Back in July 2011, after Beverly Hills vulture capitalist Tom Gores bought the Union-Tribune from an ailing David Copley, ending decades of local ownership, the paper’s new editor Jeff Light announced he had come up with an unprecedented idea: “an editorial board composed of community members — with a set of values to guide them.”
Pronounced Light, “In many ways they are a diverse group — a mix of Democrats, Republicans and independents from many neighborhoods and different walks of life,” who would “weigh in on issues as they see fit.” Said Light of the first piece the paper ran by retired public school teacher Ernie McCray, “I like his essay not because it reflects my own views (it doesn’t), nor because it is free of any political slant (it is not). I like it because it challenges my assumptions.” Recalled McCray in a 2012 San Diego Free Press piece, “We were on a Community Editorial Advisory Board being listened to, respected, given opportunities to tweak editorials here and there, in efforts to have them written in a way that wasn’t so ‘one sided,’ shall I say.”
Light’s local version of Prague Spring turned out to be brief, lasting just four months, until the U-T’s takeover by San Diego Republican Douglas Manchester in November of 2011. “Suddenly we had a paper which boasted, jingoistically, on its cover every day: ‘The World’s Greatest Country and America’s Finest City,’ ” McCray wrote. The paper’s vaunted community advisory board was virtually dead on arrival.
Now, almost six years later, Light is trying again. “The U-T’s goal in forming the board is to gather a diverse group of local people who reflect and care about our community, who believe in civil discourse on critical issues and who help foster a dynamic community dialogue,” says an April 14 announcement of the new effort’s membership. But how varied the revived panel (which does not include McCray) will turn out to be under the U-T’s current owner, Chicago-based tronc, may trigger its very own debate.
Members include Republican ex–city attorney Jan Goldsmith, now working for Procopio, a big-money downtown law and lobbying firm; controversial ex–police chief of Chula Vista and San Diego David Bejarano; and one-time Fourth District city-council candidate Dwayne Crenshaw, a Democrat financially backed by many in the local Republican establishment, including the GOP Lincoln Club. Another member is Carlsbad’s Teresa Acosta, “a public affairs consultant at Madaffer Enterprises,” a government relations and lobbying shop run by Republican former city councilman Jim Madaffer.
Perhaps the most intriguing presence on the board is that of Stephanie Brown, a Del Mar resident listed as “vice president of marketing and public relations” for ex-U-T publisher Doug Manchester’s Manchester Financial Group, “overseeing all marketing, media, community and public relations on behalf of the company.”