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Philanthropist launches bid for U-T San Diego newspaper

Associated Press

SAN DIEGO – An octogenarian philanthropist launched a bid to buy San Diego’s dominant newspaper and turn it into one of the nation’s largest nonprofit news organizations, while another major Southern California publisher ceased publication of its Los Angeles newspaper after only five months.

Malin Burnham’s bid for U-T San Diego is the latest effort to frame a newspaper investment as a gesture of civic goodwill. Analysts compared the San Diego businessman to a new breed of owners at the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and Star-Tribune of Minneapolis who act largely on a belief that newspapers perform a public service.

Burnham, whose background is in commercial real estate and insurance, said U-T San Diego owner and publisher Douglas Manchester encouraged him to seek nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Burnham, 86, told the Associated Press that he and Manchester each proposed prices and that he believes his offer can be “in the ballpark.”

Manchester said he was ready to talk with Burnham after he gets nonprofit status. He added that a deal was a long way from complete.

San Diego would join a small group of established, metropolitan newspapers owned by nonprofit companies, including the Tampa Bay Times in Florida.

A big question facing any print newspaper is whether the owners have enough financial muscle to survive an anticipated drop in revenues as readers move online, newspaper analyst Ken Doctor said.

Freedom Communications Inc.’s decision to stop printing the Los Angeles Register is another setback for Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz, who bought the company in 2012 and went on a hiring spree at its flagship Orange County Register with a contrarian, print-centric strategy that has yet to attract imitators.

Freedom said it will focus on markets in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It owns the Riverside Press-Enterprise, which it bought in November.

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