By Miriam Raftery
Photo courtesy ECM news partner 10 News
September 24, 2014 (San Diego) - UT-San Diego, our region’s largest newspaper, may soon become a nonprofit media outlet. The UT confirmed on Tuesday that developer and philanthropist Malin Burnham, along with a group of donors, are putting together an offer that would transfer ownership of the UT to what has been described as a “public-spirited nonprofit.”
The UT reports that current owner and publisher Doug Manchester is considering the concept. Under the plan, profits would flow not to shareholders or owners, but instead be used for community projects, though these have not yet been described. The newspaper’s editorial policy as a nonprofit would be “inclusive and community focused,” the report states.
Manchester has drawn criticism in journalism circles, including a blistering editorial in Editor and Publisher, for his policies of openly promoting conservative candidates and causes. While the paper’s long-time owners, the Copley family, also had conservative leanings, Manchestered carried that to a new level not only on the editorial pages, but even wrapping the front page in an editorial for a prominent Republican candidate.
Burnham told Voice of San Diego that Manchester has encouraged him to apply for nonprofit status with the IRS, or Internal Revenue Service – a sign that Manchester may be taking the offer seriously. Manchester has likely grown disillusioned that the newspaper has floundered financially and failed to have the political impact he envisioned; all candidates endorsed by the newspaper in the last general election failed to win office.
So who is Malin Burnham? He’s chaired John Burnham and Company Insurance and Burnham Real Estate and is known as a major downtown developer. At 86, he a driving force in many local causes. According to his bio at the UC San Diego Foundation, he’s chaired nine major nonprofits and founded 14 different organizations. https://foundation.ucsd.edu/_files/board-of-trustees-bios/_burnham_malin.pdf
He has also funded many philanthropic causes and has been a key player in the San Diego Foundation, the Midway Museum, and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute locally. He’s also a sports fan – former co-owner of the Padres and a sailor who once won an international sailing competition and helped bring the America’s cup yacht race to San Diego, as well as the Olympic Training Center.
As for his politics, he’s backed Republican candidates including Mitt Romney’s presidential bid as well but has been described as a moderate, most recently backing Nathan Fletcher’s mayoral campaign after Fletcher changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, then ran in the nonpartisan race.
But if the deal to turn the UT nonprofit goes through, readers may see a more restrained approach to politics, since federal regulations prohibit nonprofit media from endorsing political candidates. Until more details are released, it’s difficult to assess how significant the shift might be; Burnham, like Manchester, is both a developer and a Republican with deep financial roots in politics, albeit with a long history of also supporting key community causes.
In an era when many major newspapers have folded or consolidated as more readers search out news online, however, a nonprofit model could bring stability to the UT and potentially, offer more public-oriented editorial policies and news coverage.
10 News reports that Burnham himself has stated, “It could be a model for community newspapers across the country.” The would-be media mogul added, “There are a lot of challenges facing newspapers these days.”
All us conservatives are sneaky.
Something smells bad