Mark your calendars, R-J staffers, and remember: What’s past is prologue

In the financial world they say that past performance is no indicator of future results, but in the newspaper business these days what’s past is prologue.

A couple of weeks ago New Media Investments purchased all of Stephens Media’s newspapers, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal. New Media, which rose from the ashes of the bankruptcy of GateHouse Media, previously purchased all of Halifax Media from Stephens Capital Partners, different company but same owners largely.

This week News & Tech and blogger Jim Romensko are reporting that New Media is laying off workers at the formerly Halifax papers.

One of the papers, the Star-News in Wilmington, N.C., reported:

“The StarNews laid off an unknown number of employees Tuesday as part of workforce reductions that took place across the group of former Halifax Media newspapers. Details have not been made public.

“The StarNews is one of 36 newspapers under the Halifax Media banner. Halifax recently was purchased by GateHouse Media’s parent, New Media Investment Group, for $280 million.”

They must have laid off the copyeditor who would have changed “unknown” to “unstated.”

Romenesko posted copies of a number of emails he received reporting layoffs at several newspapers owned by New Media. The layoffs hit across the board in the newsrooms — photogs, copyeditors, cop reporters, sports reporters, bureaus, assistant city editors, assistant managing editors, features editors, layout artists, as well as staff in IT, advertising and marketing. One paper reportedly laid off “the editorial writer.”

Stephens sold the Halifax papers in November, the layoffs come in March, so mark your calendars, R-J staffers, for four months hence. What’s past is prologue.

Front of R-J office building on Bonanza.

 

Editorial: Laxalt proven correct in joining lawsuit challenging Obama executive order

When Nevada’s new Republican attorney general, Adam Laxalt, joined in the lawsuit with 25 other states challenging President Obama’s executive fiat granting amnesty from deportation and granting green cards and Social Security cards to millions of illegal immigrants, Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid were critical of his action and even Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said the matter should be handled legislatively rather than in the courts.

A ruling by a Texas federal judge granting an injunction blocking the administration from carrying out its intentions appears to vindicate Laxalt and his reasons for joining the suit. At the time he joined the other states, Laxalt stated his rationale for doing so was because the president’s action disregarded the U.S. Constitution, undermined the rule of law and was injurious to millions of Americans, including Nevadans.

In his ruling, Judge Andrew Hanen states that “ the states cannot protect themselves from the costs inflicted by the Government when 4.3 million individuals are granted legal presence with the resulting ability to compel state action. The irony of this position cannot be fully appreciated unless it is contrasted with the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) Directive. The DAPA Directive unilaterally allows individuals removable by law to legally remain in the United States based upon a classification that is not established by any federal law. It is this very lack of law about which the States complain. The Government claims that it can act without a supporting law, but the States cannot.”

Hanen’s ruling also halts the expansion of Obama’s executive order allowing children brought into the country illegally to remain.

The judge said if the government were allowed to start issuing benefits but the executive is later overturned or legislatively countermanded there would be irreparable harm to both the states and the immigrants. “This genie would be impossible to put back in the bottle,” he said.

As for the argument that Obama and his Department of Homeland Security are merely exercising prosecutorial discretion in determining who will be deported, the judge noted, “The DHS was not given any ‘discretion by law’ to give 4.3 million removable aliens what the DHS itself labels as ‘legal presence.’ In fact, the law mandates that these illegally-present individuals be removed. The DHS has adopted a new rule that substantially changes both the status and employability of millions. These changes go beyond mere enforcement or even non-enforcement of this nation’s immigration scheme.”

The day after the Texas judge’s injunction was issued, Laxalt commented, “Yesterday’s carefully considered, 123-page decision represents a great initial victory for the rule of law and our constitutional system. I am encouraged by the federal court’s thorough analysis of this executive action. This injunction will halt the executive action and allow for the judiciary to carefully evaluate the legality of President Obama’s unilateral act. As I’ve always insisted, this lawsuit is ultimately about the rule of law, not immigration, and the need for all branches of our government, including the president, to faithfully follow the law.”

The ruling does not mean that anyone will be deported anytime soon, given the administration’s lax enforcement.

The case is likely going to be heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal and possibly by the U.S. Supreme Court.

We applaud the attorney general for standing up for the rule of law.

A version of this editorial appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: State Constitution does not allow laws regulating political speech

The Nevada Supreme Court made the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 a couple of weeks ago that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures.

The majority said the fliers mailed out by Citizen Outreach during the 2010 election season criticizing Assembly member John Oceguera for being a double-dipper — drawing pay as a North Las Vegas firefighter while serving in Carson City — did not contain the “magic words of express advocacy,” such as “vote for” or “vote against,” which would trigger the need to comply with the law.

The ruling overturned a summary judgment by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell, who fined the group $10,000 plus $7,600 in costs in 2013.

Nevada Supreme Court (R-J photo)

The ruling states, “Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.”

The problem now is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law so that it now states that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

The court majority noted that the secretary of state testified that the change would “make it clear that Nevada does not require” magic words for a communication to be express advocacy.

That makes the revised law highly subjective and subject to as many interpretations as there are people. It erases any bright line test.

The problem is that both the 1997 and the 2011 law blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest.”

In a similar case involving a Virginia-based organization that failed to file the proper paperwork with the state, Judge James E. Wilson Jr. stopped televised ads from being broadcast and said, “Nevadans have a right to know who is behind election advertising.”

There is no such right to know. The voters get to decide what communication is persuasive, whether the source of funding is revealed or not. The voters tell the government what to do, not the other way around.

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

This law clearly restrains and abridges.

The words are clear and unambiguous — “no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press” — and thus any state law that does so violates the state Constitution and is null and void from inception. A $10,000 fine in any dictionary is a restraint.

In this day and age, donating to certain causes, such as the anti-gay marriage campaign in California, have resulted in threats, intimidation, boycotts and ruined careers.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in a dissent in Citizens United v. FEC, “I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection.”’

Just this past week a federal judge in California temporarily enjoined the state attorney general from enforcing a law similar to Nevada’s.

“Donors who have witnessed harassment of those perceived to be connected with plaintiff’s co-founders have experienced their unwillingness to continue to participate if such limited disclosure is made,” Judge Manuel Real wrote, adding that there is “sufficient evidence establishing that public disclosure would have a chilling effect on free speech.”

There is no constitutional authority for government to drag more information out of a speaker than the speaker wishes to convey, under the excuse that voters are just too darned stupid to evaluate anonymous speech for themselves. Compelled speech is not free speech.

The Legislature should repeal this law or someone should challenge the 2011 version of the law in the courts and make the right argument.

Free speech must be free of government restrictions, especially political speech.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The Sun charade goes, painfully and pitifully, on

The Sun insert in the Las Vegas newspaper today carried a front page story telling readers, what few there are, that the joint operating agreement (JOA) is still in effect under the new ownership of the Review-Journal.

The R-J story on the sale said as much. Neither story noted the JOA does not expire until 2040.

The Sun story did explain, “Under the joint operating agreement, the Sun is printed and distributed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and receives a portion of the R-J’s advertising revenue.” Actually, the Sun gets a portion of the paper’s profit.

The question is: With so little effort being put into the content of the Sun section, why would anyone, including Brian Greenspun, bother with continuing this charade.

Perhaps New Media Investment Group will make Greenspun a better offer to end the JOA. Or with a little created bookkeeping, they might figure out a way to make sure there is no profit to share.

Brian Greespun took control of the Sun from his siblings this past year. The siblings had negotiated to end the joint operating agreement with the Review-Journal.

Editorial: Las Vegas water grab is a waste of time and money

The Nevada Supreme Court has dealt another blow to the Las Vegas attempt to snatch groundwater from Lincoln and White Pine counties.

In December 2013, state court Senior Judge Robert Estes ruled that State Engineer Jason King had failed to establish adequate criteria for protecting the residents of eastern Nevada and western Utah from damages that might result from drawing down the groundwater to supply the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) with 84,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.

Now the high court has ruled that since the judge remanded the matter to the state engineer for further studies and review that the case is not yet appealable.

The unpublished opinion cited the judge’s own words about how the engineer’s findings were lacking. Judge Estes repeatedly called the plans for monitoring, mitigating and managing the water transfer “arbitrary and capricious.”

A symbolic bucket

“There are no objective standards to determine when mitigation will be required and implemented,” the judge wrote. “The Engineer has listed what mitigation efforts can possibly be made, i.e., stop pumping, modifying pumping, change location of pumps, drill new wells … but does not cite objective standards of when mitigation is necessary.”

Judge Estes concluded that if “it is premature to set triggers and thresholds, it is premature to grant water rights.”

In a press release, attorney Simeon Herskovits, representing one of the groups suing to halt the water grab, Great Basin Water Network (GBNW), said, “SNWA has had 25 years to provide basic information proving that its proposed project to pump and pipe water out of these rural valleys would be sustainable and comply with the most basic requirements of Nevada’s water law. The fact that they not only have failed to produce such evidence in all that time, but also have gone on record saying repeatedly that they cannot produce such evidence, only goes to show this misguided proposal never has been and never will be scientifically defensible or legally permissible.”

Abby Johnson, president of GBNW, added, “All of the science actually shows that SNWA’s plan to pump groundwater out of these rural valleys and pipe it down to the Las Vegas Valley simply will not be sustainable and cannot avoid destroying existing water rights and the environment in the vast affected area.”

Since Estes’ ruling, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey calculated all the annual groundwater recharge for the valleys involved from various sources is about 175,000 acre-feet. The current outflow — current wells, springs, streams and outflow to other aquifers — is almost precisely the same amount of water — equilibrium.

“Increased well withdrawals within these high transmissivity areas will likely affect a large part of the study area, resulting in declining groundwater levels, as well as leading to a decrease in natural discharge to springs …” the study concluded.

It is those springs and streams that support livestock, agriculture and a vast array of wildlife, some of which are threatened or endangered. Declining groundwater levels would mean local wells might have to be drilled deeper, a very expensive proposition for local landowners and homeowners.

A study for SNWA found the cost of wells, pumps and pipelines could top $15 billion and triple Las Vegas water bills.

SNWA should throw in the towel now and stop wasting the time and money of their own ratepayers and those in rural Nevada trying to preserve our resources and livelihoods.

A version of this editorial appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Rep. Hardy expects to see some action on federal land issues

Freshman 4th Congressional District Rep. Cresent Hardy, whose district covers the southern half of rural Nevada, foresees considerable debate and action coming during this 114th session of Congress on various issues concerning use and control of federal public lands.

Asked about Sen. Harry Reid’s bill to bar development on more than a million acres of land in Gold Butte in Clark County and Coal and Garden valleys in Nye and Lincoln counties, all in his district, Hardy said he’d not yet read the bill but stated, “I know where I’m at with that proposal. I’m fighting tooth and nail. I think it’s time the federal government got out of our state.”

He added that the state taking control of public lands would provide opportunities for the citizens of the state to be “like the Founders expected us to be, laboratories of industry, and let us take control of our public lands ourselves.”

Cresent Hardy

(According to the Las Vegas newspaper, Rep. Dina Titus has introduced a House version of Reid’s land bill. Titus told the paper she thinks Harady is “more open” to protecting Gold Butte than in the past. “I’m fighting tooth and nail,” is a dial back? Was his prior stance: Over my dead body?)

Hardy cited the Equal Footing Doctrine — under which all states are promised to be treated equally with the original 13 states — as an argument for states taking control of federal land. He noted that in 1828 the states of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida used that argument to convince Congress to release control of most federal land within their boundaries.

Today various federal agencies control roughly half the 11 westernmost states in the lower 48 and Alaska and about 85 percent of Nevada, the highest percentage of any state, while only 4 percent of the rest of the states is under federal dominion.

Hardy said he and other members of the delegation have also asked the Bureau of Land Management to back off of a Southern Nevada land management plan it has put out, noting that it took the BLM seven years to develop the 2,200-page plan but it at first was only going to give the residents of the area 30 to 45 days to comment and recommend changes. The comment period was extended, but only to March 9.

The congressman said he also hopes the Nevada Legislature acts on a report from its Nevada Public Lands Management Task Force recommending that the state take control of millions of acres of federal land and forwards it to Congress for its action.

“I’ll tell you what is happening back here. I think people from the East Coast, we’re actually educating folks back here,” Hardy said of the lands issue. “They didn’t understand for all these years the damage that they’ve caused to the West by keeping control of these state lands, like the rights they have and the opportunities they have by having control of their own lands. We need that opportunity, like I said, to be laboratories of industry.”

Noting that he is a member of the congressional Western Caucus, Hardy said it is important for the Western states to combine forces to press their mutual concerns. “The more power we get behind us, the better off we are,” he reasoned. “That’s why this Western states alliance is so important.”

Asked about Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s memo recently outlining plans to try to curb wildfires on federal lands, Hardy replied, “That’s an emotional topic for me. Let’s get people back out on the land, managing the land, who understand the land. The best wildfire prevention is grazing and other proper management by people who know how to do it.”

Though this past week Nevada Sens. Reid and Dean Heller and Gov. Brian Sandoval penned a letter to the Washington Post critical of the newspaper’s editorial in support of opening Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste storage and a Reid spokesmen flatly declared the project dead, Hardy said he has been talking with constituents from White Pine, Nye and Lincoln counties and they are open to discussion about the future of Yucca Mountain.

“I think Nevada needs to be in that discussion,” Hardy said. “We need to be involved in it. I’ll never agree to have it shoved down our throats, but I think we need to be involved. If its got to come here, this is the best safety issue for it, then we need to be looking at the opportunities that we may have, if they’re there.”

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Parent company of Las Vegas newspaper sold

Who didn’t see this coming?

The company that operates the Las Vegas newspaper has been sold — lock, newspaper stock, barrels of ink and presses — to New Media Investment Group. Stephens Media, which operates eight daily newspapers and more than 65 weekies, sold for $102.5 million cash.

Las Vegas Review-Journal posted the press release on its website this afternoon. The press release boasted that Stephens Media publications have a combined average daily circulation of approximately 221,000 and 244,000 on Sunday. The Las Vegas newspaper alone once had a circulation approaching those numbers.

New Media is said to operate in over 370 markets across 27 states.

At 22.66, the publicly traded New Media’s stock price is nearly double its 52-week low. Stephens was privately held.

New Media has a reputation for layoffs at its newly acquired newspapers. I’m told a reliable source that New Media operates a a layout, copy-editing and graphics hub in Austin, Texas, which does all such work remotely for nearly all of its papers.

In December, Stephens family members sold Halifax Media, which was based in Florida, to New Media.

Illustration with press release announcing sale of newspaper company. (R-J photo)