Updated at 9 a.m. May 8, 2015

San Diegans who wanted the Los Angeles Times to return to America’s Finest City got their way Thursday — but not quite the way they expected.

U-T TV anchors Alejandra Cerball and Tristan Nichols — before the cable news show was eliminated. Image from U-T San Diego.

In a series of revelations that ended a little after 3 p.m., Tribune Publishing — owner of the Los Angeles metro daily — said it was paying $85 million to buy U-T San Diego (but not its real estate) from Doug Manchester.

A Facebook page called “Bring the L.A. Times back to San Diego,” launched in fall 2012, recalled the heyday of San Diego newspaper competition when the Union and Tribune (separate dailies owned by the Copley family) went tooth-and-nail against each other and the San Diego edition of the Times, based downtown.

“Sending out an SOS to the L.A. Times about our need for quality journalism here in SD,” the creators said. “Send in reinforcements for Tony Perry — we’ll subscribe!”

Perry for years was the lone San Diego-based reporter for the Los Angeles Times, which also folded an Orange County edition years ago. If staff stays in place, some Times employees including Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Don Bartletti (a former San Diego Union mainstay) might have a shorter commute.

Responding to a query, the operator of the Facebook page told Times of San Diego:

“San Diego’s newspaper has always been fairly political — save for its brief period of eerie soullessness under the Platinum Equity. But when Doug Manchester bought the U-T, the modicum of trust that still remained vanished completely. He openly boasted of his plans to use the paper as a political bludgeon to accomplish political and development ends — a vision that was derided by the very people with whom he sought influence.”

The operator, who did not give a name, continued:

[Manchester] genuinely thought buying ink by the barrel was the whole game, instead of just the price of admission to the tournament. Manchester was never able to earn the respect of our city’s leaders and power brokers by owning the paper as he’d hoped he would. Some used him, but he never got what he wanted.

The paper’s reputation and circulation have suffered horribly for the loss of trust — and at such a critical time for the newspaper industry. As a newspaper lover and someone who’s not ready to give up on the concept of a major metro daily as an anchor for civic discourse, I hope it’s not too late for the San Diego Union-Tribune to regain a foothold.

Call me old school, but there’s something comforting about having a broadly read city paper with some basic journalistic principles in place to center us. One good thing that came of it was that it introduced many San Diegans to the alternative sources of news. Let’s hope they continue to thrive.

Others reacting to the news included former Union reporter Paul Krueger, now with NBC San Diego, who said on Twitter: “Fantastic News! Tribune Publishing reportedly buys UT San Diego. We’ll have a legit newspaper again!”

On Facebook, San Diego’s Diane Shelley Voit wrote: “YES!!! We can finally subscribe again! Good riddance to Manchester.”

“Its a good day,” tweeted former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, later telling another commenter why he felt that way: “Existing owner never called you to say that he would use his paper to destroy you. #myperspective”

In a letter to U-T readers, new publisher and CEO Austin Beutner wrote: “With four Pulitzer Prizes among the Union-Tribune’s honors, we are mindful of its role in the community, and we will preserve the independence of the Union-Tribune’s newsroom and its award-winning writers, photographers and editors.”

U-T columnist Logan Jenkins wrote in September 2012 of the short-lived golden age of San Diego County newspapers: “The recession of the early ’90s left the North County battlefield littered with yesterday’s papers.”

“The L.A. Times cut its losses and retreated to its ancestral market. The Vista Press cut back to a twice-weekly paper in 1992, the same year the Copley-owned Union and Tribune merged into the Union-Tribune.”

The Vista Press folded in 1995, and the owner of the Oceanside Blade-Citizen, bought the Escondido Times-Advocate and merged the two papers as the North County Times — later acquired and closed by U-T San Diego.

Questions abounded:

  • Would U-T San Diego revert to its name before the Manchester purchase in 2011? It had been The San Diego Union-Tribune since the afternoon and morning papers merged in February 1992.
  • Would the traditionally liberal L.A. Times change the political direction of the longtime conservative bastion U-T?
  • Where will U-T staffers work — and how many will remain? U-T Editor Jeff Light was quoted as saying: “Without a doubt, there will be some savings — which, unfortunately, is another way of saying layoffs.”

Social media buzzed what the sale might mean for the Chargers. Would they find a friend in their potential move to Carson?

The Times quoted Manchester as saying it had been a privilege to own the U-T and to be “a cheerleader for the good in our community.”

“The U-T reported Sunday circulation of 271,564 for the first quarter of this year. On other days, circulation has ranged from 169,484 to 222,479,” the Times said.