Amid criticism of newspaper’s pro-stadium stance, new owners assure reporters they won’t be stadium advocates
Turns out, The San Diego Union-Tribune is not going to serve as a unabashed supporter of a new Chargers stadium.
The newspaper’s new ownership, hotelier Papa Doug Manchester and former local radio executive John Lynch, have been sharply criticized almost since the sale was announced last month because of comments Lynch made to Voice of San Diego.
Lynch, the paper’s CEO, told the Voice he wanted the Union-Tribune’s sports page to advocate for a new Chargers stadium “and call out those who don’t as obstructionists.”
A source at the Union-Tribune said Lynch assured a handful of reporters Tuesday that the only section that would advocate for a new Chargers stadium would be the opinion page.
“I think they (Manchester and Lynch) just know it wouldn’t be a smart business decision to think that it’s not a neutral news area,” the source said. “You would be jeopardizing your business if you had just a totally slanted paper.”
This is good news, especially for the paper’s top talent.
Until now, I wondered when revered reporters and columnists like Kevin Acee and Nick Canepa would start to call out taxpayers who don’t spend a minute of their lives cheering for the Chargers and have zero interest in a new subsidized stadium built for kings. The drama that would have unfolded at the paper would have been epic – or at least as good as any reality TV show.
Manchester and Lynch are very successful businessmen but neither has owned or operated a newspaper. Lynch’s comments didn’t just bother reporters at the paper, many of whom pride themselves on writing stories that are fair and balanced. Many people, including media experts, wondered whether San Diego’s paper of record had fallen into the wrong hands.
“The reason we have a newspaper is to tell us what’s going on, provide us some sort of accountability and inform the public — not cheerleading,” Dean Nelson, who directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, told KPBS. “Cheerleading is the first thing we try to drill out of students.”
With the sale of the newspaper finalized this week, Lynch has been in and out of the newsroom a lot, the source said. A handful of reporters took the opportunity to ask him about his comments to Voice.
“He was asked pretty directly, especially over the last two or three days,” the source said. “I really don’t think he was misquoted, but I think immediately after it was said they’ve tried to kind of clear it up. I mean, because you can imagine what the sports editor would think after reading that.
“Almost as soon as those comments appeared we were assured by Jeff Light (the newspaper’s executive editor) that the only section in the paper that would advocate for a new Chargers stadium would be the opinion page.”
A boost from the Union-Tribune’s editorial page has to be welcome news to the team, but it’s certainly not a replacement for a viable financing plan. The Chargers push for a new stadium has grown more aggressive in recent months, and many fans fear the team is L.A. bound if plans for a new stadium there materialize.
Another source at the newspaper confirmed Lynch no longer plans to turn the paper into a booster for a new Chargers stadium. Lynch has not publicly backed away from his position, but he did imply in a story posted on the newspaper’s web site Tuesday night that he had changed his mind.
“Lynch said he was acutely aware of the importance of editorial integrity and the independence of the newsroom,” the story says. It then quotes Lynch: “We’re not going to try to impact the news standpoint. What we’re here to do is to challenge everybody in that newsroom to be great.”
Both sources said they expect Manchester and Lynch to leave the paper’s foundation largely untouched as they work to rebrand the Union-Tribune as a multi-media company delivering news on multiple platforms, including TV and radio.
Some of the people who cringed when they read Lynch’s stadium comments had a similar reaction when they picked up Tuesday’s paper and saw the new tagline below the paper’s masthead. It says: “THE WORLD’S GREATEST COUNTRY & AMERICA’S FINEST CITY.” It used to say: “MORE THAN 1,000,000 READERS WEEKLY.”
The switch was met with swift criticism among critics and competitors.
So Manchester and Lynch backed away from one blunder and into another. This is clearly going to be a learn-as-we-go process for the new owners at one of nation’s largest newspapers.