How likely is Michael Ferro, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s new uber-master in Chicago, to sell the paper to someone else, in particular Los Angeles Democratic billionaire Eli Broad?
Speculation has been hot and heavy among media watchers that Ferro, a wheeler-dealer funded by a raft of Midwest billionaires, might spin off the U-T and its big sister Los Angeles Times, both owned by Ferro-run Tribune Publishing, to fellow charter-school backer Broad.
Now it appears Ferro has discovered at least one reason to hold on to the California papers: free Oscar tickets.
As first reported by media blogger Ken Doctor, Ferro dipped into a stash of tickets to the Academy Awards meant for reporters to cover the event.
"The Times had been allocated six passes for entry to the Dolby Theater — essential access to tell the story of the night by the big broadsheet located in America’s entertainment capital — but until the last minute not one of them was allocated to a reporter," writes Doctor.
"According to several sources in and around the Times, the passes went to the Tribune Publishing’s new brass. Tribune Publishing Chairman Michael Ferro and CEO Justin Dearborn reportedly used the passes, each along with a guest. The last two were earmarked for publisher Tim Ryan, who was persuaded to do the right thing and gave up his seats after receiving a flabbergasted email from the Times’ film desk."
Doctor quoted from a memo to Times publisher Timothy Ryan, also in charge of the U-T, from the paper's movie staffers:
"We on the film team were shocked to learn this week that the paper has not allocated a single one of its Oscar tickets to a reporter," the memo said.
"Entertainment coverage is a bedrock of this paper’s identity. To fail to send a single reporter on a year when the Oscars are at the center of a cultural debate over diversity is not only embarrassing, it’s bad journalism. Would the LA Times ever cover a political convention or a sporting event this way?"
In the end, Ryan gave up his seats to make way for Times reporters Amy Kaufman and Steve Zeitchik to cover the event, according to Doctor's account.
Added the item: ”Times editor Davan Maharaj, who spent part of Monday putting out the fires sparked by the incident, didn’t respond to an email requesting comment; he had told staffers that he was concerned that news of the Oscar ticket flap would make its way into the press."
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, Union-Tribune California columnist Steven Greenhut has departed the paper for R Street, a Washington DC–based think tank with reported connections to the billionaire Koch brothers funding juggernaut.
Hired by then–U-T owner and San Diego Republican bigwig Douglas Manchester in 2013, Greenhut was responsible for setting up an op-ed initiative called "Fixing California" in "partnership" with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, another Koch-linked nonprofit.
In announcing its effort in June 2013, the U-T wrote, "We boldly hope" that the project "will help change the direction of California before the Golden State becomes a failed state." At the time, there was talk that Manchester had been interested in getting together with the Koch brothers to make an offer for the L.A. Times.
Before moving to the U-T, Greenhut had been vice president of journalism at Franklin, "where he managed a team of 35 investigative reporters and editors who covered state capitols across the country," according to a February 29 news release by R Street announcing Greenhut's new job there.
"In his new role, Greenhut will be responsible for running R Street’s West Coast office, continuing R Street’s work on legislation and issues affecting the western states and furthering relations with business groups," the release says.
"Many free-marketers view California and some other western states as a lost cause, but that’s not so,” Greenhut is quoted as saying.
“Our ideas work and R Street is well-positioned to offer alternatives to the usual fare of more regulations and government control prevalent in California.”
Before arriving at the Union-Tribune, Greenhut had criticized the Columbia Journalism Review’s attempts to identify specific funders of the Franklin Center.
"You are investigating the sources of our funding, as if there is anything there to actually investigate beyond what you, CPI, Media Matters, the Guardian and other lefty publications have already written," said Greenhut in March 15, 2013, post.
"Yes, Franklin Center is funded by donors and, no, we do not publish their names to respect their privacy. Left-wing journalism enterprises also are funded by donors and often do not publish the names of their donors, but we haven’t seen any reports from CJR on those groups."
He continued, "If you believe that conservative donors undermine our journalism, then surely you must believe that liberal donors undermine the journalism done by those outfits. Then again, I suspect that the real problem is one of political philosophy: we have a different take on the news than you do."