Papa Publisher Mixes Jesus and Journalism

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway 19 Comments

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Today’s Twittersphere got a tad wound up about the Christmas Day publisher’s note from the San Diego Union-Tribune’s new fearless (and Jesus-loving) leader Doug Manchester.

The open letter, “A day to count blessings and share happiness,” began as such:

Dear fellow San Diegans,

Christmas is ever spiritual because it celebrates the birth of a child more than 2,000 years ago whose arrival on Earth defines all the dates of history. No other individual, before or since, has so influenced mankind as Jesus Christ. As the dawn breaks on this Christmas morning, we rise to celebrate the day marking the birth of the Christ child, a day dedicated to “good tidings of great joy.”

Here’s a brief sampling from some chatter in the echo chamber:

David Rolland @drolland:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, military, business. RT @citybeatkelly: Note from Papa Doug in yesterday’s U-T is, um, unique. bit.ly/sc1slG

Sara/Karma Sara/Karma @karmiclife: @drolland @citybeatkelly I never got past the Jesus part.

In fairness to Mr. Manchester, he mentioned each word or phrase once each: “Jesus Christ,” “Christ” and “God.” He just managed to knock two of them out in the first paragraph.

The online chattering critics were followed by a few comical askance looks from those who did not see the big fuss, such as this little gem:

Tom Mitchell @mitchelltommy: Forgive my ignorance, but what is the fuss over Doug Manchester’s note in the U-T?

The debate reminds me of a friend who loves the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, except for the “Jesus” part.

However, even Wikipedia defines Christmas as “an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrated generally on December 25 as a religious and cultural holiday by billions of people around the world.”

For those “culturally” Christian types, talking openly about the birth of Jesus probably isn’t a comfortable topic especially in a newspaper. But as I told a fellow blogger friend last week, Americans seem entirely too polite about such topics, which include politics and money.

By all definitions, Christmas is a Christian celebration denoting the birth of Christ. Many Americans probably fall somewhere on the sliding scale of Christian beliefs and probably not so pronounced.

Though, many other Americans during the holiday season celebrate other religious beliefs, and Americans hold their right to religious freedom as a most sacred fundamental right.

Does this publisher’s note seem overt to the exclusion of San Diegans with varying religious beliefs?

Interpretations aside, it certainly tells us in no uncertain terms the direction in which the organization views such deeply held beliefs.

Boy, would I love to have been a wee mouse in the corner during the editorial meeting when that piece was discussed.

It’s worth noting that at the tail end of the letter, Manchester states:

I take the stewardship of San Diego’s primary and most significant media very seriously. We will adhere to the highest standard of journalistic integrity and objectivity. We will do our part to be a positive force in our diverse community as we create a superior newspaper and a complement of digital information sources.

Perhaps SDUT Editor Jeff Light could illuminate us on these and other editorial decisions when he speaks at the Public Relations Society breakfast on January 31.

– Follow me @erica_holloway.

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Comments 19

  1. Needless to say, I think it was a great, measured letter. Uplifting and inspiring – as it should be. You can’t please everyone. 90%+ is pretty good. The era of the tail wagging the dog is over.

  2. It’s his paper. What’s the fuss? There’s not one offensive thought or word in Manchester’s note.

    And I’m not a very religious fellow.

    Think of it as a blog rumination written on, well, paper.

    I bet that if Manchester were Jewish and put such a note in HIS paper commemorating Hanukkah, no one would have given it a second thought — well, at least no one would have professed such indignation.

    Well, not the liberals, at least. Some Muslims? That’s another matter.

  3. Here’s something to drive our liberal friends into a frenzy. Every year since 1949, the WALL ST JOURNAL has run the SAME lead editorial on Christmas. It celebrates the birth of Christ.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204464404577112431986005786.html?mod=djemEditorialPage_h

    In Hoc Anno Domini

    When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

    When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

    Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

    . . .

    Go to the link for the full article/editorial.

  4. Yet, if Manchester is going to use the UT to promote a new Chargers stadium, he will definitely need Jesus’ help.

  5. Hi Erica:

    Going back to the 1960s at least, the late James S. Copley would put a similar Publisher’s Note on the U-T’s front page on Christmas Day. After his passing in 1973, Helen K. Copely often did the same.

    Mr. Manchester is reviving that worthy Tradition, doubtless in part because he remembers those Page 1 Christmas Day notes of yesteryear.

    Often overlooked is that Manchester has lived here a long time, and grasps the history the UT represents, and what an integral part it once was in everything happening in this Town. Memories
    can be powerful motivators!

  6. When I was looking at county funding of Christmas celebrations, I was surprised to learn that, at least as far as gov’t money and property goes, Christmas is not about Christ or Christianity.

    Shrug.

  7. True, Maassive, when it comes to public property and resources, the courts have often and increasingly in recent years sided against Christmas having anything to do with Christ. Balboa Park is a reflection of varying court decisions, with “Christmas on the Prado” changed to December Nights,” likely so as to avoid a legal challenge, while the Nativity scene on the same property has been allowed partly because it is not owned, maintained or even stored by a public agency.

    All that said, the courts have thankfully not told a publisher what they can believe.

    Shall I add “yet”?

  8. Thank you for that beautiful Christmas editorial Richard. The key part:

    “So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.”

    We know where those predictable critics stand; they desire for us to “believe salvation lay with the leaders” and not in Jesus Christ. For them the state is the church substitute.

    As I said. Predictable.

  9. Jesus of Nazareth was controversial 2 millenia ago.
    His followers were ridiculed and criticized. The more
    things change, the more they stay the same!

  10. The U-T is a private business that provides news along with things such as letters from the Publisher to its readers and subscribers. If you don’t like what Manchester writes then don’t read or subscribe to the paper.

  11. Post
    Author

    Rostrafarians:

    Terrific thought-provoking discourse all around.

    Seems the mere noting of any irascible sentiments toward Mr. Manchester’s publisher’s note set the Twittersphere a tweeting.

    Here’s a sampling of some rather testy responses to the post, even questioning whether their tone qualified as “wound up.”

    https://twitter.com/#!/barryjantz/status/151449231520055297
    https://twitter.com/#!/drolland/status/151438798285307904
    https://twitter.com/#!/LorenaSGonzalez/status/151447068542636032
    https://twitter.com/#!/citybeatkelly/status/151447885496598528

    Sacramento Sam got it right; Jesus was one of the most controversial dudes around. God bless him.

    Best,

    Erica

  12. This reminds me of when the editors of my undergrad student newspaper decided to turn off online comments. They were happy to let columnists get slandered and vilified, but once the Internet started attacking them they became big fans of civility through silence.

    Here, the publisher and the editors are public figures offering public commentary. Yes, you’ll get some idiots in the comments, but you’re also cutting off debate for reasonable people who may very well disagree with the positions being taken. If the UT website can’t be a forum for public debate, I doubt it’ll be able to survive when competing against the rest of the web. Half the fun of online articles these days are the comments and they more than occasionally offer some interesting insight that the article didn’t mention. Not a good business decision.

  13. I certainly do not agree with Mr. Manchester on everything. But, he is the owner not me. He can exercise his rights of ownership and free press without my permission or that of anyone else. Detractors are not forced to buy his paper and if there is such a great demand for a hard copy of opposing views detractors should start one. Any green sprouters out there?

  14. Post
    Author

    Rostrafarians:

    While we can dismiss these editorial decisions as a personal and business prerogative, and certainly each business owner retains that right, we also live in a post-Enron age that demands a higher level of transparency.

    Such counter-intuitive CEO brand building indicates the entire organization badly needs a serious Spring cleaning to reinvigorate relevancy to readers of today and tomorrow.

    No longer can a corporation remain influential and opaque. The rise of such tools as CEO blogs continue to pay off for top corporations when employed properly to build and rebuild brand loyalty.

    The C-Suite cannot afford to remain under lock and key. Consumers want to feel a personal connection to a brand and that has been sorely lacking as our personal connections to this news organization unceremoniously find themselves turned out on the streets.

    No consumer group shows so great a fleeting loyalty as the Millennials. One bad experience may be all it takes to lose their business and forever. They aren’t the high-propensity voters and necessary tax base today, but they will be and soon enough.

    Time for organizations to embrace change or die.

    Best, Erica

  15. Erica, I completely agree with you, and I expect Manchester, Lynch et al. will figure that sooner rather than later. While lording over the city as publisher of the town’s paper might be a boost to the ego, ultimately these are business people. If the bottom line and the $110 million investment is affected, this thing could become much less personal in a hurry.

    On a related note, I’m curious to see how the whole Charger head coach situation plays out. Apparently there are differing stories from the UT’s Kevin Acee and ESPN about ESPN’s John Gruden potentially joining the Chargers. My guess is Acee is right on this one, but it should be fun to see what happens over the next few weeks with the Chargers, and how the stadium-boosting UT plays it. http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/12/27/espn-says-gruden-remains-committed-to-monday-night-football/

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