure. NiemanLab, which reports on the media, uses $35 million for the price Platinum paid Copley. A onetime Copley top executive has told me that $50 million is too low.)
Tribune Publishing will assume a U-T pension obligation that has grown from $50 million to about $111 million, according to Nieman (these obligations aren't immediately owed, but are paid as employees retire). Also, presumably, there will be payouts as employees are laid off.
Both companies agree that there will be consolidation savings. For example, the Times might print the U-T, and a lot of editorial content would be shared by both papers. Jeff Light, president and editor of the U-T, said, "Without a doubt, there will be some savings — which, unfortunately, is another way of saying there will be layoffs."
A big question is the direction of the editorial page and the news pages. It was arch-conservative under the Copleys, and the editorial slant often showed up in news stories. In many respects, the slant of Manchester became the laughingstock of San Diego. Editorials were placed on page one. Some were embarrassingly bumptious and bumpkinish.
For example, at one point, there was a front-page piece declaring that Barack Obama was one of the handful of the worst presidents in American history, and George W. Bush was one of the handful of the best. The paper under Manchester and John Lynch (who has not been in evidence for the past year) was an unabashed cheerleader for business and the military. Bad news about either didn't often make it into the paper.
Some media critics have wondered if the U-T has been pointing its editorial aerial in the wrong direction. San Diego County is still Republican, but only slightly. The city is actually Democratic. The Times, which was once arch-conservative, has been liberal for more than 50 years. The Times says the U-T will have its own brand and its own identity, but since the Times publisher will head both papers, it might be economical for the U-T to alter its slant at least somewhat.
The combination of the Times and the U-T will dominate Southern California. The Times' parent, Tribune Publishing, has been through a long and agonizing bankruptcy. The Orange County Register, whose parent also went through bankruptcy, is not part of the deal, but some wonder if it will be at some point. It has been taken over by a publisher who thought he could enlarge the editorial staff and the paper and prosper. He hired a raft of reporters and then didn't prosper. The Register is back in layoff mode, as both the Times and the U-T have been for some time.
Light claims the U-T is one of the more profitable newspapers in the nation, but some wonder if it is really doing that well. It lost a bundle on a television venture and its circulation has been dropping. Since it is privately held, it's hard to know. Companies can manufacture profits with phony bookkeeping. Even if the Tribune Publishing deal goes through, the parent may not report U-T figures or they may be combined with Times figures.
Real estate magnate Malin Burnham was trying to put together a group to buy the U-T and make it into a nonprofit, but it couldn't come up with sufficient funds, according to NiemanLab.