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LGBT community reacts negatively to San Diego Union-Tribune's sale to Doug Manchester

SAN DIEGO – San Diego’s 143-year-old daily newspaper, The San Diego Union-Tribune, has been sold to MLIM LLC, an investment firm owned by entrepreneur Doug Manchester. The news did not go over well in San Diego's large LGBT community, considering that Manchester was a big supporter of Proposition 8 that took away marriage equality.

The sale was announced today by a news release and story published in the paper, which is currently owned by Platinum Equity, which acquired the paper in 2009 from the Copley family. Terms of the sale have not been disclosed, and the transaction is expected to close by Dec. 15.

Manchester, who became scorned by the LGBT community because of his large financial contribution to the “Yes on Proposition 8” campaign in 2008 and triggered a successful boycott of two of his high-end hotels, said that it is an honor for him and his family to take ownership of the paper.

“This is an honor and a privilege for John Lynch and the Manchester family,” Manchester said. “We have strong roots in the San Diego community and we are pleased to bring our local perspective and passion for this region to the Union-Tribune. Taking ownership of a 143-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization comes with great responsibility. We believe San Diego is the finest city in America and pledge to be strong advocates for the city’s interests and conscientious caretakers of the Union-Tribune and its legacy.”

Critics are already dismayed that a major player in San Diego development circles is getting control of the city's only daily newspaper, pointing out potential conflicts of interests as the U-T attempts to cover stories involving their new boss. A longtime conservative, Manchester will no doubt keep the U-T editorial page on the side of the right wing.

Members of the LGBT community are not pleased with Manchester’s impending takeover of the region’s only mainstream daily newspaper.

Longtime community activist Aaron Borovoy shared a Union-Tribune story about the sale to his Facebook page and remarked: “Well, if the U-T wasn’t dead before, it sure is now. At least dead to me . . .”

Since the paper’s takeover by Platinum Equity after long ownership by the conservative Copley family, many readers have said that the paper’s quality has diminished. A series of high-profile layoffs of longtime editors, reporters and other staff, numbering into the losses of hundreds of jobs of local journalists, have also taken place over the last few years.

University Heights resident Sam Bacon said that he thought the paper was heading in positive directions, but is unhappy with news of the sale.

"There goes the Union-Tribune, just as it was starting to improve,” Bacon posted on his Facebook page.

Joshua Romera, who works for an HIV research center, fears that the paper under Manchester’s ownership will neglect coverage of issues related to the LGBT community.

“With the announcement of the purchase of the Union-Tribune by Doug Manchester, I am concerned over the coverage that will be given to LGBT and LGBT-related news,” Romero said. “I do communications and outreach for an HIV research center. Even though HIV affects more than the LGBT community, we can’t deny that our community is significantly impacted by this disease and many people closely associate the two. I hope that the U-T’s change of ownership doesn’t mean less attention is given to the HIV/AIDS research and treatment advancements being made right here in San Diego.”

Fred Sainz, a former spokesman for San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders who now works in Washington as a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Voice of San Diego that he was disappointed that the U-T's new owner is Manchester.

"He has a well-earned reputation for being a small-minded, resentful, mean-spirited man," Sainz told VOSD. "And those are not the character traits you want in the publisher of your newspaper. It's going to be hard to believe the editorial positions of the newspaper were arrived at in a thoughtful and unbiased manner. ... It's putting way too much power in the hands of one person with a multitude of agendas."

After Manchester donated $125,000 to the campaign that ultimately took away marriage equality in California, members of the LGBT community organized a boycott against two of Manchester’s locally owned hotels, The Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Grand del Mar Resort.

While various figures have been shared, some activists say that the hotelier lost over $1 million in income because of the boycott. Manchester eventually issued a public apology to the community, which has been published in full on Manchester Financial Group’s webpage:

In recent months, Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego has been the subject of negative attention in the wake of my personal donation to California’s Yes on 8 Campaign in 2008. I am sorry for the pain and conflict I have caused and would like to take this time to apologize, clarify my views on the matter and share some background on Hyatt’s long-standing and commendable support of the GLBT community.

The San Diego community, the GLBT community and those that support their civil rights efforts, deserve an explanation. I am not, nor was I ever, anti-gay. I am and have been in favor of Domestic Partnership and Civil Unions for quite some time. I respect all members of the GLBT community and have several gay and lesbian employees in various departments and professional levels at Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. While I stand by my belief that as a private citizen I may make personal donations to causes and charitable organizations of my choosing, I have been reminded daily that not all such actions are correct or favorable to the company, its employees or the community.

Manchester’s apology also included a $25,000 personal grant donation to be made to LGBT non-profit organization(s) and a sponsorship of up to $100,000 of in-kind support for use of the property’s facilities, goods, and services.

Manchester sold the Grand Hyatt property to Host Hotels & Resorts earlier this year and a number of LGBT community events have since been held at the hotel after the boycott was called off by the LGBT community.

Fernando Lopez, a longtime activist for marriage equality, recalls working with the San Diego Union-Tribune to feature a same-sex couple in its Family Section.

“The honest truth telling of real LGBT families and lives has been a long time struggle in the media. I remember one of our big local successes with Marriage Equality USA was when we worked with the U-T to have its first highlight of a gay couple in the Family section of the paper,” Lopez said. “We've made a lot of progress since then. My fear is that Manchester's purchase of the UT is another attempt to censor our community, our families, and our lives.”

A number of Hyatt Hotels, including the Manchester Grand Hyatt, continue to be under boycott by some labor organizations.

Jose Medina, who is an active participant of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME), said that the sale of the paper to Manchester is not good.

“Doug Manchester in control of San Diego’s biggest newspaper makes me very sad,” Medina said. “He has shown his true colors of contempt for worker’s rights and LGBT rights. This is awful.”

The San Diego Democrats for Equality released the following statement on the sale of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The San Diego Union-Tribune has made great strides in recent years with regard to coverage of LGBT issues and events, both in terms of the balance in its news reporting and a more fair and progressive stance with regard to LGBT equality. Doug Manchester's substantial donation to the Prop. 8 campaign and his handling of labor issues at his former hotel raise serious concerns regarding his personal beliefs. It is our hope that, despite his personal political leanings, Mr. Manchester will not attempt to influence the objectivity of the news reporting or editorial stances of the newspaper. Many media companies, such as the Murdoch empire (owner of Fox News), attempt the impose the political views of the owners on their outlets; others try to serve the best interests of the community. We call on Mr. Manchester to embrace the latter.

More information about the sale of the paper will be posted as it is received.

Left photo: Doug Manchester. Credit: Manchester Financial Group.