May 13 2015 11:19 AM

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TIM SULLIVAN ON THE U-T

[Editor's note: I reached out to the highly regarded, former U-T sportswriter for comment on the impending sale of the newspaper (see our editorial). His reply was so eloquent and insightful it needed to be run in full.]

I like to think of myself as a quick study, but one of the late-breaking insights in my career is that the most important person in any sports franchise—and any business—is the owner.

Ownership sets the budget and sets the tone. It determines the direction of a company with its long-term vision and its hiring, but also in how it handles day-to-day operations. The best teams and the best businesses are committed to the quality and the integrity of their product, to serving the needs of their customers and to treating their employees equitably and humanely.

Achieving all of those goals amid the steep decline in advertising revenues is more challenge than any major newspaper has been able to meet. Between 2003 and 2012—a period that corresponds almost exactly to my time in San Diego—the number of fulltime newspaper jobs in America dropped by 16,200 and the Union-Tribune had three owners. Things were plenty convulsive long before I was let go.

Because the prospect of another ownership change at the U-T is likely to bring more layoffs, the end of the Doug Manchester era means more uncertainty and anxiety for people throughout the paper. As much as the product may benefit from Tribune Company's stewardship, the human cost of the transition figures to be high. From a personal standpoint, it's hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm for a change that may put friends of mine out of work.

Professionally, though, I am encouraged that the paper may be able to regain some of the credibility and trust it lost to heavy-handed and counterproductive leadership. Though I can only speculate on the exact reasons for my dismissal, the idea that any newspaper should be a cheerleader for the pet projects of management—and not only on the editorial page—is antithetical to all I was taught and everything I believe about the profession. It was obvious to me from the outset of Manchester's ownership that there would be friction.

In my only meeting with John Lynch—which took place a few days after I was fired—I tried to make the point that a newspaper is strongest that maintains a wall between news and opinion and that allows the opinions expressed in its pages to reflect varying points of view. If I was not "on board," as Lynch told at least some of those who complained about my ouster, it was not only because we disagreed about stadium politics, but because his approach to journalism was inconsistent with the core precepts of the profession.

The day we met, I carried a copy of Walter Williams' "Journalist's Creed" in my pocket. I thought about handing it to Lynch at the end of my exit interview, but decided that my high horse was already high enough without a dramatic and probably futile gesture.

Among the privileges of ownership is the right to choose direction, to set policy and to remove those who are incompatible with the changes you implement. As it happened, I landed on the unemployment line within days of two sports columnist jobs coming open at the Louisville Courier-Journal. At least from my end, Kentucky has been a good fit— passionate sports fans, a strong journalism tradition and affordable real estate.

Your question about whether I would return to San Diego is both hypothetical and presumptuous.

No one has approached me, either directly or indirectly, and I have no reason to expect that anyone will. Though it's gratifying to be sought out about new ownership at the U-T, I don't imagine there's any great groundswell to get the band back together.

Tim Sullivan, Louisville, Kentucky


BLACK AND WHITE

Why won't you be consistent and mention that three of those six Baltimore cops are black, one of them a woman ["Lights, police, cameras, action," May 6]? Or that CBS news footage of riots showed a black riot police officer? Or even that the photo included in your article shows a black National Guardsman... shoulder to shoulder with a white one? Right-wing religious nuts have no monopoly on hypocrisy. Good media to have a dumbed-down citizenry, isn't it? CityBeat still have honesty to print this?

Brooks Russell, Linda Vista


CALLING THAT BLUFF

I thoroughly enjoyed your article, "Call the Charger's bluff" in the April 29 issue of CityBeat. I am in opposition to any taxpayer funding for a stadium or giving any city assets or land to the Chargers. I have hoped to find a group of organized opposition to raise money to fight taxpayer/city involvement. Perhaps your paper could be a catalyst for forming serious opposition. Please contact me if you can help with this or have some ideas on how to proceed.

Hal Herritt, La Jolla


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