By Rick Griffin
The recent purchase of the region’s largest media company is drawing a variety of local reaction, with most media observers expressing optimism about the San Diego Union-Tribune’s future.
Last week, Chicago-based Tronc agreed to sell the Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times to biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest residents and a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The purchase price was $500 million in cash, plus the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities.
The acquisition is the San Diego newspaper’s fourth change in ownership since March 2009, when private investment firm Platinum Equity took over from the Copley family. The latest sales comes as the newspaper is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
In a public statement after the sale was announced, Soon-Shiong said, “We look forward to continuing the great tradition of award-winning journalism carried out by the reporters and editors of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles.”
Then in a statement to employees, Soon-Shiong said, “I want to assure you — everyone from the press room to the newsroom — that I will work to ensure that you have the tools and resources to produce the high-quality journalism that our readers need and rely upon.”
Responding to the sale, local leaders in media, advertising, public relations and academia offered a variety of viewpoints about the transaction.
“Looks like the new owner is interested in creating a voice for leadership and innovation in the western U.S. Could be very exciting,” said advertising industry veteran Sheila Fox of Fox Marketing Network.
Jeannie Fratoni, 2018 president of SDX, said she is “optimistic the sale will be a positive step forward and will cultivate a culture of world-class, innovative journalism.”
For Kristen Castillo, 2018 president of the San Diego Press Club, the sale represented another change in the local media landscape. “We are hopeful this sale protects the integrity of news while also supporting our fellow journalists,” she said.
Another local professional group, the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, urged the new owner to focus on local news.
“San Diego SPJ encourages new owner Patrick Soon-Shiong to prioritize local reporting in both San Diego and Los Angeles, and to respect the voices of staff at both award-winning newspapers,” said Lisa Halverstadt, 2018 president. “We hope he will champion a strong local presence and stellar reporting in both communities.”
J.W. August, an SPJ board member and NBC 7 San Diego producer, said Soon-Shiong’s purchase augers for stability and support for good journalism.
“A white knight arrives with a billion or so in the bank and saves the day. With the knight comes upper management-ownership stability, a cash infusion and sustained financial and editorial support for good journalism,” said August. “That certainly would be an improvement over the roller coaster ride that Union Tribune employees and management have endured over the past few years.”
For public relations professionals, the concern was building and maintaining strong relationships with the newspaper’s staff.
“Public relations practitioners in San Diego have experienced challenges in building long-term relationships with local journalists amid frequent changes in ownership and layoffs during the past decade, a trend exacerbated by a decline in regional family-owned media,” said Jenny Corsey, 2018 president of the Public Relations Society of America’s San Diego and Imperial Counties chapter. “We count ourselves among the many Union-Tribune readers who expect fair, impartial and diverse coverage of community-focused issues.”
Mark Larson, a radio talk-show host and political commentator, noted the “mind-boggling” purchase price, which he said was largely due to the Los Angeles Times.
“The Union Tribune hasn’t exactly been consistent in terms of ownership and editorial policy in the last several years,” Larson said. “To succeed in whatever format in today’s technology, it needs to be much more local in focus, not just echoing Los Angeles Times or reprinting New York Times and Washington Post articles. My hope would be that the new owner decides to invest more in terms of local contributors and content.”
Bey-Ling Sha, director of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University, noted that “journalism plays a critical role in educating the public. I hope the new owner of the U-T will provide our local journalists with the monetary support and the editorial freedom to continue educating San Diegans on the issues that matter to our bi-national region.”
Glen Broom, SDSU professor emeritus and namesake of the school’s Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations, was hopeful for an increase in investigative reporting.
“From what I am reading, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong appears ready to rebuild the news staffs and make the The San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times serious newspapers again,” said Broom. “Let’s hope so, because our biggest loss under a series of owners has been the loss of serious investigative reporting. Our paper really stopped shining the light on much what is happening in local government and other important areas of interest. For example, how could one person possibly cover all of education in San Diego County, plus science, technology and cannabis?”
Palm Springs TV Personality is New Anchor at KUSI-TV
After more than 20 years in the Coachella Valley appearing on local TV hosting specials and reporting the weather (spoiler alert: it gets hot outside), Ginger Jeffries has joined KUSI-TV as a weekend morning anchor. She worked for 19 years for ABC affiliate KESQ-TV before switching to NBC affiliate KMIR-TV in 2015. She started at KUSI earlier this month.
As a student at San Diego State University studying biology, Jeffries had planned to follow her surgeon dad into medicine. But when her sorority president who was the editor of the campus paper asked her to write a piece for the paper, “Something happened,” Jeffries said. With degrees in biology and journalism, a stint at a San Diego AM radio station and nine months in Eureka, Jeffries arrived in Palm Springs in 1996 as a general assignment reporter and weekend anchor.
Over the years, she earned multiple Emmy Awards and was recognized as the town’s Best TV Personality more than a dozen times. Last year, Jeffries married former PGA Tour Professional Bryan Geiberger.
U-T’s Longest Tenured Reporter to Retire After 44 years
The San Diego Union-Tribune’s longest tenured newsroom employee at 44 years has announced he will retire March 31. Roger Showley, a third-generation San Diegan, has covered mostly real estate development and design since joining the newspaper as a reporter in March 1974. For 20 years, Showley wrote a column called “Smokestacks and Geraniums.” His beats throughout his career also have included historic preservation, politics and pop culture. For a while, he was the newspaper’s designated reporter on Harry Potter stories.
“In recent years, some of my stories have been about new projects replacing old buildings that I wrote about when they were first built, which tells you that it may be time to move on,” Showley quipped. “I turn 70 in April. Perhaps, I could have hung around a few more years, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome.”
Showley’s knowledge of San Diego history is widely respected. He has authored three books on San Diego’s history, including “San Diego: Perfecting Paradise,” “Balboa Park: A Millennium History” and “San Diego: Then & Now.”
“I can’t begin to imagine the newsroom without him,” said Diana McCabe, U-T business editor. “His institutional knowledge about San Diego County, his enthusiasm for breaking news and telling stories, and his incomparable wit will be sorely missed. He’s one of a kind.”
Showley grew up in Point Loma, attended Point Loma High School and wore the “Pointer the Dog” mascot costume. His senior year of high school (1965-66) was spent as a foreign exchange student in the Netherlands (Showley speaks Dutch). During his four years attending the University of California San Diego, Showley was a stringer and campus correspondent for the old Evening Tribune newspaper, including while he was in Hong Kong his junior year (1968-69). In 1970, he was a member of UCSD’s third graduating class.
After college, he worked in Washington, D.C. as summer intern and then a staffer for the White House Conference on Children and Youth (1970-71), followed by writing press releases and position papers for the Republican National Committee (1971-73) during the Watergate era. Before his return to San Diego, he worked for a year in Pennsylvania as a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
Until his final day on March 31, Showley also will have the title as the company’s longest current tenured employee, following the December 2017 retirement of Dave Cramer who worked in the newspaper’s circulation department for 47 years. The San Diego Union-Tribune currently employs about 260 people. “Fifteen years ago, we had 2,000 staffers,” said Showley, who estimates he has survived about a dozen layoffs and buyouts, which have been a common occurrence in the American journalism industry in recent years.
“I was offered a buyout about three years ago but I wanted to be part of the newspaper’s return to downtown following the move from Mission Valley,” said Showley. “I love it that the newspaper is once again part of the Downtown scene.” In 2016, when the U-T offices relocated to 60,000 square feet at 600 B Street, Showley wrote, “The last time this newspaper was based downtown, white-hatted sailors frequented peep shows and dive bars and many of the people who lived there occupied flop houses.”
During his retirement, Showley hopes to write historical pieces for “The Journal of San Diego History,” published by the San Diego History Center. He also wants to volunteer for nonprofit organizations in Balboa Park and will continue his role as a San Diego Press Club board member. “I’ve also always wanted to serve as a poll worker,” said Showley, who has lived in Scripps Ranch since 1994. He has been married since 1985 to wife Carol Showley, a San Diego architect. They have two children, Charles, 27, and Catherine, 23. “Of course, we also are planning to do some traveling,” Showley said. “The other day we wrote a list of 32 different places we’d like to visit.”
Showley’s replacement covering growth and development will be Jeanette Steele, who also has reported on downtown redevelopment and Balboa Park, as well as the U.S. military and veterans’ issues.
KSON’s John and Tammy Supporting Home of Guiding Hands
KSON Radio’s morning team of Tammy Lee and John Flint will emcee the 8th annual Randy Jones Run-Walk for Independence 5K on Saturday morning, Feb. 17, at Crown Point Park, 3700 Crown Point Drive in San Diego’s Mission Bay area. The fundraiser benefits the Home of Guiding Hands, a non-profit organization that provides services, training and advocacy to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families.
Now in their 18th year as a radio team, Flint and Lee previously spent 10 years in Madison, Wis., before joining the country music station in July 2011. KSON recently switched frequencies from 92.1-FM to 103.7-FM following the takeover of CBS Radio by Entercom Communications.
Home of Guiding Hands said the fundraiser’s 500 participants are expected to raise more than $50,000 in support of the nonprofit’s programs and services. The three mile run-walk along San Diego Bay is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. The top three finishers will be eligible to attend a future “HGH Day at the Padres” at Petco Park. For more event information, visit randyjonesrunwalk.org.
Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.