Anything But Classy: Terminated San Diego Union-Tribune Sports Columnist Tim Sullivan Explains It All

Former San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Tim Sullivan is speaking out about his untimely departure from the publication. Sullivan was not shy in expressing concerns about directions the paper was going in, much to the chagrin of U-T CEO John Lynch (pictured).

Newspaper-borne sports journalism in the 21st century can be a tricky business.

There’s nice guys like Michael McCarthy who, right before Memorial Day, was laid off from USA Today.

Then there’s lazy, out of touch, and downright mean folks that somehow still earn a paycheck.

Then there’s Tim Sullivan. After a decade of service to the San Diego Union-Tribune, he was abruptly and unceremoniously fired. From Tim’s perspective, the crux of it was when his new boss, John Lynch, took a veiled potshot at Sullivan in an interview with another local publication, Voice Of San Diego. He admitted he wanted the Union-Tribune “to be a cheerleader for all that’s good about San Diego.” Like a possible deal for a new football stadium (to give the uninitiated an idea of how old the current stadium is: the current owner of its naming rights was founded a mere twenty years after ground was broken on what was then known as Jack Murphy Stadium).

One such deal in particular was deemed a “bad deal” by Sullivan. “I have felt that the paper dropped the ball in failing to scrutinize that deal (years before my arrival) and should be exceedingly careful in endorsing another stadium deal,” he wrote in a detailed email to The Sherman Report. Sullivan added that Lynch, who became CEO of the Union-Tribune seven months ago, “appears to be of a mind to make the stadium happen, and bulldoze the opposition or even those who raise questions.”

As evidenced by Lynch’s comments in the Voice piece. “You get people to… read your site or the paper, when there’s an “Oh, wow” in the paper.”

This led Sullivan to set up a meeting with Jeff Light, the editor of the Union-Tribune, “to express my ethical concerns… I was worried that Lynch’s interview had inflicted serious damage to the paper’s credibility, and that his leadership would result in compromised standards.”

Meanwhile, Lynch also suggested to readers that Sullivan was not willing to be a team player as the Union-Tribune evolved from a traditional newspaper to a “multimedia platform business.” Sullivan: “The suggestion that I was reluctant to embrace the new technology is preposterous.”

Another element that Sullivan took issue with was the paper’s hire of Scott Kaplan for their new UT-TV venture, which is an extension of the publication’s new “multimedia platform” model. You may recall Kaplan had been the morning co-host on XX Sports Radio 1090 – operated by a broadcasting entity which Lynch owns – until earlier this year, when he went on a six-minute rant about a female personality at a regional sports network that passes off as a “sasquatch of a woman.”

It wasn’t so much that Kaplan was once again working under Lynch’s watch. Sullivan was on board with the paper utilizing many platforms, but he had concerns about “the logistics of such an operation.

“If I am not allowed to ask pointed questions regarding practicality without severe consequences – this while the paper employs a broadcaster as repeatedly offensive as Scott Kaplan is – I don’t even know how to respond.”

Sullivan is likely referring to when he “questioned” the editor at a staff meeting on April 26. He subsequently wrote the editor an e-mail that same day expressing his “agreement with the basic principles” of the paper’s multi-platform existence, while addressing his “primary concerns” about it – an e-mail that was not responded to.

About five weeks later, he receives an e-mail informing him of a meeting with the editor on Friday, June 1, at 3 PM local time.

“By 3:02, I had been fired.”

Seven hours later, he had tweeted to his 5,000+ followers that his departure from the paper had been official. He would spend the rest of the evening responding to several Twitter inquiries, including encouraging one reader not to cancel his subscription. “Still a lot of good people at U-T, including my wife.”

He has since changed his Twitter handle from @SDUTSullivan to @TimSullivan714.

(Likewise, the aforementioned Michael McCarthy has shed the familiar “USAT” from his Twitter username. Mushnick? Twit that he is, he’s not on Twitter.)

I’m sure that Tim Sullivan (and Michael McCarthy) will land on their feet again real soon.

From what I understand, Sullivan is already in talks with a few folks. Great to hear.

I would hate for this to be his final edition.

Of course, my rehashing of his dismissal – and what led up to it – doesn’t do it justice. Read it straight from Tim himself.

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