As closed-door talks continue over a possible takeover of Chicago-based tronc, owner of the Union-Tribune, by giant newspaper chain Gannett Co., some are hoping for yet another fresh start for the San Diego daily, hobbled by years of downsizing and partisan manipulation. In July, Gannett named Chris Davis, a Pulitzer-winning editor from the Tampa Bay Times, as its vice president of investigative reporting, tasked with beefing up the cost-cutting chain’s less-than-stellar reputation for digging up local malfeasance.
“Gannett has so many people working on good stories, but some of their stories weren’t lifting to their true potential,” Davis told the Columbia Journalism Review in a September 6 interview. “So they wanted someone to really focus on that kind of in-depth reporting, to corral the resources that we have, and to organize big reporting efforts across the country.”
But can a single new hire rehabilitate Gannett’s long-tattered editorial brand? “There will certainly be many investigations that I never see,” noted Davis. “I can’t look at everything that is published in every paper, nor should I, but the way I have been talking to other editors about it is that I am a resource to them for advice or whatever help I can give.”
Under prior owners, including Republican kingpin Doug Manchester, the U-T’s so-called Watchdog unit was seen by critics as flexing political muscle, exemplified by the paper’s repeated forays against Republican-turned-Democratic mayoral hopeful Nathan Fletcher, as well as plaintiffs’ attorney Cory Briggs. If the U-T ultimately goes to Gannett, an injection of integrity by Davis might make a difference.
On the other hand, the San Diego paper could end up further forsaken. “We can also encourage papers around the country to run other papers’ work if it makes sense for people in their community,” Davis observed. “When we start talking about bigger efforts or papers that already have a strong history of investigative work, like [the Indianapolis Star] or [The Arizona Republic], then we can provide higher levels of involvement to help them.”