It is heartening to see the good work of good people recognized by their peers. It is equally heartening to see the bad judgment of incompetent people on display.
That’s how you can interpret one aspect of the Nevada Press Association 2013 Better Newspaper Contest. Of course, the first place for column writing in urban newspapers went to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s John L. Smith, as it often does. He is prolific, insightful and a word craftsman with a subtle sense of humor. But second place in this category went to Vin Suprynowicz, who the R-J brain trust summarily canned in May for no reason I’ve ever been able to ascertain.
Vin’s specific award-winning columns were: “Putting county’s last cattle rancher out of business”; “Caught in the maze: Las Vegas businessman gets no help from pols”; “Shutting down small business — again”; “Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right …”
Vin pulled no punches in his columns and drew on an encyclopedic knowledge of history and politics. You can still read an occasional musing and buy his books at his website.
Speaking of columns and incompetence, Brian Greenspun today pens another of his lexicon-bending screeds crowing about the number of awards the Las Vegas Sun won in the NPA contest and attempting to make the case that “competition” is good for the news biz.
Yes, the Sun deservedly won three times as many first place awards in this contest as the R-J, but it is not by any stretch of the definition “competition” when the subscriber has no choice as to which newspaper is delivered in the driveway. That competition ended more than two decades ago when the two papers entered into a joint operating agreement (JOA) in which the R-J handled all business and printing and advertising functions and the Sun had only a newsroom. Except for the Newspaper Preservation Act that would have violated anti-trust law.
For several years the Sun was a separate afternoon paper, but it kept failing. In 2005 the JOA was renegotiated and the Sun became a section in the morning paper.
Greenspun notes in his column that his brother and sisters are trying to renegotiate the JOA again and end the Sun. “In what some might call a quixotic adventure into the federal courts to save the agreement (I call it absolutely essential), there has been a simplistic reference to the proposed end to the Sun newspaper as just a question of money. The R-J says it costs money to publish the Sun and most of the owners of the Sun say they want money more than they want the Sun,” he writes.
At the end he makes and impassioned appeal, “It is true that even profit-making businesses in our free enterprise system will wither and die at the hands of monopolists. If we extend those monopolies to the news business it is no less true and far more dangerous because there is something much more precious than a profit hanging in the balance.”
The current arrangement does preserve two newspaper voices, but it is nonetheless a monopoly now.
Left to their own devices, perhaps the management of the R-J could manage to allow the paper to wither and die, but the free press should not be propped up by any branch of government, legislative or judicial.
(By the way, my Ely Times column won a second place in its circulation category.)