U-T San Diego Purchased for $85 Million

The publisher of the Los Angeles Times is buying U-T San Diego for $85 million, strengthening its presence in Southern California and putting the top newspapers in the state's two largest cities under common ownership.

Tribune Publishing Co., owner of the Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other publications, said Thursday that the 145-year-old U-T would remain a separate newspaper.

Executives were examining how operations might be consolidated, with one possibility being that the Times would print the San Diego paper, the Times reported. The U-T said the newspapers would share some stories, photos, video and other content.

"We can take the best of what each newsroom can offer, and offer it to a broader customer base," Austin Beutner, the Times' publisher and chief executive, told the newspaper.

Douglas Manchester, a prominent San Diego developer who bought the U-T in 2011 for about $110 million, will keep the U-T's headquarters in the city's Mission Valley area. The newspaper will stay under a short-term lease while Manchester pursues a plan to build 200 apartments there.

Beutner will be publisher of both papers and chief executive of Tribune Publishing's California News Group, which will oversee operations in both markets. The U-T said Jeff Light, its president and editor, would remain at the San Diego paper.

Manchester, who insists that employees and others call him "Papa Doug," used his foray into newspaper publishing to trumpet conservative political views. One of his first moves was to give the U-T a new slogan, "The World's Greatest Country & America's Finest City."

"It has been important to me to speak out positively on a local, national and international level, particularly in denouncing Christian genocide and other oppression throughout the world," Manchester said in the U-T.

Manchester will receive $73 million cash and $12 million in Tribune Publishing stock, the newspapers said. He agreed to sell after saying last year that he would consider shedding the newspaper to a group of San Diego business leaders who wanted to turn it into a nonprofit organization.

The deal is expected to be completed before June 30, according to the U-T.

The U-T reported that the new owners may drop the name that Manchester introduced and return to The San Diego Union-Tribune, which is how it had been known since 1992, when The San Diego Union and The Tribune combined.

The move reshapes a tumultuous Southern California newspaper market in a struggling industry. Digital First Media, the nation's second-largest newspaper chain and owner of the Los Angeles Daily News, said last year that it was exploring the sale of its publications.

Freedom Communications Inc. recently named former casino executive Richard Mirman as its new publisher after pulling the plug on a short-lived expansion in Los Angeles and reversing a newsroom hiring spree. Freedom owns The Press-Enterprise of Riverside.

The Times is the region's largest newspaper by far, with an average print circulation of 650,718 on weekdays and 965,598 on Sundays, according to Alliance for Audited Media.

The U-T has an average print circulation of 268,038 on Sundays and between 177,885 and 216,417 on weekdays, trailing Digital First Media's combined Los Angeles-area publications. The U-T's circulation trails the Orange County Register on Sundays but is ahead on weekdays.

Tribune Publishing's newspapers were spun off from Tribune Media last year as a separate, publicly traded company based in Chicago.

“The acquisition of San Diego Union-Tribune and its related community properties is expected to be accretive to Tribune Publishing and reflects our continuing drive to create value for our shareholders,” Jack Griffin, CEO of Tribune Publishing, said in a statement on Thursday. “This represents another step forward in our strategy to leverage our publishing infrastructure, resources and management teams.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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