Profit before proselytizing at the morning newspaper?

Last six-page Viewpoints section

Everybody assumed that when casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson bought the Las Vegas newspaper two years ago for an obscene $140 million — $38 million more than the previous owner had paid nine months earlier — that he intended to use the paper to spread more of his conservative political views. After all, he was spending millions of his gambling-generated assets to support conservative candidates for public office.

Apparently, profit is more important than proselytizing.

Without fanfare and apparently without notice, the Review-Journal recently cut its opinion pages on Sundays from six pages to four and on Wednesdays and Fridays to one page instead of two. This follows what appears to be the purchase of thinner newsprint — possibly down from 32-pound stock to 30-pound, would be an educated guess — as the price of newsprint has increased steadily recently and the threat of tariffs on Canadian paper has been raised.

Buoying this supposition is the fact that since the middle of January, the Las Vegas Sun insert has been running a daily front page announcement saying that it is now charging for access to its online content. The putative editor of the alleged newspaper states that this is because, under the joint operating agreement that requires the Sun to be inserted in the morning paper, the Sun gets a percentage of the R-J’s profits, but there are no profits.

“The current management of the Review-Journal plunged the newspaper into a loss immediately after purchasing the newspaper in 2015. To date, the Review-Journal’s management continues to run a money-losing newspaper,” he writes every day. “We hope they find a way to turn the R-J around in the face of ongoing revenue and circulation decline.”

The R-J bid for that profitability appears to be thinner paper and fewer pages, though considerably more savings could be netted by dropping the 10- to six-page, ad-free Sun insert.

The morning paper has already made a symbolic gesture in that direction. For years the Sun insert has been included in the online electronic replica, dubbed the eEdition, of the printed paper, but two weeks after the Sun started running its daily notice about charging for online content the eEdition dropped the Sun. Petty payback perhaps? Portent of things to come?

 

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Morning newspaper is a ‘non-profit’ operation, says Greenspun

Brian Greenspun — the putative editor of the Las Vegas Sun, the tiny printed insert in the morning newspaper and the website of the same name — has just confirmed what many have presumed for the past few years.

He has posted online a note telling readers that the Sun is about to start charging for access to online articles after free access to 10 articles. The reason is simple. He is not making money from the joint operating agreement with the Sheldon Adelson-owned print newspaper. Not that he is contributing much of anything to attract print readership.

Here is his explanation about the paucity of funds coming his way from the JOA:

A major source of our newsroom funding has dried up. Years ago, the Las Vegas Sun stopped publishing our print newspaper and stopped selling newspaper advertising in competition with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In 1990, we combined our print operations (as well as our circulation) with the Review-Journal. The Review-Journal took responsibility for printing, distributing and selling advertising for the Sun and benefited mightily from this arrangement. The quid pro quo was that the Las Vegas Sun would get a small percentage of R-J profits that we could use to help fund the continuing operations of our newsroom. In short, the combination with the Review-Journal provided much of the money necessary to pay for the quality journalism the Las Vegas Sun provides.

For decades this approach benefited the R-J, and every management team there delivered a profit — a little less of a profit each year, but still healthy enough to help us offset the significant costs of our news operations.

Unfortunately, that has changed.

The current management of the Review-Journal plunged the newspaper into a loss immediately after purchasing the newspaper in 2015. To date, the Review-Journal’s management continues to run a money-losing newspaper. We hope they find a way to turn the R-J around in the face of ongoing revenue and circulation decline. (And no, purchasing a print subscription to the Sun and R-J doesn’t benefit the Sun in this current scenario.)

Our initiative with the metered paywall is an effort to replace some of that lost funding for the newsroom.

Perhaps Greenspun continues the contractual JOA just out of spite, because it is surely costing Adelson a lot of money for wasted newsprint for the wasted Sun section, whose only worthwhile content is the cartoon Dilbert.

Donald W. Reynolds, the former owner of the morning Vegas paper, is reputed have declared that the only measure of the success of a newspaper is its profitability.

Dueling columnists could be entertaining, except …

Epithets at 10 paces. Turn and fire.

First, in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root took issue with MGM’s CEO Jim Murren telling his employees that the firm would match any donations they decided to make to certain groups that he apparently identified as civil rights organizations. In a letter to employees Murren noted recent violence in Charlottesville and Barcelona and stated, “In the midst of this uncertainty, I want to affirm a clear-eyed, concrete view of the company in which you have chosen to invest your career, because on the question of human rights, MGM Resorts takes and unequivocal position: The protection of human dignity, demonstrated in the form of tolerance and respect for all people, is the core of our identity. We strive to create workplaces and entertainment spaces that are welcoming, open and respectful to all kinds of people, regardless of disability, age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious preference, gender identity or sexual orientation.” (His bold face and italics.)

He listed the groups for which the company would match donations as Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, ADL, Council on American Islamic Relations and others.

Root took issue with the doling out of shareholder funds to liberal groups in general but especially with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known for tossing out hate group labels like trinkets at a Mardi Gras parade, and the Council on American Islamic Relation, which has been pegged as the clean-faced front for Hamas.

Root blasted, “Jim Murren has gone too far. And he’s put MGM’s board, shareholders and employees in a terrible position because of his extreme, radical, reckless decisions” — without bothering to append the usual disclaimer about the newspaper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, being both a business competitor with MGM and frequent political opponent of Murren.

Today, the putative editor of the insert inside the Review-Journal filled that gap with a diatribe. Brian Greenspun said of Root’s Thursday missive:

That day, he went after one of Sheldon’s biggest, most forward-thinking and most responsible competitors in the gaming industry. It is exactly what the gaming industry feared might happen when the news — as secret as the Adelson family tried to keep it — broke that one of the GOP’s wealthiest donors had purchased one of the two largest newspapers in Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun is the other “largest” newspaper in Nevada.

I don’t know if Sheldon knows what Root writes from one day to the next, but he should be very careful about what his minions publish in and under his name. Root and publisher Craig Moon certainly know what would please Sheldon.

Not only are Adelson and Murren competitors on the Strip but also in Macau and perhaps in Japan in the future.

Adelson is a huge Republican donor, while Murren was a card-carrying Republican for Reid and a Hillary Clinton supporter.

A couple of years ago Adelson tore into MGM and Caesars for driving down the price of rooms on the Strip and costing his Sands corporation money. Adelson personally attacked Murren for supporting a convention center expansion, which competes with Adelson’s convention center, over a new football stadium.

But perhaps the funniest thing in Greenspun’s screed was this line:

Which reminds me of one of the first lessons in newspaper publishing I learned from my father, Hank Greenspun, many decades ago — publishers have profound responsibilities to the public interest and it must always be placed before personal interest.

Hank Greenspan was notorious for pulling his newspaper like a dueling pistol to attack business competitors and political foes and to support his friends. He was virulently critical of an FBI agent who conducted a sting on certain politicians and he conducted a campaign to discredit a competitor in the cable television business.

Greenspan concludes his spiel, “Come on, Review-Journal, publish your paper in the community interest. You and your owners should be better than this.”

A little dueling between newspaper columnists could be entertaining — if they both weren’t such clowns.

Fortune says Adelson new owner of Las Vegas newspaper

According to Fortune, multiple sources have confirmed that the new mystery owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal is none other than Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a huge Republican contributor.

He reportedly paid $140 million for the Nevada operations of what once was the Stephens Media chain. That entire change, included seven other dailies and dozens of weeklies sold for $102.5 million less than a year ago. The buyer, New Media Investments, reportedly will continue to manage the Nevada publications.

The Fortune writer commented: “What remains unclear is why Adelson has refused to come forward. Clearly this isn’t a vanity play, and it’s also hard to imagine it as a financial investment (particularly given the steep price tag). What that leaves is political influence, particularly in a swing state like Nevada. That said, however, it would seem difficult to direct editorial coverage when the actual editorial writers are in the dark as to who signs their paychecks.”

Since Adelson and Sun owner Brian Greenspun are hardly friendly, what will the Justice Department say about the JOA?

Sheldon Adelson reportedly purchased Las Vegas newspaper. (Reuters photo)

 

 

 

Is Sun editor deliberately provoking new owners of morning paper?

There is one less two-newspaper town. The Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette has merged with the Charleston Daily Mail to become the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

All of the staffers of both papers will have to apply for jobs at the new newspaper and there will be fewer of them.

 

Though editorially separate, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, the two papers have been in joint operating agreement (JOA) since 1958 in which the business, advertising and production units are merged.

“This is not one paper gobbling up the other. It is a combination of the two newsroom staffs working in cooperation to produce the most comprehensive news product in West Virginia,” says a column in the merged paper. “We are committed to producing the best example of journalism delivered to your home, in the paper boxes, on your mobile devices and on your computer every morning.”

That sounds like the claptrap spewed in Las Vegas 25 years ago when the Review-Journal and the Sun announced a JOA.

Today the morning paper contains a six-page local news section under the banner of the Review-Journal, but that includes an editorial page, obits and a number of ads. Meanwhile, the Sun section is an ad-free eight pages, containing only one locally generated news story, and that one is a lame account of vacant office space. The rest is mostly wires and syndicated columns and AP photos.

The Sun website has at least a dozen locally generated news, sports and feature stories, any of which could have been published in the printed section, but are not.

Is Sun editor Brian Greenspun poking a finger in the eye of the new R-J owners, Gatehouse Media? The contracted JOA runs through 2040. Could be a long, grueling haul. Eight pages of newsprint is quite expensive and eats into the profits, if there are any.

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Longtime newspaper rivalry continues to this day with references to the past rivalry

The photo that warranted an inside page in the Sun in 1967 but no printed page in today’s R-J.

You’ve got to love a good newspaper spat, especially one that goes back decades.

Today the Las Vegas Review-Journal has a story about how a few teenagers in 1967 hoaxed the Las Vegas Sun with a Polaroid “UFO” photo that was actually a hubcap tossed into the air. The photo warranted a screaming red, all-caps banner headline in a size they used to call a “wood,” because no one had metal type that big. The headline reads: “Mysterious flying ship ‘scouts’ Las Vegas area.”

But the photo that was the central topic of the tale ran on an inside page, while the dominant photo on the front page was one of Gov. Paul Laxalt talking at some pro-Israel function, a favorite topic of the Sun, possibly because its editor had been convicted of running guns to Israel. Next to that photo was Hank Greenspun’s “Where I Stand” column. He gave the column that name because an R-J editor once wrote a “Where I Sit” column.

Now, in my way of thinking, a photo that warranted a screaming headline on the cover screamed to be printed on the cover, but no. As for the R-J’s coverage of the hoax, it did not find that photo worthy of print, relegating the actual hoax pix that was the topic of the piece to a package of photos online.

The R-J story also noted that it was the R-J that corrected the hoax the next day:

On June 14, 1967, a mere 24 hours after the hoax had gone as viral as something could go in the ’60s, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ended it.

“The mysterious flying ship ‘scouting’ Las Vegas Monday night turned out to be a hubcap, sources close to the ‘ship’ revealed Tuesday afternoon,” the lede read.

Yes, the story uses the old typesetter’s lexicon, spelling the word “lede,” which is not in most dictionaries nor in the AP Stylebook, which I think they still use, even though they don’t subscribe to the AP service.

But two old Hank Greenspun columns delivered on the same day is a bit much. Over in the Sun section, son Brian reprinted the second of three columns from the era of the hoax by Hank. The intro by Brian includes this dig at the R-J:

The first two columns talk about the building of the MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and the third discusses allegations of mob association that existed only in the small minds of some hoodlums and on the pages of the other newspaper in Las Vegas.

I wonder whether the third installment will mention that in 1947 Greenspun was hired by mobster Bugsy Siegel as publicist for his Flamingo Hotel or that  Greenspun wrote a column called “Flamingo Chatter” for the R-J? Will it mention his stake in the Desert Inn was reduced to 1 percent when Cleveland racketeers Morris “Moe” Dalitz, Sam Tucker and Morris Kleinman won control.

The R-J story did not mention that there were a number of UFO sightings in 1967.

Of course, I must plead guilty to having tweaked the upturned Greenspun nose a time or two myself.

 

 

Sun newspaper owner makes last gasp effort to snatch cash from soon-to-be former partner

Brian Greenspun is one litigious son of a Hank.

First, he filed an anti-trust lawsuit in federal court when Stephens Media, then owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, persuaded his siblings to take a buyout and close down the Las Vegas Sun as an insert inside the morning paper. When that did not appear to be working, he bought out his siblings and acquired the Sun, allowing the joint operating agreement (JOA) to continue intact. That agreement with Greenspun Media Group (GMG) expires in 2040.

Now, Greenspun says he is suing in state district court because Stephens Media has been systematically underpaying him since the JOA was renegotiated in 2005. Until then, under the JOA the Sun received a percentage of whatever the R-J newsroom budget was. We called it the Sun tax, because for every dollar spent in the R-J newsroom the company had to shell out so much to the Sun for its newsroom to spend however its owners saw fit — hire reporters, buy equipment or, since Greenspun was the putative editor, pocket it.

Brian Greenspun (Sun photo)

After 2005, the Sun was contracted to receive a percentage of the profits of the R-J and both organizations would pay for their newsrooms.

“One of the important goals of the 2005 revised agreement was to ensure both the Sun and the Review-Journal independently paid for their newsrooms,” Brian Greenspun, owner of GMG, is quoted as saying in today’s Sun. “However, we have learned that contrary to the specific terms of the contract, the Review-Journal continued to pay for its newsroom from joint funds, while we paid for the Sun newsroom on our own as required by the contract.”

It is not a joint ownership agreement. It is a joint operating agreement.

Under Greenspun’s “reasoning” the R-J’s paying for its own newsroom reduced Stephens Media’s profits and reduced the amount of money he received. He estimates underpayments plus interest could top $6 million.

“The contract clearly spelled out how the newsroom costs were to be handled, and Stephens simply ignored those clauses,” Greenspun is quoted as saying. I haven’t read the contract, but why did it take 10 years for this to come up? Perhaps, because profits have slipped so far? There is scant evidence that Greenspun is expending much money for his “newsroom,” and what he does spend surely cuts his profits, if any.

I suspect Greenspun is engaging in mere creative interpretation of the contract and grasping for a sympathetic judge.

Greenspun is probably suing now because Stephens Media just sold the entire company to New Media Investment Group, who should be sure and lawyer up because they inherited the JOA and now must contend with the litigious Greenspun.

Greenspun’s attorney is still Leif Reid, one of Harry Reid’s sons, even though at one time during the federal litigation Leif Reid sought to withdraw from the case, apparently due to a conflict of interest many reasoned.

A federal judge just this past week refused to award court costs and $200,000 in attorney fees to Stephens Media due to the Greenspun anti-trust federal suit.

The Sun story said Stephens Media attorney Mark Hinueber could not be reached for comment. It will be interesting to see how this plays out since basically there will be no Stephens Media when the sale is consummated. The outcome will certainly affect New Media’s bottom line, too, since it must abide by the same contract, depending on how a judge rules, if it gets that far.

 

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