By ELLIOT SPAGATAssociated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) - The owner of San Diego's dominant newspaper said Tuesday he agreed to buy the North County Times for $12 million from Lee Enterprises Inc., consolidating his grip on media holdings in the nation's 17th largest metropolitan area.
Doug Manchester, owner of U-T San Diego, said he expected to complete the purchase next month, giving him ownership of the U-T's main competitor in northern suburbs.
Manchester, one of San Diego's most prominent real estate developers and political heavyweights, bought the U-T less than a year ago and quickly planted his conservative views on its editorial pages that recently called President Barack Obama the worst president in American history.
He also invested heavily in television, building a studio at the newspaper's headquarters.
Manchester, who likes to be called "Papa Doug," gave no indication of immediate changes at the North County Times and The Californian, a newspaper serving Temecula in southwest Riverside County that is included in the purchase. He told radio station KPBS that he was undecided whether the Times will remain a stand-alone newspaper, have its own editorial board or adjust staffing.
Since buying the U-T for about $110 million last year and changing the masthead to read "The World's Greatest Country & America's Finest City," Manchester has used the newspaper to promote his pro-military and pro-business views.
He supports downtown development, including construction of stadium for the NFL Chargers, and has proposed a makeover for the city's downtown waterfront, calling it the newspaper's top priority in a front-page editorial.
Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, said sale proceeds would be used to reduce debt.
Lee said the North County Times had revenue of $27.6 million in the fiscal year ending Aug. 26. Peter York, the Times' publisher, said the newspaper is profitable but declined to provide a figure.
The Times and Californian had paid weekday circulation of 74,848 and Sunday circulation of 80,789 during a six-month period ending in March, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. U-T San Diego had paid weekday circulation of 230,742 and Sunday circulation of 364,454, ranking as the nation's 24th largest newspaper.
Lee, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Arizona Daily Star and nearly 50 other newspapers, emerged from a pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, allowing it to complete the restructuring of about $1 billion in debt.
"Because of continually changing market conditions, it became increasingly apparent that the North County Times would benefit from becoming part of a strong regional operation," said Mary Junck, Lee's chairwoman and chief executive officer.
Junck was named chairwoman of The Associated Press in April and has served on the news cooperative's board of directors since 2004.
The North County Times, whose coverage area includes Escondido, Carlsbad, Oceanside and the Camp Pendleton Marine base, has 170 employees, including about 75 in the newsroom, York said. Several months ago, it began printing at The Press-Enterprise in Riverside.
Manchester applauded the Times for its coverage of high school sports and civic and charitable events.
"We want to do everything we can to keep that tradition going forward," he said.
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