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U-T Wants to Buy More Newspapers, CEO Reportedly Says

Publisher reportedly has cash available for acquisitions, sees U-T revenue growing.

A day after U-T San Diego announced plans to buy the North County Times, the company’s CEO reportedly told a private gathering that the U-T hopes to become a national media power with additional purchases—perhaps including the Chicago-based Tribune Co.

“There’s one company that has newspapers in Chicago, L.A., Baltimore, Connecticut and (Florida),” John Lynch, the CEO, was quoted as saying. “If we could do one major acquisition, that could take us from coast to coast.”

According to former U-T business writer Bruce Bigelow, who acquired an audio recording of the remarks, Lynch spoke Sept. 12 at the San Diego office of the Fish and Richardson law firm.

Lynch was at a CEO Forum series organized by the Harvard Business School Club of San Diego, speaking on the topic “The Media Business—Why Buying the U-T When Everyone Says ‘Print is in Decline’ Makes Good Business Sense.” The club announced the talk on its website.

Bigelow, an award-winning writer, described the remarks in a newsletter sent to former and current U-T newsroom employees, saying: “Lynch told the breakfast group that a couple of media companies would be exiting bankruptcy in coming weeks/months, and that Manchester Lynch Integrated Media has cash available and no debt.

“What that means, he said, is that they have an opportunity to create a national media company.”

Lynch confirmed that he presented a slide show and short movie to the Harvard Business School Club of San Diego.

“Supposedly, there was no press there—as is the club’s policy,” Lynch said Monday via email. “After the presentation, we primarily discussed Mr. Manchester and my media model and why we think it will succeed.”

Lynch said most of what Bigelow wrote “was (in) response to questions, and the responses are taken out of context for the most part.”

But Lynch did not challenge the accuracy of the quotes.

Asked for reaction to the report, Gary Weitman, a Tribune Co. spokesman, said via email: “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on speculation regarding interest in our assets.”

Roger Denning, a principal with the San Diego office of Fish & Richardson, told Patch: “I cannot confirm or deny any of the content discussed ... as I was not at the presentation. As a favor to the business community, Fish & Richardson makes our conference room available to the Harvard Business School Club from time to time, but I don’t believe any Fish & Richardson attorneys attended the meeting you reference.”

Bigelow said that as editor of Xconomy San Diego since late 2008, he is “well-connected in local technology and life sciences startups and the innovation community.”

Among other things Bigelow says he heard in the Lynch recording:

  • “He said repeatedly that the U-T revenue is growing, and expressed confidence that the company would be able to grow revenue from current $150 million a year to $250 million/year. Instead of 100-year-old revenue structure of classified, national, and retail advertising, Lynch said revamping the business structure was part of his core plan.”
  • On U-T editor Jeff Light: “He’s brilliant, No. 1. He’s probably a little more liberal than either Doug (Manchester, the publisher) or myself. ... I must tell you, we allow the news department to do their own thing. We’re not dictating what the news is. On the other side, we’re totally dictating what the editorial (page) policy is.”
  • “The U-T has hired an investigative reporter who's working on a story about what really happened to Junior Seau. Look for that in 4-5 weeks.”
  • On the front-page editorial endorsement of Carl DeMaio for San Diego mayor: “We believe he’s the best guy for our community from a business standpoint and that’s why we’re supporting him, vigorously.”

In his comments on the report, Lynch said, “Mr. Manchester and I are in total sync on our positions taken on the editorial page. He truly loves our country, and our city and feels that supporting, in a positive manner, things that will be good for the city and the country will be good for all.”

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