U-T San Diego columnist: I was fired for not being “positive” enough about stadium deals

On Friday afternoon, the newspaper U-T San Diego summarily dismissed columnist Tim Sullivan. The U-T, you may recall, was bought last fall by right-wing hotel owner Doug Manchester, who immediately declared that newspapers should be “cheerleaders” for projects like sports stadiums. Sullivan, you may recall, has done some excellent work conveying the awfulness of most sports stadium deals. And Sullivan, for one, sees a connection:

The links tell a little of the back story of my conflict with Union-Tribune CEO John Lynch (who I have yet to meet in person). The first is a column I wrote when he ran a local sports talk station. The second is a piece that appeared on the Voice of San Diego web site shortly after he became the new CEO of the Union-Tribune.

He then quotes Lynch’s Voice of San Diego interview:

Lynch said he wants the paper to be pro-business. The sports page to be pro-Chargers stadium. And reporters to become stars.

“It’s news information, but it’s also show biz,” Lynch said. “You get people to tune in and read your site or the paper when there’s an ‘Oh wow’ in the paper.”

He wants that sports page to be an advocate for a new football stadium “and call out those who don’t as obstructionists.”

“To my way of thinking,” Lynch said, “that’s a shovel-ready job for thousands.”

Lynch and Sullivan later clashed over the CEO’s plan to force U-T newsroom reporters to produce content for a new TV station on top of their other job responsibilities. But Sullivan notes that he went along with the paper’s “multimedia” plan, and thinks the reasons for his firing had more to do with his being pegged as one of those stadium “obstructionists”:

Though I can’t read Lynch’s mind, I am inclined to believe that my firing was the result of multiple factors: 1) My failure to endorse a new stadium without wondering whether that’s good public policy, a justifiable expense or a good deal; 2) My comparatively healthy salary; 3) My age and/or demographic. Our two other sports columnists are also white males: Nick Canepa, who is older but a local institution, and the youthful Kevin Acee, who was just promoted to that position. Acee has been identified as one of the paper’s “stars.”; 4) The erroneous issue of whether I was “on board.”

In any event, a newspaper whose management has declared that stadium opponents are public enemies has just fired its only reporter — a columnist, mind you, whose job is to express opinions — who has focused on critically investigating stadium deals. Either this is the biggest coincidence in the history of coincidences, or the U-T has just signaled that it intends on giving up the journalism biz to become an advocacy site for its owner’s political ideology. Which we kind of knew already, but this is another nail in the coffin.


24 comments on “U-T San Diego columnist: I was fired for not being “positive” enough about stadium deals

  1. Tim Sullivan was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise awful San Diego Union Tribune. I didn’t even view his work as anti-stadium…..he simply was cautious and wanted to be sure SD didn’t end up with a bad deal similar to the Bengals stadium.

    He seems like a decent man who is a talented columnist. I hope he gets hired by a more respectable and legitimate newspaper.

  2. Well, at this point it will be up to the “voters,” in this case the readers, of the San Diego Tribune to send a message by NOT reading what amounts to a Hearst-like yellow rag of a paper.

    Readership eventually goes down, then advertising revenue goes down, finally the paper will go down, unless it corrects its course, making an effort to be a more OBJECTIVE journalistic standard.

  3. Tim Sullivan has no chance of getting hired at the San Jose Mercury. Even their non sports reporters were 100% on board with the SC stadium plan from day one…

  4. Tim Sullivan is Juan Williams.

    UT-San Diego is NPR.

    This site is Fox News.

    I sure can’t find a hole in that analogy.

  5. In all seriousness, it stinks when you’re let go from a long time job for any reason, so I feel for Tim Sullivan. Only the principals know how much of the termination was due to legitimate reasons, and how much was due to disagreeing on whether the city/county should help fund a stadium.

    Whatever the situation there, it sure seems to me that San Diego would be better off putting at least some money towards a new Chargers stadium. Going to Qualcomm Stadium is not fun (narrow concourses, long lines, baseball sight lines, horrific on-site parking) and there is no question that gate receipts are badly hurt by this stadium.

  6. “This site is Fox News.”

    Which, I guess, makes you our resident “spend money like it’s growing on trees” liberal.

    “…it sure seems to me that San Diego would be better off putting at least some money towards a new Chargers stadium.”

    Let me fix that for you:

    “…it sure seems to me that the owners of the Chargers and San Diego football fans would be better off if taxpayers put at least some money towards a new Chargers stadium.”

    You’re welcome.

  7. Sullivan’s firing is sad but not surprising. The UT has turned into a mouthpiece for Doug Manchester and is no longer a legitimate newspaper. They’re touting all sorts of politically biased views and frankly pumping the worst of the stadium options being explored by turning the 10th Ave Terminal into a stadium.

  8. I quit taking the Union Tribune when Roger Hedgcock became a featured writer, so I can’t stop taking the paper in protest. However, a city gets the newspaper it deserves. When the rest of you stop taking the paper, perhaps a real newspaper will move in.

  9. I quit taking the Union Tribune when Roger Hedgcock became a featured writer, so I can’t stop taking the paper in protest. However, a city gets the newspaper it deserves. When the rest of you stop taking the paper, perhaps a real newspaper will move in.

  10. @Keith

    …and bar owners, and news outlets, and stadium employees, and construction workers, and sporting goods stores, and owners of property near wherever the new stadium is built, and anyone in the area who ever wanted to work in sports.

    But yeah, for anyone who doesn’t watch football and doesn’t fit one or those categories or have any friends or relatives who fit any of those categories, then full speed ahead with the status quo.

  11. @Ben

    Hey, as long as you’re okay with giving proportional subsidies to any other businesses that ask for them, I can see where you’re coming from. Just be careful maneuvering your profligate self down that slippery slope. At least some of those businesses might actually need the help to survive.

    The NFL makes a ton of money. They need places to play. Therefore, stadiums will still be built in the absence of giving in to extortion. And all those trickle down benefits will still be there.

  12. Construction workers would be fine with building a pyramid or giant hole in the ground. What they want to do should never be the basis for evaluting if a project makes sense.

  13. Keith, I admire you for employing the tried and true strategy of, “change the subject once you’ve lost the argument”.

    The NFL (and any other sporting entity) gets money for stadiums because franchises are nomadic, there is a(n arguable artificial) scarcity of franchises and there is tremendous economic and cultural value to the community as a whole (meaning, who cares if you specifically like sports or not) in having the franchise present. Show me another business that satisfies those qualifications and I’ll show you a business that also gets/could get government subsidies.

  14. Translation: The NFL gets subsidies because other businesses don’t have the leverage for extortion.

  15. “…there is tremendous economic and cultural value to the community as a whole (meaning, who cares if you specifically like sports or not) in having the franchise present.”

    “Shenanigans!” The cultural value is limited to those of us who like sports and the economic benefits are less than they’d be with just about any other business (you know, where the guys with the biggest salaries actually live year-round in the community and everything else is more than a part-time job). Believe it or not, I love sports and I have a fascination with the design of stadiums, but I firmly believe they’d still be there without taxpayers paying for them. I look at all of this from a “big picture” national view, so every penny spent bribing any business to move (or not) between U.S. communities is a penny wasted.

  16. I’d lived in SD for a few years a decade ago. The UT was a terrible paper then, I hate to imagine it now. As I used to work at a company John Moores used to own, I would get skybox tickets once or twice a year for Padres games directly behind home plate.
    I’ve also worked for a company that makes sporting goods equipment and had a skybox at the old Texas Stadium which I went to about 4 years back on one occasion.
    Qualcomm’s skyboxes 10 years ago were comparable to what Texas stadium had.

    Even back then Spanos kept threatening to leave and the UT would bleat out the various warnings.
    So the UT being a bit more brazen isn’t a surprise.
    There are too many things to do all year around in SD to care about football like they do elsewhere and the city had to buy unsold tickets back then. Apparently the NFL hasn’t forgotten the extortion then and intends to keep pushing. Too bad they picked a city that has loads of financial crises due to the economy and a cratered RE market which means less property taxes now and into the future. Hopefully the city has better negotiators too.
    Let them move to Oklahoma City.

  17. The 2 big stadium proponents are out of the mayoral race.

    Manchester would make Goebbels blush.

  18. I am sure many — not just some — believe that extortion should be a crime. I, however, as a self-proclaimed liberator of the oppressed, think that extortion being illegal is just another way to protect the wealthy, entrenched and connected.

  19. “I, however, as a self-proclaimed liberator of the oppressed, think that extortion being illegal is just another way to protect the wealthy, entrenched and connected.”

    Yeah, just what I was thinking. That Ben Miller, always on the side of the poor and the disconnected in the discussions here. Except when it’s about the transfer of their tax money to the wealthy, entrenched and connected.

    Extortion is a corrupt, dishonorable practice, so it’s not surprising that governments support it by giving in to it these days. Hardly anybody in a position of political power is interested in doing the right thing, it’s all about telling people what they want to hear, true or not. So we get the usual nonsense about “job creation” and attacks on any kind of objective analysis. And the public gets so used to being pandered to that anyone bringing information that doesn’t fit their view is met with anger. Which works perfectly when you’re a member of the “wealthy, entrenched and connected” and you need to dispose of anyone trying to disrupt the status quo.

    The wonderful thing about getting comfortable with being played for a fool is that it virtually guarantees that it’ll continue.

  20. Ben, if in saying

    “The NFL (and any other sporting entity) gets money for stadiums because franchises are nomadic, there is a(n arguable artificial) scarcity of franchises and there is tremendous economic and cultural value to the community as a whole (meaning, who cares if you specifically like sports or not) in having the franchise present.”

    you weren’t defending the practice of stadium extortion by threatening to move, then I apologize for misreading you. But it sure sounded like that’s what you were doing.

  21. I just don’t get the “cultural value” part. I believe that for a normal person on field success of “their” team has to be, at best, a superficial and ephemeral feeling. When you sum it all up doing something for yourself, such as maybe a scuba diving trip or multi day bicycle tour, should have a lot more personal meaning than sitting on your butt watching a game–whether in person on or on the telly…

  22. Recreation is a small part of most local / regional economies. The NFL is even a tinier portion and has little or no impact (sometimes negative when you consider the opportunity costs of funding their playgrounds) on a local economy. But it is a great deal for the owners.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

316,883 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

HTML tags are not allowed.