Further comparisons of Richard III to Review-Journal

The parasite infected body of Richard III.

We’ve remarked on a few comparisons of late between the play “Richard III” and the legal tussle between the editor of the Las Vegas Sun and the owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which prints the Sun as an insert and wants to end the deal well before its 2040 expiration.

The comparisons grew out of a Sun attorney’s comment: “They’re afraid of a competitor growing. It’s like Richard III: Get rid of all the kids! … It’s an ancient story. The kids will grow up. … The Sun is growing up financially. Its editorial voice is already grown up.”

I noted that soon after Richard offed an heir to the throne, he died in battle.

Now, an alert reader has pointed out that it is now known that Richard III suffered from parasitic roundworms.

The parasites did not kill Richard, but the R-J may be another matter.

For want of a ‘horse,’ a newspaper was lost

Picking up on the allegorical theme of Sunday’s posting:

For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost …

The Sun’s attorney compared the attempt to end the joint operation agreement between the Sun and Review-Journal to Richard III killing off competing heirs to the throne. He did not relate that Richard was subsequently killed in battle when he lost his horse.

On Sunday, the R-J’s new computer or pagination system was the probable cause of a late print product delivery and of a jumbled online site and of a short-changed Kindle product, for which I and others actually pay money.

Today the Kindle version contains only one Nevada section story, one Health story and three Sports stories. That is all.

Looks like they’ve lost their horse.



Will an ignominious fate befall both parties to JOA

Today the Las Vegas Sun finally got around to reporting on the Review-Journal’s reply to Brian Greenspun’s antitrust suit trying to prevent his siblings from shutting down the paper, which has been an insert in the R-J since 2005.

Drowning Clarence in malmsey.

It was a fairly straightforward account, but it also included an amusing comment by Brian Greenspun’s attorney, Joseph Alioto, who accused the R-J’s owners of trying to “squeeze the little guy out of the picture.”

“They’re afraid of a competitor growing. It’s like Richard III: Get rid of all the kids!” Alioto said. “It’s an ancient story. The kids will grow up. … The Sun is growing up financially. Its editorial voice is already grown up.”

This immediately called to mind the first time Vin Suprynowicz wrote in an editorial that something or other should be drowned in malmsey. Frankly, I had to look it up to be sure whereof he spoke:

Second Murderer. Look behind you, my lord.

First MurdererTake that, and that: if all this will not do,

[Stabs him]

I’ll drown you in the malmsey-butt within.

Having thus dispatched an heir to the throne, Richard III shortly goes on to be dehorsed in battle and slain. (A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!)

Speaking of horses, today the R-J reportedly switched over to some new computer or pagination system. While apparently the print version of the paper was produced, the online site is a mess and incomplete. I defy you to find John L. Smith’s column for example. And the Kindle version, for which people actually pay good money, doesn’t even include a Nevada section at all.

“Richard III” may be a more apt allusion than even the Sun attorney imagines.

R-J reply to Greenspun suit slaps his contentions into a cocked hat

Review-Journal attorneys replied this afternoon to Brian Greenspun’s specious suit trying to block a contemplated end to the publication of the Las Vegas Sun as an insert in the morning newspaper.

First, attorneys Don Campbell and Colby Williams prove Greenspun doesn’t have standing to bring the case in any shape or form.

Greenspun claimed to have standing as a paid subscriber to the combined R-J/Sun, but he gets a free copy.

Greenspun claimed to have standing as shareholder of the Sun ownership, but he is merely a dissident shareholder who was out voted by his brother and sisters who voted to end the joint operating agreement (JOA).

Neither does he have standing as the editor of the Sun, because in previous cases terminated employees of closed newspaper were not granted standing.

Also, the matter is not ripe. No final contract has been entered into and might not ever be.

Furthermore, there is no antitrust case because the Sun is a failing newspaper that would not exist without the JOA.

The reply states:

“There can be no antitrust violation for an additional reason: the printed Las Vegas Sun is a failing newspaper, and its termination in the 2005 JOA cannot, therefore, harm competition. A failing JOA newspaper is one which would be failing ‘if operated outside the JOA.’ …

“That analysis here shows the Las Vegas Sun is failing: if the 2005 JOA were ended, the Review-Journal would save over a million dollars per year in costs (not including its profit payments to Las Vegas Sun, Inc.), but would not suffer any decline in revenue. Notably, the DOJ has argued to the Ninth Circuit that ‘a decision to terminate a newspaper whose incremental costs exceed the incremental revenues attributable to its operation is unlikely to violate the antitrust laws.’ …

“The Las Vegas Sun’s incremental costs exceed its incremental revenues. Accordingly, terminating the Las Vegas Sun’s publication as part of the 2005 JOA (while preserving its potential publication through other vehicles) does not violate the antitrust laws. Plaintiffs have not properly alleged, and cannot otherwise support, their purported relevant market. Nor can they demonstrate that termination of the 2005 JOA will result in harm to competition. These are yet two more reasons why Plaintiffs cannot establish a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits.”

Also, Greenspun has failed show a shred of evidence of irreparable harm to anyone, merely base speculation.

And the noncompete clause frequently mentioned by Greenspun is no longer contemplated. The reply says, “While the contemplated transactions between Stephens Media and the Greenspun entities may envision that the printed 8-12 page Las Vegas Sun insert will no longer be published and distributed with the Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, Inc. or the Greenspuns will be free to publish the print version of the newspaper on their own or sell it to another party that may wish to do so.”

Greenspun simply doesn’t want to risk his own money.

Newspaper’s future?: You can’t be seen as biased if you offer no opinions

No editorial on governor's speech.

Portents of things to come at the surviving Las Vegas newspaper?

While the effort to eliminate the Sun as an insert in the Review-Journal is wending through the federal court to an inevitable conclusion, an interesting development in Philadelphia may foretell the future.

On Sept. 9, the Inquirer cut its opinion pages from two a day to one, reports Citypaper. One of the paper’s two editorial writers will be reassigned.

The reason given by management is that a recent survey found readers think the paper is biased. Thus the remedy was to cut opinion. You can’t be seen as biased if you express no opinions.

But the Citypaper quoted a newsroom source as saying, “I have heard from a number of credible places that there was a desire to eliminate the entire opinion section — all of the opinion pages —going back quite a while.”

Now, where have I heard that before?

Oh yes, when the new publisher, Bob Brown, took over at the R-J, he was asked during a meeting with newsroom staffers if there was something in the paper he would like to eliminate. He promptly replied: opinion.

They first fired the cartoonist. Then they agreed to let go the senior opinion editor. Then they let go the editorial page editor, followed by the assistant editorial page editor who was also a noted libertarian-leaning columnist with a considerable following. The paper is down to two people running the opinion pages.

Once the Sun is removed, what next will fall?

Mark my word. Just as I predicted the elimination of the Sun …

Federal judge allows Sun editor a hearing on his futile gesture

For federal Judge James Mahan to grant a hearing on Las Vegas Sun editor Brian Greenspun’s antitrust lawsuit to block the dissolution of the joint operating agreement (JOA) and end the printing of the Sun is tantamount to granting a hearing to some guy standing on the side of the road with a sign that reads: “Will edit for obscenely large pay check.”

Greenspun was outvoted by his own brother and sisters, who agreed to the deal offered by Stephens Media, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

For him to demand his siblings and the R-J continue to produce his “newspaper” is like a farmer demanding that other people pick his cotton. Indentured servitude was outlawed by the 13th Amendment.

Here’s your sign, Brian: “Will edit for obscenely large pay check.” (R-J file photo

To call his lawsuit an antitrust suit is standing the law on its head and spinning it like some crazed breakdancer. It was the JOA that violated antitrust law as it stood until Congress gave newspapers an exemption under the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970. The dozens of JOAs effectively created newspaper monopolies that retarded the potential for real competition from a viable entity by saving the bacon of failing newspapers under the pretext of preserving an alternative editorial voice.

At the time of the original JOA in 1989, the Sun was losing millions of dollars a year and would have closed down shortly had they not offered Donrey, then owner of the R-J, a bundle of cable television stock to keep the Sun alive.

In the Sun’s case that voice has devolved into largely syndicated columns and features with a local editorial appearing once in a blue moon.

Speaking of alternative voices, the R-J story reporting granting of the hearing reads in print: “U.S. judge retains pact between R-J, Sun temporarily,” while the online hed reads: “Federal judge questions newspaper lawsuit but grants temporary restraining order.”

The Sun hed in print reads: “Judge sides with Sun in granting order,” and online: “Federal judge sets hearing for Sun-Stephens dispute.” (Actually, the print hed is inaccurate. The “Sun” is not seeking a restraining order, only a the dissident editor is.)

And spinning goes on and on.

At least two dozen JOAs have been dissolved over the past decades as the economics of newspaper production and advertising have shifted dramatically. Not one dissolution has been blocked by concerns over antitrust issues, though that has been raised several times. Even the R-J and Sun JOA was renegotiated in 2005, taking the Sun from a shrinking afternoon newspaper to an insert in the R-J.

The current plan to shut down the Sun, with the assent of a majority of shareholders, is simply a  negotiation that would end the contract now rather than in 2040.

According to the R-J account, Mahan wrote in his order of the majority Sun shareholders’ decision, “The court is not inclined to reverse their decision and order … that they must continue to publish the newspaper regardless of the board’s determination.”

Mahan also pointed out, “The plaintiff Brian Greenspun is a dissident minority board member who disagrees with the business decision of the majority of the board.”

Speaking of spinning, the R-J also reported that Mahan said if there is a violation of antitrust laws, the U.S. Department of Justice or the Nevada attorney general can intervene.

But the Sun story said, “If the courts find the agreement between the three Greenspun siblings and Stephens Media violated antitrust laws, as Brian Greenspun contends, the Justice Department or the Nevada attorney general could intervene and stop the effort, Mahan noted.”

A letter of intent sent from Stephens Media to the Sun’s owners, who approved going forward with the shut down, agreed to terminate the current contract for the cost of $10, plus payment of $70,000 to each of the four Greenspun siblings and the transfer of the lasvegas.com URL. Apparently a previously proposed noncompete clause was not part of the letter, suggesting to some that one or more Greenspun might continue to operate the Sun website.

But the lawsuit from Brian Greenspun said, “Moreover, the true intent and purpose of the termination of the 2005 JOA is to close the Las Vegas Sun. If the Defendants’ actions are not enjoined, and Plaintiffs later prevail, any relief that the court could afford would be inadequate because the Las Vegas Sun would no longer be a viable print of online newspaper. Once closed, the Las Vegas Sun is unlikely to be reopened due to the loss of infrastructure necessary to produce and print its newspaper , the loss of its website to disseminate news and opinions online, and the loss of future capital with which to fund operations” — namely $1.3 million a year as Greenspun’s affidavit attests.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mahan rules from the bench at the Sept. 6 hearing that Greenspun has no standing, no case and no chance.

I wonder if Harry Reid will return Brian’s phone calls then.

Las Vegas Sun editor’s affidavit reveals depth of profit decline at both newspapers

In addition to misstating under oath the nature of the news series that won the Las Vegas Sun a Pulitzer in 2009, in his affidavit accompanying a lawsuit trying to stop the termination of the Sun, putative editor Brian Greenspun reveals the depths of the plunge of profits at both the Sun and the Review-Journal.

When the joint operating agreement between the Sun and R-J was renegotiated in 2005, I’m pretty sure the basis for payments to the Sun was almost entirely a straight percentage share of the profits of the R-J, with which Greenspun was to run an eight-page section that appeared inside the R-J daily. A copy of that contract was attached to the lawsuit, but the financial details were omitted.

This is what Greenspun’s affidavit reports on those payments:

From page 3 of Greenspun sworn affidavit.

From page 3 of Greenspun sworn affidavit.

Take my word for it, $1.3 million to run a newsroom in Las Vegas is meager indeed. If the Sun payment fell 90 percent, the R-J profit likely fell just as precipitously.

So what is the budget for the dominant R-J today, after excising a couple of centuries of newsroom experience, and higher salaries, of course, through termination of a dozen or so top editors?

Hank Greenspun

Today the R-J found an antitrust law professor to say what I told you on day one: The odds of Greenspun winning his legal fight to keep the Sun going is nil.

In addition to blowing the Pulitzer info, Greenspun, in arguing about the valuable journalism provided by the Sun, tossed in the old canard about the Sun fighting for “the safety of an entire section of the Las Vegas community placed in jeopardy by a politically-juiced propane tank that could level homes a mile away.” As per usual, he fails to mention the propane tank was owned by a business rival of his father Hank, a man who seldom missed a chance to use the Sun to further his own financial well-being.

Now, how did Hank get all that Green Valley land for a song? He paid $280 an acre for nearly 5,000 acres in 1971 and then turned around and sold much of it for $3,000 to $5,000 an acre. (Thanks for putting that on the record, A.D. Hopkins.)

Whether there is a non-compete clause in the termination of the Sun or not, and that is a matter as unresolved, without the R-Js $1.3 million financial teat for support, Greenspun forecasts the end of the Sun and its website:

Greenspun affidavit

Greenspun affidavit

Agreement would end the Las Vegas Sun in print and online

Perhaps the most interesting thing buried in that lawsuit filed by putative Las Vegas Sun editor Brian Greenspun in a vain attempt to halt the dissolution of the joint operating agreement with the owners’ of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that has kept the failing Sun limping along since 1989 is that non-compete clause, which would prevent Greenspun and his siblings from engaging in the local news business in print or online for five years.

The stories in the R-J and Sun on this matter are starkly different and even contradictory.

Brain Greenspun makes a futile gesture. (Jerry Henkel/Review-Journal File Photo)

According to the suit filed in federal district court seeking a restraining order, Stephens Media, owner of the R-J, offered to terminate the JOA as of Sept. 1 in exchange for the sum of $10. Each of the Greenspun siblings — Brian and his sisters Susan Greenspun Fine and Janie Greenspun Gale, and brother Danny Greenspun — would get $70,000. Additionally, each would get $25,000 for agreeing to not compete in print or online for five years in the “local news business.”

The family would also get ownership of lasvegas.com, which they currently rent from Stephens Media. They paid $12 million to acquire the rights to the URL and pay monthly fees of between $83,000 and $208,000. The Greenspuns would transfer rights to the lasvegassun.com URL to Stephens.

At a board of directors meeting two weeks ago all of the siblings except Brian Greenspun agreed to end the JOA. (Apparently, the non-compete clause was not put to a vote at the time, according to tweets by R-J reporter Howard Stutz, but the lawsuit mentions the non-compete pact a couple of times and includes a “confidential” email outlining the offer.)

Brian Greenspun’s suit is against Stephens Media and others but does not name his sisters and brother. It seeks, on antitrust grounds, to stop the deal from going through, arguing that under the deal defendants “will be able to put the Las Vegas Sun out of business and create a monopoly in the Las Vegas newspaper market. Closure of the Las Vegas Sun will result in irreparable harm that cannot be remedied with monetary damages.” Who would be harmed is not clearly stated.

Oddly, or perhaps not, the suit seems to be a bit self-contradictory about whether the lack of the Sun would leave the R-J in a monopoly position:

“In fact, given consumers’ increased reliance on technology in their everyday lives, the traditional printed newspaper has struggled in recent years and sales have dropped throughout the printed newspaper industry. Newspaper websites will be the likely successor to the traditional printed newspaper. Accordingly, print newspapers, including the Las Vegas Sun, have been focusing substantial time and effort on their websites and have become increasingly more reliant on their websites for dissemination of opinions and news.”

In fact, practically every local story in the Sun carries a disclaimer stating when it first appeared online — a mockery of the print version and the R-J, perhaps?

The lawsuit points out that a move to halt the termination of a JOA in Honolulu was enjoined by the courts. The suit doesn’t mention that the court case was made moot when one of the papers was sold and the JOA was dissolved anyway. In 2010 the two newspapers merged.

There have been nearly two dozen newspaper JOAs that have been dissolved since the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 basically waived antitrust law for newspapers.

One example, with which I am personally familiar, is the closing of the Miami News in 1989. The owners of the News were given a percent of the profit of the Miami Herald through 2021 in exchange for closing down. Of course, a percentage of zero is still zero. The same is probably true for the Las Vegas newspaper JOA, which was renegotiated in 2005. The Justice Department investigated the Miami deal for potential antitrust violations, but let it go through.

In 1999, an American Journalism Review article detailed the demise of a dozen or so newspaper JOAs in the previous decade and predicted more to come.

Greenspun’s suit claims “the closure of the Sun will likely result in an increase in the purchase price of the LVRJ and will put 200 Nevadans (Sun employees) out of work, further harming the public interest.” Shedding advertising-free newsprint page that contain days old local news and mostly syndicated features and columns would hardly increase the price of the R-J to subscribers, but it might make it more profitable and thus more valuable to a potential buyer.

When Harry Reid said to now R-J publisher Bob Brown, “I hope you go out of business,” I don’t think this was what he intended. At least his son Leif is getting some money out of this. He filed the suit for Greenspun. What a cozy group.

Brain Greenspun may succeed in slowing the process, but his chances of keeping the Sun alive are nil.

The suit: Greenspun v. Stephens

Newspaper still flunks math

Two weeks ago the Las Vegas newspaper flunked math by reporting that a proposed sales tax increase to hire more Metro cops would be a 0.15 percent increase.

Today the same reporter repeated the same error, which was not caught by any copy editor then or now.

No, the increase from 8.1 cents to 8.25 cents on the dollar is an increase of 1.85 percent. It is a 0.15 percentage-point increase, but not a 0.15 percent increase.

I guess they just don’t care enough about accuracy.

All the news that fits in print … sometimes takes a little longer

Talk about your slow motion train wreck.

The soap opera at the Las Vegas Review-Journal took an entire week to play out. So far, no one has fessed up as to what happened or why or who was kowtowing or just screwing up or who got the angry call from the congressman or who made what decision or when or who reversed it.

A week ago today, the newspaper posted online a story about Rep. Joe Heck defending his vote to allow the NSA to continue to secretly snoop, sans search warrant, on Americans’ phone calls. At first the story also mentioned a terse and tense exchange with a reporter over Heck’s son’s tweeting and saying, “Obama didn’t make the call to kill Osama. … That was the intelligence committee #iwouldknow.” Heck sits on that committee.


Shortly after the story was posted, one of the paper’s Washington reporters sent out a tweet saying, “@RepJoeHeck ends interview when reporter asks about son’s tweet. ‘You have really crossed the line.’” That tweet is still posted online next to the story, though the story still has no mention of the incident.

About an hour later or so, the story was revised and the entire exchange excised from the story, even though the son’s tweet had been mentioned in an R-J story earlier this summer and that tweet from the Washington reporter was still attached to the story.

The next morning no version of the story appeared in print whatsoever. But shortly before noon the paper posted a blog item, under “The Political Eye” heading, detailing the confrontation under the snarky headline: “When interviewing Joe Heck save Twitter questions for last.” That was the first blog posting under that heading since May 23.

On Wednesday, the expurgated story from Monday afternoon appeared on the back page of the B section and on page 3A there was a refer to the blog posting.

Today, a full week after the interview, the newspaper finally got around to printing in the paper, in a round-up of political items, the exchange with Heck over his son’s tweet ‚ almost word for word as the blog from six days ago.

No explanation.

No adult supervision?