Fletcher Woos Vet and Big Changes at U-T and Voice

Tony ManolatosTony Manolatos 13 Comments


Politics & Media Mashup

My veterinarian asked me yesterday who I like in the mayor’s race. I turned the question around and asked her who she and her husband like.

They are registered Democrats. They’re not extremists but they are among the people who feel disillusioned by President Obama and his moderate positions, compromises and move to the middle.

“Filner can’t excite anyone,” she told me. “He doesn’t have any energy, any new ideas.”

I nodded in agreement and used a similar line yesterday afternoon on the radio with KOGO’s LaDona Harvey.

My vet then said she and her husband like Nathan Fletcher, and I can’t say I was surprised. It made me think yet again that his decision to drop the Republican Party and become independent is paying dividends. He’s tapped into something.

I don’t feel like fending off accusations that I work for Fletcher’s campaign, so I will state again that I have not picked a horse in this race.

By the way, Rostra’s new editorial guidelines make it very clear – if a blogger is working for someone or something he/she is writting about that relationship has to be disclosed in the post.

Speaking of Rostra, we are close to launching our redesigned web site. Jason Farran of JF Web Design is doing the work and we really like what we’ve seen. The new site will include space for advertisers. So if you’re interested in marketing yourself, your campaign, your initiative, your business or your non-profit please email info@sdrostra.com for rates.

Two of the places we like for local political news announced big changes this week.

The Voice of San Diego, which is constantly marketing itself, sent readers a series of emails this week explaining the changes. CEO Scott Lewis wrote about it at Voice, too.

It’s my understanding Voice wants you to become a member and if you do you will receive exclusive content.

The U-T San Diego released a goofy 5-minute video this week announcing some of its plans to break into television. It’s building a studio in the newsroom for U-T TV, a news and talk channel coming to the airwaves soon.

The video lays out some of the plans and introduces Scott, BR and Amber Mesker as morning show hosts. The more I thought about the paper’s promotional piece the better I felt about the videos I help produce for one of my clients.

The U-T’s new owners, Papa Doug Manchester and John Lynch, clearly envision the organization as more of a news service than a newspaper. The non-profit Voice has a similar vision.

“We’re dropping the “.org” from our name and reverting back to Voice of San Diego, just like when we launched in 2005,” Lewis wrote in his post. “This may seem like a subtle move but it symbolizes how much we’ve grown and evolved. We’ve become so much more than a website.”

Not mentioned in any of this is KPBS, which already uses the web, TV and radio to deliver news, and that organization has stepped up its game recently. Last week, it featured a great interview with Filner and this week it hosted the first televised mayoral debate.

So which news organization emerges as a success story? Which one flops? Is there room for all of them to prosper while established TV stations like NBC San Diego move more content to the web?

There are also sources – businesses, non-profits, politicians – for these organizations to contend with. Most no longer rely exclusively on news outlets to reach the masses, and tools like Twitter and Facebook have forever changed the way we share news.

It’s certainly an interesting time. I would like to see all of the news outlets succeed. It’s not just good for the local economy. News is an important part of politics. The more the better. That isn’t likely to happen, however, especially in this economic climate.

My advice to news organizations? Figure out what it is you do well and then go and do it better than anyone else. Focus on that and let the rest go.


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Tony Manolatos is a communications strategist. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedInYou can hear Tony talk politics and media with KOGO’s LaDona Harvey every Friday at 2:35 p.m. on AM 600 and FM 95.7.

Comments 13

  1. Very well done. That last graf is excellent advice for news orgs.

    I wish the best of luck for Voice of San Diego, but this “inner circle” for members idea doesn’t look promising. VOSD is offering “exclusive new offerings including a weekly ‘Member Report’ with inside tidbits of news and analysis you won’t find anywhere else from CEO Scott Lewis.”

    While Scott is very savvy, he can’t offer much that isn’t already being offered for free on news sites, not to mention blogs like SD Rostra, which has become a must-read for those interested in local political news.

    The idea of restricting the really good news to paid subscribers only works in well-defined areas where people need the information and are willing to pay. This includes business information, which Bloomberg has been so successful in selling, and political newsletters. But you have to offer really useful information that’s hard to find anywhere else. VOSD has demonstrated it can perform that feat, but can it do so often enough to make a restricted-access model work?

  2. Congressman Filner promised to end Homelessness for all Veterans in San Diego by 2015 through the use of former Redevelopment Agency (RDA) Tax Increment (TI). In late December 2011, Congressman Bob Filner was on KUSI News in San Diego and was asked his view on Redevelopment’s death.


    Congressman Filner talked about the repayment of misappropriated $150 million in Federal HUD Debt including CDBG and Section 108 loans siting in now the City of San Diego’s RDA bank account that could be used immediately for Veterans Homeless with the help and approval of the State of California.


    Attached on Pages 3 and 4 please find a letter from Congressman Filner to Governor Brown requesting the misappropriated/stolen Federal HUD funds be return through an Accelerated Repayment Schedule into a secure Trust Fund specifically to end Homelessness amongst Veterans in San Diego.


    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to get rid of HUD, and all the million in Federal funds for Housing Vouchers to end Veterans Homeless in San Diego by the 2015 deadline which were secured by Congressman Filner.

  3. Post
  4. Can someone please explain why the worst newspaper in California (and one of the worst in the country) is making an investment in TV?

    The paper itself is almost devoid of content; what are they going to show, videos of Rocky the waterskiing squirrel?

  5. I’m a periodic critic of the U-T, but the improvement in reporting — especially investigative reporting — has been substantial. Apparently Manchester is letting them continue in this effort.

    The editorials are a mixed bag, with much more emphasis on developer-favored taxpayer-funded big construction projects. Who’d ‘a thunk it? Well, after all, they ARE editorials — not news.

    But I say again, overall the U-T reporting has gotten BETTER these last few years, not worse — starting with their terrific work on local pension excesses.

    The Voice of San Diego and other media competitors have had a big hand in that improvement, I suspect. Ain’t competition grand?

  6. I think the UT has been doing reasonably well.

    I thought the series on homeless and hospitalization showed they still are capable as a new organization of doing long form journalism.

    Watchdog stuff is decent – if a bit too driven by availability of public records (yes, public officials sometimes spend too much on travel. Next story).

    Would like to see more comparative journalism (for example, what can San Diego learn from stadium/arena fights in Santa Clara and Sacramento) but that is a long standing problem with almost ALL San Diego media (memo: there are actually PEOPLE living north of Pendleton. And they don’t bite. Usually).

    Not sold on UT TV and the Scott and BR, and the “smart and sexy” third host is parody worth.

    Voice – I am a bit worried. Once you go down the road of tiered membership you have to begin to focus a lot of your operations on that. Difficult when your core mission is providing a public service (investigative NEWS coverage). I have believed for some time (but I gather the board at least initially opposed) that building an endowment was the best long-term way to sustain Voice. While you can get “stucks” and lazy, it provides the kind of security that enables non-profit organizations the freedom to focus on mission and not making sure that they get enough money during the fundraising drive to keep the lights on.

  7. Hi guys, thanks for the feedback.

    @Erik, just one thing. I’d love to set up an endowment. But an endowment, even at $10 million, would only produce $500,000 a year or so.

    I’d also love $500,000 a year — still not enough to fund a solid budget for investigative reporters.

    So while I hunt for the person who will give us $10 million or more, I’m also going to build out our membership as broadly as possible. Perhaps this person is only a $250 member right now.

    And everyone else, we’ve had membership for years. We’re just finally making it clear that your membership lasts a year and we’re also making it clear what you get for it. Mostly, you get to stay in the loop and we’re offering some ways to make it easier to follow your city and have the conversations that make a difference.

    If people value the work we provide, they have to pay for it. Even if it frustrates them sometimes. In fact, we want to create a community that feels empowered to let us know and have many avenues to communicate when we’ve gone off track.

    So, Erik, if you see us stray from our core mission, you, as a current member, can come to our Member Coffee and give us an earful.


  8. Sadly it’s always seemed to me that a local online “original” news business model (as opposed to regurgitation services) that comes close to “paying for itself” (let alone, makes a profit) with earned revenue (subscriptions and ads) is impossible to design. Hmmm. That sentence needs a few more “()” to flesh it out.

    Nationally, that online revenue model can work, thanks to nationwide Internet ads. Locally, it doesn’t, as far as I can see.

    Only donation-based operations are feasible, and they usually would require a few sugar daddies (and mommies) to make that work. It’s hard to justify such donations, I’m afraid.

    When the donation become subscriptions, sadly I’m afraid many of us will say “good-bye.” Moreover, when it becomes a DE FACTO subscription, the donation is likely no longer tax deductible — no small consideration.

    The U-T is roughly $180+ a year in print. I LIKE to read my papers with my morning coffee.

    Of course, the other hard copy paper I read is the WALL STREET JOURNAL — my morning catnip. I think I pay only $100 a year for that 6 day a week paper.– and full online WSJ access.

  9. Richard,

    It’s not impossible to design a profitable online only local news model, but most would consider XXX & news a distracting combo.

    The UT’s reporting has gotten better and more focused, and hopefully the competition has given a push.

    Our members are like shareholders who get to vote on our board and recently added Gayle.


  10. Difficult when your core mission is providing a public service (investigative NEWS coverage)

    Erik, excellent point.

    In Scott’s own words, you’ll now have to pay up to “stay in the loop” and get VOSD’s assistance in having “the conversations that make a difference.”

    Restricting information doesn’t mesh with that of VOSD’s mission to bring information to citizens so they can effect change.

    To have an impact, you want that information as widely disseminated as possible. But if VOSD becomes a private club, the public will be cut out of the loop, and worse, may not even notice. Out of sight . . .

    Without that wealthy benefactor (are you reading, Irwin Jacobs?) VOSD faces a forbidding challenge in sustaining its business model while fulfilling its mission.

    Has VOSD considered taking ads?

  11. Brad,

    I don’t read it that way (private club). Rather I read it akin to what KPBS does with lunch with Tom Carlow (sp) or the producer club noshes.

    My issues is

    A) Will enough people really care enough about chatting with reporters to PAY for that? I am a skeptic
    B) If you have to keep the club members “in the loop” than what is the time/treasure cost of that? Does it take away from mission?

    I think they allow sponsorship with banner ads. Seen em on Voice. But I have heard same are Richard, internet ad revenue just isn’t enough.

  12. Good news for Andrew Donohue, not so good news for VOSD.

    “We learned this morning that the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University selected Voice of San Diego editor Andrew Donohue to be one of its 20 fellows for the 2012-13 academic year . . .
    Donohue plans to create sustainable investigative news projects built around crowd-sourcing, transparency and narrative storytelling. He’ll also take classes at the university. The fellowship begins Sept. 1.
    VOSD will spend the next few months crafting a new leadership structure for the organization. After Sept. 1, Donohue will leave his full-time position as editor and continue to advise VOSD in a contributing editor role on a contract basis. . .

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