UCSD cash speaks with loud Voice

$20,000 deal with nonprofit news site guarantees good coverage

UCSD, which has traditionally enjoyed red-carpet treatment from local media, has encountered a bit of turbulence of late.

Word that the school has been the target of its own auditors' public safety critique, first noted here, was picked up by U-T San Diego.

The paper next ran a story about a lawsuit by Marc Olsson, a Kearny Mesa business owner, charging that the university is illegally withholding documents regarding private work done by its state-subsidized machine shops.

“The UC is basically in the manufacturing business and is competing with small machine shops in San Diego,” Olsson was quoted by the paper as saying. “This is a moneymaking exercise for them.”

On the other hand, plenty of good news for UCSD can be found over at the Voice of San Diego, the nonprofit news-and-opinion website chaired by La Jolla investor and onetime venture capitalist Ralph B. Woolley.

A longtime UCSD insider, Woolley was cofounder of its Connect technology transfer and local business-boosting initiative.

"The program began when R.B. 'Buzz' Woolley Jr. of Girard Capital, Robert Weaver of Deloitte Haskins and Sells, and Daniel Pegg of San Diego Economic Development, along with Mary Wolshock, [sic] vice chancellor of UCSD, contacted about 40 firms with the idea,” the Union-Tribune reported in 1989.

“More than 30 responded, Wolshok reports, with $75,000 in seed financing."

Woolley — once the husband of UCSD then-counsel Ann Parode, who after her divorce from the financier married the university's ex-chancellor Robert Dynes — later recruited Walshok to join the board of his Girard Foundation, where she is secretary and receives $5000 a year, according to the foundation's latest federal disclosure, filed this May.

The Girard Foundation contributed $32,000 to the Voice in 2013, according to the filing.

Connect was subsequently spun off into a private nonprofit, but Woolley and Walshok — associate vice chancellor for public programs and dean of extension at the university — remain on the board of its subsidiary, the Connect Foundation, according to the nonprofit's website.

Last year the parent group lobbied heavily at city hall against the so-called linkage fee for subsidized low-income housing, arguing that it would cause businesses to flee the city.

This week the Voice launched a series bemoaning the departure of high-tech and other outfits from San Diego to Texas and elsewhere — moves which, according to the Voice, "amplify the growing sense that the city and state aren’t friendly to business."

Walshok and UCSD Extension enjoy prominence on the Voice’s site through their appearance in a feature called "Partner Voices." Says the site: "These messages are paid for by the nonprofits themselves, or by local businesses or philanthropists who support their efforts. They are not products of Voice of San Diego's editorial staff."

UCSD’s section has featured a large portrait of Walshok headlined, "Why Mary Walshok Keeps Pushing to Make San Diego Smarter." An accompanying write-up adds that the UCSD dean has spent the past four decades "converting UC San Diego Extension into a cherished part of San Diego’s education scene."

How much has UCSD Extension paid to the Voice for the running praise of its administrator?

A June 11, 2014, letter from Voice vice president of advancement and engagement Mary Walter-Brown to UCSD was released after a public records act request made to the university this spring.

It says, “The Voice of San Diego office received $10,000 from UC San Diego Extension on December 17, 2013.”

An additional $10,000 was provided to the Voice in so-called in-kind services, according to another document released by the university.

Material run in Partner Voices, the document says, “will include a medley of stories provided by UC San Diego Extension. Content and photos may be updated twice a month."

Additionally, the invoice promised, "Current CEO, Scott Lewis or other VOSD staffer will speak to any UCSD class or group on the future of media."

On December 2, 2013, as the deal was being finalized, the Voice’s Walter-Brown emailed Walshok and Devries. "I just wanted to make sure that you saw our Q & A with [UCSD chancellor] Pradeep Khosla. We just posted it today."

On March 21 of this year, extension director of communications John Freeman emailed staff regarding the project.

"I met yesterday with Emily Tillson of Voice of San Diego, who introduced us to Sofie [Casillas]. She’s been hired by VoSD to write blog posts about Extension and what’s going on in your Areas of Study...people, courses, events, trends, etc....

"Sofie, who’s a recent SDSU Communications graduate, will write exclusively for VoSD’s new ‘Partner Voices’ section, which now includes Extension and SDG&E.”

“To that end, Sofie will conduct a sit-down interview here with Dean Walshok on Friday, April 4 (after Mary [Walshok] returns from Europe)….”

Walshok did not respond to a previous request regarding the documents furnished by the university.

Reached by phone today, a spokesman said Walshok was currently on vacation and not available for comment, but confirmed the terms of the agreement as provided by the documents. We've left a call for Woolley at the Girard Foundation seeking further details.

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MTS ads has feathered the cash vaults of the Sdreader and Uniontrib and the news channels so that when two recent stabbings occurred on the trolley the security tape of the stabbing were never shown and the assailant were never apprehended.

The fact that UCSD seems to have to buy favorable press coverage is disappointing. For many years, good ol' Neil Morgan at the Tribune and later the U-T was telling of the glories of UCSD. Was he drinking the campus Kool-Aid, or did he actually believe the stories he told? Hard to say. He always wanted SD to become big-time, and for him UCSD was the proof that it had.

As I look at those contributions, it seems as if the campus is getting one heck of a deal. It also appears as if those "news media" are for sale and that the price is cheap.

The background info reported here is helpful in demonstrating how serious a PR machine the Voice is and has been over the years of its existence. The Voice and the UT (along with SDCTA, Neighborhood Marketing Association, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) are the ones who "amplify the growing sense that the city and state aren’t friendly to business." If you examine the many very business-friendly Council actions, you get a much more accurate sense of just how advantaged businesses are in San Diego.

Wow. At first glance, I thought VoiceofSanDiego.org had taken out retaliatory advertising space at the top of Matt Potter's Reader column.

But no, this was just one illustration of the regular mutual back-$cratching that occurs between online VO$D (financed principally by businessmen Buzz Wooley and Irwin Jacobs and "member" contributions) and the extremely business-friendly wing of UC$D that is Exten$ion run by Mary Walshock. Here the old journalism "wall" between advertising and editorial has disintegrated.

If VOSD CEO Scott Lewis' does lecture UCSD audiences on "the future of media," he will join former GOP Assemblyman and failed GOP/Dem mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher, another Irwin Jacobs' Qualcomm employee, who last year was a quasi-instructor on "government" at our university on the hill.

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