The (rapid) decline and fall of daily news in North County

Many observers predicted the day would come. I think few would admit they expected it would come as quickly as it did.

Barely eight months after the surprising acquisition of Lee Enterprise’s North County Times by would-be media titan “Papa” Doug Manchester and his partner John Lynch, virtually every last vestige of that newspaper’s presence and anything resembling news coverage of the region they claimed to so highly covet remains.

When the acquisition first came to light there was considerable angst and suspicion within and without the newspaper community. After all, since taking over the U-T the new owners had not ingratiated themselves with a large segment of their readership, and long-time North County residents have witnessed the Union-Tribune’s act plenty of times before—storm into the region with great fanfare, then abandon it a few months later.

Then there was U-T management’s reputation within the journalistic community of playing fast and loose with generally accepted standards and practices regarding ownership’s control of editorial policy. Whether deserved or not, it had everyone on edge.

The sale happened so quickly the new owners quite literally had no idea what they were going to do with their new acquisition and for weeks—months, actually—they were constantly adjusting on the fly, shedding employees along the way and confusing the ones that remained with conflicting demands and performance standards.

Supervisors in some cases never met their new employees, but then it often didn’t matter because in a matter of weeks the employees were laid off, anyway.

Salespeople were given lofty sales targets, but no prices for the product they were selling.

One day they are planning to build a television studio in the Escondido newsroom, the next they are selling the building.

Anyone who was a subscriber to the North County Times and remained with the U-T in the transition can probably see a familiar pattern in the physical newspaper they are now receiving at their doorstep each morning.

Thanks to the overreach of Lee Enterprises and their ill-advised, over-leveraged purchase of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the North County Times was allowed to slowly die while their cash was bled away to stave off the parent company’s creditors.

Similarly, management at the U-T continues its commitment to its “multi-media platform”—in other words, UTTVwhich is hemorrhaging cash at a prodigious rate, at the expense of its print media roots. The Californian and North County may have been the first to go, but they are likely not the last.

As a former freelance columnist for the newspaper and a subscriber, I have tried on more than one occasion to watch the television channel out of a sense of curiosity. I cannot. It is abysmal. Virtually everyone I have spoken with who has seen the channel agree.

As I have described it to others, it reminds me of “Wayne’s World”, only with slightly better production values. The truth is “Wayne’s World” at least had entertainment value.

If Cox Communications with all its vast resources could not make Channel 4 a more viable television station than it is, what makes Manchester and Lynch think they can, other than their outsized egos?

Speaking of which, this is why I predict even more downsizing of the print version U-T in the upcoming months. I do not believe Manchester has the ability to admit failure. He and Lynch will watch UTTV circle the porcelain bowl until there is nothing left of the newspaper, all the while maintaining they have the keys to the future of newspapering.

Given the way they are managing things, I suggest they just put the keys under the mat and remember to turn out the lights when they leave.

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