Over the years, Sullivan has had his differences with U-T San Diego chief executive officer John Lynch. (The two, though, have never met in person.) In 2006, when Lynch ran a San Diego sports radio station, Sullivan wrote that Lynch’s “heavy-handed editorial crusades have started to echo Citizen Kane’s” and that “the man has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.”
Late last year — after Lynch was named U-T San Diego CEO — Sullivan met with editor Jeff Light and expressed concerns about an interview that the new boss had given to the Voice of San Diego in which he said the paper’s sports pages would advocate for a new football stadium “and call out those who don’t as obstructionists.”
Sullivan writes in an email:
I initiated a meeting with U-T editor Jeff Light to provide him the background on what I had written about Lynch and to express my ethical concerns going forward. I told him then that I was not in a position to quit on principle but that I was worried that Lynch’s interview had inflicted serious damage to the paper’s credibility.
Later, as new management has built a television station in the newsroom with the intent of launching 24/7 programming and using existing reporting staff to create content, I have raised questions at staff meetings about how this can be done without compromising the printed product and about the hiring of a controversial radio host, who worked for Lynch’s former station and was fired for outrageous comments about a woman prior to being hired at the U-T.
Sullivan says he didn’t oppose the paper’s new initiatives. “I believe in the need for multiple platforms but have questions about the logistics of such an operation.” Here’s some of what he wrote to Light on April 26, after he questioned the editor at a staff meeting:
Be assured that I am in agreement with the basic principles of a multi-platform news operation, and recognize the need for the Union-Tribune to expand its reach through other media. If the printed paper is a dinosaur, as I fear it is, it must learn to adapt if it is to survive.
My primary concerns relate to the inherent difficulty of serving multiple masters at the same time and serving all of them well in a finite number of hours. I wish I were more optimistic about how this new business model can work, and about our ability to bear the additional burdens being placed on a news operation that many staff members believe is already overtaxed, but I hope to be proven wrong.
Sullivan says: “Light did not respond to this message. Nor was I given any formal (or even informal) notice that I was in danger. Last Wednesday, I received an e-mail message that I was to meet with Light at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon. By 3:02, I had been fired.”
UPDATE: Light sent this email after I invited him to comment:
Tim has a fine record as journalist, and I think his account is pretty accurate as far as it goes. Without getting into the details, I would say that if he can find the right fit, I think he would make a good columnist for someone.