‘On openness’ and closedness in the same edition of local newspaper

openness

R-J editorial

Well that didn’t take long.

The front page of the Las Vegas newspaper today has a lengthy story about the fact the identities of the paper’s new owners is unknown and how this poses an ethical quandary for its reporters and editors.

The Review-Journal editorial page print edition has an editorial titled “On openness: Release teachers’ contract for review,” calling for the public release of the school district’s new teacher contract agreement. Half of the editorial is devoted to the hypocritical nature of this demand, since the paper itself has failed to live up to the standard of openness and transparency. 

The editorial admits and boasts:

Its difficult to ask the public to trust a newspaper that is unwilling to reveal its ownership and their ties to other private interests. Might the newspaper cover or ignore a story, or might this editorial page support a position, person or plan, because it directly benefits the Review-Journal’s owners? We won’t know.

The principals behind News + Media Capital Group LLC are under no legal obligation to reveal themselves. The newspaper is a private entity, not a public one subject to open meeting and public records laws.

However, like government, the newspaper’s integrity depends on the public’s trust.

The only high ground we can claim is our decades-long advocacy for open government and access to public records. Our ownership might have changed, but our editorial position has not.

At least not yet.

The R-J news story connects a lot of dots and appears to indicate the most likely principal new owner might be billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, a generous Republican donor who once sued the paper’s general interest columnist John L. Smith for libel over a passage in a chapter in a book about casino executives. There was no Smith column today and the paper said he took the day off. The libel suit was eventually dismissed but Smith had to file for bankruptcy as a result.

The Society of Professional Journalists called for the new ownership of the newspaper to be revealed saying:

Accountability begins with knowing a messenger, which allows an audience to understand that messenger’s motives and better understand the messages. To not reveal yourselves is to treat your readers with less dignity than humans deserve and with less respect than democracy should demand.

There is no excuse for the owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to hide their identities, and the Society requests that they immediately introduce themselves to their readers and employees. Otherwise, people will have considerable justification to question the quality and value of the information provided by an organization overseen by a shadowy company of anonymous financial backers.

The SPJ Code of Ethics calls for journalists to “abide by the same high standards they expect of others.”

Ethical journalism, according to the SPJ Code, means “taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public” and to “expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.”

A Poynter story notes prominently that the paper’s new owners, News + Media, paid 36.6 percent more for just the Nevada newspapers once owned by Stephens Media than New Media Investment Group did for all of Stephens’ papers less than a year ago — $140 million as opposed to $102.5 million.

New Media is keeping seven dailies and dozens of weeklies. Also the sale price is seven times EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) over the last 12 months. New Media said two of its previous acquisitions were for 3.9 times EBITDA.

Who would be willing to pay that much for a newspaper during a period of industrywide declines in revenues?

According to the R-J account the Koch brothers and Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun have denied they are involved, while Adelson has refused to comment.

The GOP debate Tuesday night was held at one of Adelson’s hotels.

 

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2 comments on “‘On openness’ and closedness in the same edition of local newspaper

  1. Another “do as I say and not as I do” moment?

  2. John Gordon Edwards says:

    I wondered earlier about whether Sheldon Adelson was the buyer but I also thought others could be the secret buyer. He already owns a newspaper in Tel Aviv, I recall. So that fits with the statement the new owners have experience in the media. As one of the wealthiest persons in the United States, Sheldon Adelson could easily afford to buy the RJ out of his pocket change. I hope John L. Smith continues as a columnist at the RJ. He provides a good prospective on news and the history of individuals and institutions behind the news.

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