The ownership of U-T San Diego announced Tuesday the purchase of the North County Times and its sister publication in Southwest Riverside County, The Californian.
U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch said the company that owns the 144-year-old U-T has reached an agreement to buy the newspapers.
The purchase paves the way for San Diego County’s only two major daily newspapers to be owned by the same company.
Hotelier and real estate developer Doug “Papa Doug” Manchester teamed up with Lynch to buy U-T San Diego from Beverly Hills-based private equity firm Platinum Equity late last year. The publication's name has been changed—it was previously The San Diego Union-Tribune—and a webcast television component has been added.
“We intend to super serve each and every market in which we enter,” Manchester said in a statement. “Since San Diego is our home, this is a logical acquisition.”
Manchester, speaking on Midday Edition on KPBS radio, said no final decisions have been made about the eventual form of the North County Times or the future of its employees.
“This has just been announced and we’ll not even take over the paper until October,” Manchester said. “We're in the process of analyzing all of that and, obviously, we want to in fact have the very best reporting for the North County area, so therefore, we will have the opportunity to retain the very best.”
Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times, told the station that no one there knows what will happen, so employees are concerned.
“Uncertainty always breeds fear,” Davy said, adding that “this is not the worst day in my life.”
Dean Nelson—a journalism professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, another KPBS guest—called the purchase a smart business decision and signals a commitment to local journalism.
The question is how well that commitment is carried out, given a lack of competition, he said.
“When you have one owner of a very, very dominant voice, you do lose a little accountability for the kind of journalism that could be happening in a community,” Nelson said. “I hope that is not what happens, but it is conceivable.”
U-T San Diego under the reign of Manchester and Lynch has been criticized for a sharp tilt to the right side of the political spectrum on its editorial pages.
The North County Times and The Californian have been owned by publicly traded Lee Enterprises of Davenport, Iowa, since 2002. The editions have an
average daily circulation rate of 75,606 and 80,789 on Sunday for the six months ending March 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
North County Times editor Davy, speaking on KPBS’ Midday Edition, said: “I have no idea at this point” of his future with the paper.
Nelson, dean of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene, told show host Maureen Cavanaugh that the long-rumored sale was not a surprise but was still “astounding” when it happened.
Nelson raised the issue of declining local news competition.
Although U-T San Diego has a “committed, professional, awesome group of reporters,” Dean said, he expressed concern that they wouldn’t feel as compelled to dig deep for stories without the external competition the Times represented.
The North County Times reported a little after 9 a.m. Tuesday: “The North County Times has been sold to U-T San Diego, North County Times publisher Peter York said Tuesday. ... However, York said negotiations continued until late Monday before the deal was officially reached. North County Times staff in Escondido and Oceanside were informed of the deal at a Tuesday morning meeting.”
U-T San Diego added in its own announcement:“Lee Enterprises, Inc., has entered into an agreement to sell the North County Times newspaper and digital media operations based in Escondido to MLIM Holdings, Manchester Lynch Integrated Media, an affiliate of the owner of U-T San Diego, U-T TV and other media interests in Southern California, for $11.95 million. The transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to be completed in October.”