San Diego's largest newspaper announced Tuesday morning it has entered into an agreement to purchase its largest competitor.
The owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune will purchase The North County Times, the main newspaper covering San Diego's North County as well as The Californian in Southwest Riverside County.
Employees were told to gather in the newsroom of the NCTime’s Escondido offices Tuesday morning after the agreement was signed.
“I don’t think anyone was really, truly surprised,” North County Times publisher Peter York told NBC 7 San Diego. “But when it comes down to the announcement, there’s some finality to it.”
The paper's parent company, Lee Enterprises, has agreed to sell the newspaper and digital media operations to San Diego entrepreneur Doug Manchester.
“We intend to super serve each and every market in which we enter. Since San Diego is our home this is a logical acquisition," Manchester said in a statement.
York described the mood of employees as discouraged saying some employees were concerned about the unknown; about jobs, colleague’s jobs, health coverage and 401(k)'s.
The news was concerning to many members of the community worried about the reach of Manchester throughout the county.
"The North County Times has been an important second voice in the county and you're putting that voice under Doug Manchester," said Voice of San Diego reporter Rob Davis. "He has significant political power owning both papers."
Davis wrote a profile about Manchester prior to the sale.
Since the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) wasn’t invoked, York believes it is unlikely there will be more than 50 positions cut from the staff.
He added that he hopes everyone who wants to stay with the North County Times will remain employed.
As for his own future, York said he hasn’t heard. “I’m here until October 1,” he said.
The sale is expected to close October 1, 2012.
Union Tribune CEO John Lynch said he values the prep and youth sports coverage from the North County Times and believes that will be a good addition to the U-T San Diego coverage of the same.
However, how the two papers will manage other areas of coverage will be decided in the future.
“We currently are fielding research that will provide a roadmap as to how best to operate the NCT, in conjunction with the UT,” Lynch said.
To those critics who may say the region is losing a voice York said, “I don’t know that we are.”
He hopes to see the paper remain as an independent voice for the North County.
“I would hope that the paper remains really local and covers 22 football games on a Friday night,” he said. “I would hope the local coverage of city councils, hospital boards, continues.”
Lee Enterprises, a publicly-traded company, also released financial details for the North County Times. For the 52 weeks ended August 26, 2012, the newspaper had revenue of $27.6 million according to the company's release.
The San Diego Business Journal first reported on Monday the U-T had purchased the North County Times with an announcement pending Tuesday.
Lynch denied the SDBJ report Monday saying, "At this time, U-T San Diego has NOT purchased The North County Times. U-T San Diego is continually evaluating investment opportunities to grow its media portfolio. Given the challenging economic conditions, The U-T does not comment on any transactions that are not complete."
MLIM LLC, owned by Manchester Lynch, purchased the Union Tribune in November 2011.
Manchester, referred to as "Papa Doug" by family, friends and employees, talked publicly about the North County Times a month after the U-T announcement.
"It could add to our collection, and it could be beneficial. We're probably the logical buyers, but we haven't met with anyone on it," Manchester told our media partners at voiceofsandiego.
Since then, the Union Tribune has renamed itself the U-T, launched a paywall for its online products and has attempted its own version of morning television with its webstream U-T TV.