Community Commentary

Where will our North County news come from?

Oceanside is the county’s 3rd largest city with about 180,000 residents. 

What are the chances that absolutely nothing newsworthy happened in Oceanside for five days straight?

That’s what you might believe if you relied on the U-T for news. From May 27 through June 2, the U-T, now the only daily paper serving Oceanside ran no Oceanside news stories. And on June 3 there were two short items, one about Councilwoman Sanchez maybe running for higher office, and one about a car wreck on I-5.

I would venture to say that there was Oceanside news that week. I would also suggest that the lack of reporting is probably just the way things are going to be at the UT from now on.

You see, on May 27 U-T Oceanside reporter Ray Huard was told his position was eliminated. Huard and at least seven other North County U-T newsroom staffers were victims of a personnel purge. From here on out, there won’t be an “Oceanside reporter.” Now one reporter will cover both Oceanside and Vista. (The U-T did the same thing by combining the Carlsbad and San Marcos beats). All eight news people fired were former North County Times employees who became U-T employees when the larger paper bought out the NCT in September.

And oh yeah, and not only is there no longer a North County Times, there is no North County section in the U-T any more.

The bottom line for U-T owner Doug Manchester is that he now has a smaller payroll. The bottom line for North County residents is that they will get less news coverage on important local issues that need to be covered.

The future is here: Thanks to Manchester’s downsizing, we have officially entered the dark ages.

Tuesday May 27 was also an auspicious day for another part of the Manchester media empire. That was the day that he blew up an entire newspaper. The 14-person staff of the daily Californian, which covered the southwest Riverside County cities of Temecula, Murietta and Lake Elsinore, were told that there was simply not going to be a Californian any more.

One of those fired employees told me they were not that surprised since the paper, which had a circulation of 18,000 when Manchester took it over (along with the North County Times), had plummeted to 10,000 in eight short months. Ouch!

But the circulation figures for the U-T are even more startling. Blogger Richard Riehl points out that the U-T has a current circulation of about 20,000 more than it had before it acquired the North County Times. He points out that the North County Times brought 80,000 to the table. He reasons that that translates to a devastating net decrease of 60,000 in eight months.

Wow, Papa Doug! Are you sure about this newspaper thing?

Many are wondering who if anyone will fill the void? Will it be a website? Will it be a weekly like The Coast News or The Reader? In the Temecula Valley, the Riverside Press-Enterprise has reached out to at least two former Californian reporters to hire them on a temporary basis, as that paper tests the waters about making a more serious commitment to covering news in that region.

Some wonder if Manchester has his media priorities all backwards. While he just fired more than 20 newspaper employees, he is still propping up something he calls UT-TV, which you can’t even watch if you have Time-Warner, Dish or Direct TV. UT-TV is a collection of two- and three-hour interview shows, taped at the UT’s Mission Valley headquarters.

I hate to break the news, Mr. Manchester, but nobody (not even if you have Cox cable) is watching UT-TV. The emperor has no clothes and the developer has no TV market share.

One former newspaper exec thinks that last Tuesday’s bloodletting was the beginning of the end, “the writing is on the wall,” he said, suggesting that that Manchester will eventually snuff out the U-T altogether. Other cynics reckon that Manchester just bought the papers for the property. He already got $7 million for selling the two-story Escondido building.

As bleak as this appears, this is still a free country. And if Manchester doesn’t want to bring us the news, someone else undoubtedly will.

Ken Leighton is an Oceanside resident.