It is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
First, the Las Vegas Review-Journal announced that it and the other Nevada newspapers operated by Gatehouse Media were sold for an unstated amount to a company called News + Media, whose investors are also unstated.
Then today, the paper reports the sale was for $140 million for the Nevada publications, which is $38 million more than the original sale nearly a year ago for all of the Stephens Media chain of newspapers that included the Review-Journal, eight other dailies and 65 weekly newspapers. The story says some of the unnamed investors are from Las Vegas.
The report includes this rather awkward editorial comment, “The amount points to investors with deep pockets and a perhaps even deeper desire to own Nevada’s biggest newspaper even though the paper’s revenues, like those of all print publications, have been in decline.”
The story claims the paper’s Sunday circulation is still 184,000, the same as when the new publisher was named this past summer, which is highly unlikely, but it does not mention a daily circulation figure, which was stated as 95,000 in June, also unlikely. There have been no publicly released audited circulation figures in a couple of years that I can find. Daily circulation was once near 200,000.
This story also includes a couple of nationally known journalism critics questioning the ethical problems and conflicts of interest that might arise from having unknown ownership.
Since some of the investors are from Las Vegas and a question of ethics is being raised, one can easily leap to the speculation that one or more of those secret investors might be members of the Greenspun clan, though it is questionable whether any of them has enough capital left after the recession to be a major investor.
Today’s story quotes media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen as saying, “One of the first thoughts I had was: Nevada is an early primary state. The Review-Journal is the largest newspaper in the state. Was it sold to a player in that event, or people who want to be players?”
Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun has long aspired to be a player, supporting Harry Reid and anything with the Democrat label. The Sun is still inserted daily in the morning Review-Journal under a joint operating agreement that runs until 2040, though the local content currently is negligible and mostly limited to sports and entertainment. Greenspun has sued Stephens Media for $6 million, claiming underpayment under the JOA.
Rosen added, “That slightly conspiratorial thought may be way off base. Of course, there is no way to know as long as the ownership remains hidden. That’s the point.”
The first story said Gatehouse would continue to manage the R-J under an agreement with new owners and today’s has the current publisher saying he has been assured that the new owners will not meddle in the newspaper’s editorial content.
That qualifies for a huge horse laugh. No owner of a newspaper can help meddling. That’s a fact, Jack.