But this time, it isn’t a British invasion. It’s real-estate baron “Papa” Doug Manchester, the owner/publisher of the U-T San Diego.
Manchester has embarked on a grand plan to bolster his flagging metropolitan daily’s readership by gobbling up local, independent publications.
Is it “Papa” Doug’s intent to improve the local print product? Or are his acquisitions a thinly veiled attempt to buy out his competition so he can claim circulation increases and enhanced market penetration?
What does this consolidation bode for the future of San Diego’s independent newspaper voices and our local readers who hunger for community news and insight about our neighbors and families? Is this a positive change benefiting the print newspaper industry as a whole or a harbinger of “land grabs” yet to come?
Examine the track record. A case in point is the sale of the North County Times, which “Papa” Doug purchased in September 2012, claiming he would maintain the publication’s integrity and independence.
The end result: one-third of the Times’ staff was subsequently laid off. Ultimately, the print edition of the North CountyTimes was folded into the U-T. Barely six months after the Times’ acquisition by Manchester, the supposedly independent U-T North County Times name was dropped all together and a U-T North County Edition was produced, essentially wiping out community autonomy.
These are disturbing times in the local journalism industry, said Julie Main, publisher of the San Diego Community Newspaper Group, which publishes The Peninsula Beacon, covering Point Loma and Ocean Beach; Beach & Bay Press, covering Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Mission Bay; and La Jolla Village News, which serves La Jolla, University City and the Golden Triangle area.
“The media industry has changed drastically over the last 30 years,” said Main. “Dailies failed to heed the warning signs from competition. Little by little, they lost insert business to direct mail. Shopper-type publications and local community weeklies gained momentum through direct delivery and market saturation, luring retail-advertising business away from the dwindling subscription numbers of the dailies.
“More recently, Craigslist devastated classified revenues,” she said. “Plus, countless print, online, TV and radio outlets have vied for regional ad dollars. It does not come as a surprise that the U-T would try its hand in gaining back market share by buying out the competition as they did in North County, and now through the Main Street Media acquisition (the La Jolla Light and sister publications). We will continue to do business as usual, providing our readers with an independent voice. We will continue to publish fair and balanced local news coverage to these neighborhoods in print and online, as we’ve always done. We have a solid reputation for providing businesses with cost-effective advertising solutions that work. It’s a natural win-win.”
Noting the U-T “has deeper pockets than any of us,” Jim Kydd, publisher of Coast News and Rancho Santa Fe News, emphasized these are, indeed, uncertain times for print journalism as a whole.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing for 28 years. We’re still here, stronger than ever, with a very good reputation.”
Perhaps more readers should begin asking the question: Will “Papa” Doug Manchester save San Diego’s independent print media or plunder and profit from them, ultimately absorbing and digesting them?