Its name derives from a 1992 merger between the two major daily newspapers at the time, The San Diego Union and the San Diego Evening Tribune. The name changed to U-T San Diego in 2012 but was changed again to The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2015. In 2015, it was acquired by Tribune Publishing, later renamed Tronc.
The predecessor newspapers of the Union-Tribune were:
- San Diego Herald, founded 1851 and closed April 7, 1860; John Judson Ames was its first editor and proprietor
- San Diego Sun, founded 1861 and merged with the Evening Tribune in 1939
- San Diego Union, founded October 10, 1868
- San Diego Evening Tribune, founded December 2, 1895
In addition, the San Diego Union purchased the San Diego Daily Bee in 1888, and for a brief time the combined newspaper was named the San Diego Union and Daily Bee.
Acquisition and merger by Copley Press (and subsequent sale to Platinum Equity)
Both the Union and the Tribune were acquired by Copley Press in 1928 and were merged on February 2, 1992. The merged newspaper was sold to the private investment group Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills, California, on March 18, 2009.
On August 17, 2010, the Union-Tribune changed its design to improve "clarity, legibility, and ease of use". Changes included being printed on thinner, 100 percent recycled paper, moving the comics to the back of the business section, and abbreviating the title The San Diego Union-Tribune on the front page to U-T San Diego. The U-T nameplate was created by Jim Parkinson, a type designer who also created nameplates for The Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Newsweek.
Purchase by MLIM Holdings
In November 2011, Platinum Equity sold the newspaper to MLIM Holdings, a company led by Doug Manchester, a San Diego real estate developer and "an outspoken supporter of conservative causes". The purchase price was reportedly in excess of $110 million. Manchester built two landmark downtown hotels, the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel and the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina. His group also owns the Grand Del Mar luxury resort in San Diego.
Rebranding to U-T San Diego
On January 3, 2012, the newspaper announced that it would use the name U-T San Diego "on all of our media products and communications"; the newspaper's website (formerly SignOnSanDiego.com) would use the name UTSanDiego.com. The official announcement explained the change as being intended to "unify our print and digital products under a single brand with a clear and consistent expectation of quality".
Acquisition of the North County Times
U-T San Diego bought the North County Times in 2012. On October 15, 2012, the North County Times ceased publication and became the U-T North County Times, which was an edition of the U-T with some North County–specific content. Six months later the U-T North County Times name was dropped and the newspaper became a North County edition of the U-T.
In June 2012, U-T San Diego launched U-T TV, a television news channel. The network featured news, lifestyle, and editorial content produced by the newspaper's staff, and was created as part of the newspaper's growing emphasis on multi-platform content under Manchester.
By October 2013, just over a year after its launch, the network re-formatted with a focus on news, amidst a number of major departures among the channel's staff.
Acquisition of weekly newspapers
In November 2013, the newspaper bought eight more local weekly newspapers in the San Diego area, which continued publication under their own names.
Purchase by Tribune Publishing
On May 7, 2015, it was announced that the Tribune Publishing Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other newspapers, had reached a deal to acquire U-T San Diego and its associated properties for $85 million. The sale ended the newspaper's 146 years of private ownership.
The transaction was completed on May 21, 2015. On the same date, the newspaper reintroduced its previous branding as The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times became part of a new operating entity known as the California News Group, with both newspapers led by Times publisher and chief executive officer Austin Beutner. The two newspapers reportedly would retain distinct operations, but there would be a larger amount of synergy and content sharing between them.
On May 26, 2015, the newspaper announced it would lay off 178 employees, representing about thirty percent of the total staff, as it consolidated its printing operations with the Times in Los Angeles.
Closure of San Diego printing facilities
On June 13, 2015, at 10:02 p.m. PDT the final run of The San Diego Union Tribune was printed at the San Diego headquarters in Mission Valley began. It was to print the Sunday edition newspaper for June 14, 2015. The following Monday's newspaper would be printed at the Los Angeles Times location. The dismantling of the printing presses in Mission Valley began in mid-September 2015.
Gannett offer and name change
In 2016 rival newspaper publisher Gannett Company offered to buy the Tribune Publishing Company. The offer was rejected by management, spurring some shareholder dissatisfaction and a shareholder lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Tribune Publishing Company renamed itself Tronc Inc. Tronc is an acronym for Tribune online content. Effective June 20, the renamed company will trade on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol TRNC.
The newspaper was originally located in Old Town San Diego, and was moved to downtown San Diego in 1871. In 1973, it moved to a custom-built, brick and stone office and printing plant complex in Mission Valley.
The newspaper moved back downtown in May 2016, to offices on the 9th through 12th floor of a tower at 600 B Street. The Union-Tribune is to be the named tenant of the building, replacing Bridgepoint Education and, before that, Comerica.
- 1979, Breaking News Reporting: San Diego Evening Tribune for its coverage of the PSA Flight 182 jetliner collision with a small plane over North Park
- 1987, Editorial Writing: San Diego Evening Tribune editorial writer Jonathan Freedman for his editorials urging passage of the first major immigration reform act in 34 years
- 2006, National Reporting: The San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News Service (with notable work by Marcus Stern and Jerry Kammer), for their disclosure of bribe-taking that sent former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to prison "in disgrace". They also received the George Polk Award for these stories.
- 2009, Editorial Cartooning: Steve Breen "for his agile use of a classic style to produce wide ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor".
Copleys and Platinum Equity
Under the Copleys' ownership, the newspaper had a reliably conservative editorial position, endorsing almost exclusively Republicans for elective office, and sometimes refusing to interview or cover Democratic candidates.
Under Platinum Equity, the newspaper's editorial position "skewed closer to the middle" and showcased multiple viewpoints.
Manchester and Lynch
When Manchester and business partner John Lynch took ownership in 2011, they were open about their desire to use the newspaper to "promote their agenda of downtown development and politically conservative causes", with Lynch stating on KPBS radio that he and Manchester "wanted to be cheerleaders for all that is good in San Diego". Lynch expanded on this position in 2012, saying "We make no apologies. We are doing what a newspaper ought to do, which is to take positions. We are very consistent—pro-conservative, pro-business, pro-military—and we are trying to make a newspaper that gets people excited about this city and its future."
This open promotion of certain viewpoints resulted in criticism from journalism professors and other newspaper editors, who worried that negative news about topics such as the military and business might not be covered. Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, argued, "Now if you're saying we're going to be the cheerleaders of the military, why would you report on this guy that's taking bribes?... Where's the cheerleading there?" a reference to the Union-Tribune's Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal. A New York Times writer added, "There is a growing worry that the falling value and failing business models of many American newspapers could lead to a situation where moneyed interests buy papers and use them to prosecute a political and commercial agenda. That future appears to have arrived in San Diego."
Lynch said, "We totally respect the journalistic integrity of our paper and there is a clear line of demarcation between our editorials and our news. Our editor, Jeff Light, calls the shots." However, in November 2011 Lynch told the sports editor that the sports pages should advocate for a new football stadium; when a longtime sportswriter wrote skeptically about the idea, he was fired.
In January 2012, two months after Manchester bought the U-T, the newspaper featured a front-page proposal for downtown redevelopment, to include a downtown football stadium and an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. Both properties are adjacent to hotels that Manchester owns.
In September 2012, Investigative Newsource reporter Brooke Williams obtained articles that claimed Lynch "threatened" Port Commissioner Scott Peters, who was running for Congress, "with a newspaper campaign to dismantle the Unified Port of San Diego". In e-mails obtained by Williams, Lynch was quoted as indicating that if the Dole Food Company obtained a long-term contract, that the Port's independence governance would be questioned in editorial coverage. Williams said the effort showed "the extent to which the newspaper's new owners will go to push their vision for a football stadium on the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal",
Endorsements and polling
During the 2012 mayoral election the owners of the U-T donated to Republican City Council Member Carl DeMaio's campaign, and the newspaper ran several prominent editorials favoring DeMaio. Those endorsements were wrapped around the front section of the newspaper on a separate page, "as though they were even more important" than the front page.
In October 2012, a poll was taken by the U-T asking respondents to choose between DeMaio and Democratic Congressman Bob Filner in the mayoral election to be held in November. A rival news outlet noted that "Employees of a newspaper, television / radio station, marketing / public opinion research company or the city of San Diego—or who live with someone employed in one of those fields" were excluded from the poll results, which showed the Republican leading the Democrat, 46 percent to 36 percent. Reporter Kelly Davis of SDCityBeat.com wrote: "Common sense dictates that those votes [by city employees or those living with them] would swing in Filner's favor due to DeMaio's long-running feud with city-employee unions." But U-T assignment editor Michael Smolens replied that "city employees were excluded to avoid political entanglements" in other parts of the ballot as well as in the mayor's race. Despite the newspaper's efforts, DeMaio lost to Filner.
- William Jeff Gatewood founded the newspaper, which first published October 10, 1868. He sold his interest to Charles P. Taggart in May 1869.
- Edward "Ned" Wilkerson Bushyhead, 1868–1873 with various partners, beginning with Taggart. Bushyhead (1832–1907) was a miner, publisher and lawman who was born in Tennessee. Part Cherokee, he was the son of a Baptist preacher, whom he accompanied from Georgia to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears at the age of seven. Having moved to San Diego, he became the "silent" publisher of the San Diego Union. In 1873, he sold the newspaper. In 1882, he was elected sheriff of San Diego County.
- Douglas Gunn, 1871–1886. Gunn (August 31, 1841 – November 26, 1891) was a scholar, publisher, pioneer and Republican politician from California.
- John D. Spreckels, 1890–1926. The son of German-American industrialist Claus Spreckels, he founded a transportation and real estate empire in San Diego.
- Col. Ira C. Copley, 1928–1947
- James S. Copley, 1947–1973. He was a journalist and newspaper publisher. He published the San Diego Union, San Diego Union-Tribune and San Diego Evening Tribune from 1947 until his death in 1973.
- Helen K. Copley, 1973–2001
- David C. Copley, 2001–2009
- Edward R. Moss, May 2009 – December 2011
- Doug F. "Papa Doug" Manchester, 2011–2015
- Austin Beutner, May–September 2015
- Timothy E. Ryan, September 2015-March 2016
- Jeff Light, March 2016-
- Steve Breen, cartoonist
- Phil Collier, sportswriter
- Thomas Gardiner, manager of the San Diego Union in 1891
- C.H. Garrigues, Sun reporter
- Jerry Magee, sportswriter 1956–2008
- Jack Murphy, sportswriter 1951–1980
- Cathy Scott, correspondent, The San Diego Union-Tribune 1990–1993
- Tim Sullivan, sports columnist 2002–2012
- Gerald Warren, reporter and editor, 1956–1968, 1975–1995; also White House Press Secretary