There’s no need to sugar-coat it

To hear Doug Manchester tell it, he slayed some kind of dragon out there on the plains of Mordor in order to save as many jobs at the North County Times as he did.

Manchester, who bought the San Diego Union-Tribune (now U-T San Diego) in December, this week closed his purchase of the NCT, in northern San Diego County, from Lee Enterprises. As a result, the new owner will lay off 80 people in the combined company, most of them at the NCT, including 24 in the newsroom, a full third of NCT’s journalists.

“The fact is our obvious areas of duplication will yield some cutbacks,” Manchester told the NCT. “We are going to try to keep as many as possible but it’s inevitable there will be some consolidation. We have been able to keep the total amount of layoffs to under 100 employees.”

Manchester makes it sound as if the merger were a hurricane, a force of nature out of his control, and the only thing he could do was board up the windows to prevent greater damage. When the storm cleared, whew! Only 80 jobs lost.

Hey, anyone who invests in a local news company has my endorsement. Better a consolidated operation if the alternative is no operation at all. By all accounts, there is decent severance. All the right things, considering.

But let’s be clear: This merger didn’t happen to Manchester. He made it happen. He either made the offer, or accepted the offer, with the intent of shedding as much cost as possible without harming revenue or the expanded market share. That’s the whole idea behind mergers. He didn’t prevent cuts from being made; he made as many cuts as he safely could.

His statement would have a ring of believability if the NCT needed the merger in order to survive. Diminished as it is, it has remained cash-flow positive, if only barely.

Maybe he was just trying not to sound heartless. That’s commendable. But the result is something that sounds disingenuous.


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