By Eva Posner
U-T San Diego, formerly the San Diego Union-Tribune, is the largest daily newspaper in the region. According to the U-T advertising rate book, U-T San Diego reaches 29.9% of the adult population of San Diego during the week, and 41.2% on Sundays. U-T San Diego.com receives 29.5 million page views per month.
The U-T Community Press, which consists of 8 newspapers that formerly brought communities hyper local and independent news but was bought by the U-T’s owner Doug Manchester, has a weekly readership of 221,905. One of those newspapers is the North County Times, which was the U-T’s biggest competitor.
Even assuming these numbers are inflated to sell ads, it is obvious that the management/ownership have incredible influence over the information taken in by a large portion of the population of San Diego County and the surrounding region.
Who is Doug Manchester?
“Papa” Doug Manchester is a hotelier, developer, philanthropist, media mogul and Republican super donor who fills a role in San Diego similar to that of a local Rupert Murdoch. He is a driving force behind the debate over a new Chargers stadium, has built some of the tallest buildings Downtown, and chose Kevin Faulconer as the Republican candidate for mayor in the mayoral special election to replace Bob Filner. He is anti-government, anti-tax, and anti-marriage equality. He donated $125,000 to support Prop 8 and over $100,000 in support of Mitt Romney.
He and his business partner, John T. Lynch, a radio executive, bought the paper in 2011. They made their motives for buying the paper unusually public. Lynch told the New York Times:
We make no apologies. We are doing what a newspaper ought to do, which is to take positions. We are very consistent — pro-conservative, pro-business, pro-military — and we are trying to make a newspaper that gets people excited about this city and its future.
A look into the long line of abuses of power by the U-T, including investigating the Port Commission when it didn’t agree with Manchester’s development plans and firing sports columnist Tim Sullivan when he didn’t agree with the new stadium plans, David Carr concluded in his NY Times column:
In San Diego, there’s a strong weekly, The San Diego Reader, and a great news Web site, Voice of San Diego. But The U-T has the brawn and ubiquity of a daily newspaper. As the only game in town, it seems determined to not just influence the conversation, but control it.
The logic for Manchester is simple: What better way to line your pockets with cash than to use the region’s largest news source to advocate for your causes? Want development that will lead to more business at your hotel? Convince the public that’s what they want too. Don’t want to pay for affordable housing the next time you are building a skyscraper or pay a living wage for your hotel employees because it will hurt your bottom line? Convince the voters it will destroy jobs.
These moves may not be in San Diego’s best interest, but they certainly are in Manchester’s.
Why Does it Matter to Me?
Where do you get your information? If you came to this article from the San Diego Free Press site, or the Democratic Women’s Club, perhaps you don’t get it from the U-T. But the numbers in the beginning of this piece show that some people—many people—do.
A functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate. I know. It sounds cliché—even naive. But it is true.
The fact is that people make daily decisions based on information: how to dress, what to buy, whom to be mad at, or how to vote. Americans rely heavily on their media consumption to determine what is best for them. And San Diegans rely heavily on the U-T. What stories it chooses to cover or not, the people and projects it chooses to advocate or demonize have an effect on public opinion.
How are you going to know what policies, politicians, projects, or public use of funds are looking out for your best interest if you are getting bad information? And how are you supposed to take the word of a multimillionaire developer, when chances are you’re just trying to get by?
Who are the Winners and Losers?
Winners: Manchester’s pet projects and allies. Pension Reform. The Chamber of Commerce and Jerry Sanders. The Navy. The Chargers and the Spanos family. The Lincoln Club and Carl DeMaio. The Republican establishment.
San Diego is purple. Although voter registration numbers favor the Democratic Party, military and business influences have created the lone holdout for a Californian metro area where the Republican Party still has influence. That means San Diego is still in play for both parties at all times. When it comes to city and county politics, Republicans seem to have a slight advantage in spite of their numbers. The scale tipping influence of the Manchester bullhorn is certainly helpful in that regard.
Losers: Those Manchester deems unworthy of his “great vision” for San Diego. Poverty wage workers. Unions. The LGBT Community. People who need affordable housing. Barrio Logan. San Diego taxpayers. Community newspapers.
When a newspaper has enough muscle to threaten to destroy the Unified Port of San Diego for simply making a deal with a fruit company, our media environment is in a bad place. U-T knows how much influence it has, and isn’t afraid to abuse it.
How Do I Fix It?
Do not subscribe to the U-T. Don’t pay for the pay wall. Print is dying. Let it die.
And if you do happen to read something in the U-T, try taking the opposite position. Chances are it’s better for you.
*Fun fact: Manchester’s 70th birthday, May 31, 2012 was declared “Papa Doug Manchester Day” in San Diego County by the Board of Supervisors. We will revisit the incredible local political and economic force that is Doug Manchester and his relationships with other power brokers later in the series when we discuss developers.
More detail on Doug Manchester and the U-T next week.
Eva Posner is a freelance journalist and Southern transplant passionate about politics, current events, travel, her son and her dog. @evaposner
This article first appeared in the San Diego Free Press August 6, 2014.