Union-Tribune reporters won’t cheer for a new Chargers stadium

Tony ManolatosTony Manolatos 8 Comments


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.

Tony Manolatos is a communications strategist. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn Click here to view his business profile.


Comments 8

  1. Lynch made a mistake with his original comment, no doubt. I don’t see any problem with them changing the paper’s tagline. Certainly nothing that should start a controversy.

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  3. Regardless of the amount of bias in any newspaper’s reporting process, it behooves the owners and editors to CLAIM that there is (or will be) no bias. To admit bias is to undermine the credibility and believability of the paper’s articles — biased or not.

    So, based on the blatant U-T pro-pro sports bias I have observed for many years, I’m afraid I’ll have to see this new-found objectivity in print.
    The bias often shows up not so much in what is reported as what is NOT reported. From a taxpayer standpoint, this is most apparent when big bucks civics projects are on the menu — libraries, convention centers, opera houses and — most of all — pro sports facilities.

    For instance, the paper SHOULD have done by now a detailed analysis of the Charger sky box rentals. How many are rented, how many are vacant and how many are now rented by LA area companies that will change their sky box choice to LA if a new stadium it built.

    The reason this is so important is that sky box revenue is kept 100% by the home team (unlike seat ticket revenue), so it’s a BIG profit center for the Chargers. Indeed, it’s the real reason they want a new billion dollar stadium. They will have LESS seats in the planned new stadium, but bigger, better and perhaps more numerous sky boxes.

    Because San Diego has too few big corporations (the sky box customers — and that paucity of big boys is getting worse, not better), and because OC and LA sky box renters will switch to an LA team when available, I think this expense is largely a waste of money, REGARDLESS who pays. The Chargers would NEVER spend much money on these sky boxes, but they’d love the taxpayers to cough up the dough.

    Don’t get me wrong — the U-T Watchdog gang has been doing great work. But we need to sic these junkyard dogs on the stadium. Given the importance of pro sports to a daily newspaper, I’m not holding my breath.

  4. San Diego State’s announced entry into the Big East for football creates a new dynamic. A resurgence of the school’s moribund program in recent years, coupled with increased revenue from the new conference alignment makes their stadium requirements more meaningful. Are they being considered in these plans, or will there be another round of of discussions in the future about a stadium for the Aztecs?

  5. Part of the reason our skyboxes do not have the rate of return they could is because they are crappy. If you travel to other state of the art football stadiums – the skyboxes are what they should be – luxury and they are sold out and profitable. I look forward to San Diego having the same!

  6. Jen J. — Where does all this big bucks spending come from? The Tooth Fairy conventions?

    San Diego is a “branch office” town. All those spunky little bio-med companies are too small to waste money on expensive sky boxes. We are not like SF or LA — we don’t have enough big companies to sell expensive sky boxes to.

    I like to offer sucker bets — bets I can’t lose on.. Care to wager a five-figure ESCROWED, LEGAL, DISCLOSED bet that (if the new stadium is somehow built) that they sell out the new sky boxes at rates that are even 80% of what is charged in LA or SF? Or that they sell out their pricey new sky boxes at a rate that doubles their aggregate sky box income?

    Yes, our sky boxs are “crappy” by the new stadium standards. But does it not make more sense for the CHARGERS to pay to renovate the Qualcomm sky boxes (for which 100% of the income is theirs alone) rather than having taxpayers spend $800+ million for a downtown stadium without parking?

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  8. Perhaps Doug and John will severely punish reporters who do not cheer for the Chargers and for their most beloved leader with sufficient emotion – as in North Korea.

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