Get Riehl: R.I.P. NCT, Hello Big Brother

by Richard J. Riehl on October 17, 2012

Ut NcYesterday afternoon I went to the North County Times online to ask for a vacation hold for a couple of days while we’re out of town. The website no longer recognized me as a subscriber, so I had to resubmit my street and email addresses.

This morning I got an email in reply, thanking me for “subscribing to U-T San Diego’s digital only edition. We know you have several options in how you receive your news and are glad you chose us.” It was signed “Papa Doug Manchester.”

That reply and the death of the only other choice of a daily newspaper in North County sealed my decision to extend that vacation hold request to forever.

The first three days of the North County Times under Manchester’s ownership reveals its new brand: just an added section to U-T San Diego, gratuitously carrying the familiar blue NCT masthead (adding “U-T” to it) dishonestly designed to reassure North Countians they haven’t lost their daily newspaper.If it’s not dead, it’s been taken off life support. Don’t expect to see that blue masthead very much longer. The new North County Times has shrunk to sixteen pages, but only five to seven local stories (ads and public notices fill the rest). Those five to seven pages carry a laughably titled “Opinion” section, gossipy city crime reports, a half page of comics and a half page of sports.

Today’s Opinion section filled half a page. There’s no local editorial. In its place is an oversized Mallard Fillmore cartoon of a guy wearing a baseball cap wishing the president were unemployed like him.

There are three letters to the editor that made it to the Opinion section, two of which bash President Obama. Tuesday’s paper carried six letters, Monday’s ten.

Before the North County Times became a U-T San Diego insert, its editorial pages were alive with public discourse. Letters to the editor filled an entire page, a page and a half in election years. Liberals and conservatives, atheists and evangelicals waged lively daily debates. Doonesbury cartoons appeared next to Mallard Fillmore. Community columnists appeared daily on the Opinion Page, representing views ranging from conservative to progressive.

When asked in a KPBS interview after he bought the paper, Manchester said he couldn’t promise an independent editorial board for his version of the North County Times. That became clear this morning, when U-T San Diego’s Editorial appeared in the North County Times online edition, carrying the headline, “Debate: Romney shows he’s up to the job.”

The opinions of North County residents are apparently unwelcome in their new U-T San Diego insert.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed writing a bi-weekly column for the NCT for nine years. I’m certain my views did not always reflect the views of the paper’s editorial page editors. They’ve told me so. Other community columnists expressed views far apart from my own.

Those days are gone now. And it should come as no surprise. Manchester has not been hesitant to declare his goal as a newspaper owner is not to produce quality journalism as a service to the public. It’s to promote a conservative agenda and be a booster of business and pro sports in San Diego County.

One reason the budding media mogul may have taken a special interest in us northerners is that San Diego County is turning blue. But it gets redder as you head north. The County Registrar of Voters’ latest report shows there are now 3,881 more Democrats than Republicans registered to vote in San Diego County. In the City of San Diego alone 40 percent of voters are Democrats, compared to 28 percent Republicans.

But as you move north the cities turn red. In Carlsbad Republicans outnumber Demos by 43 percent to 28 percent. In Escondido it’s the same. In San Marcos Republicans are in the majority by 42 percent to 29 percent. In Poway it’s 47 percent to 25 percent. In Oceanside Republicans edge Demos, 39 percent to 32 percent.

So Manchester is likely to find friends up here. That’s important, not only to his ego, but to the pocketbook of a developer, disguised as a newspaper publisher, in search of political favors.

Former editor of the North County Times, Kent Davy, told a KPBS interviewer his mission for the NCT was to be a mirror of the community. Manchester’s mission for the U-T San Diego North County Insert is to be a mirror of himself.

Richard Riehl writes from LaCosta. Contact him at richard_riehl@yahoo.com

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