December 11, 2015 - 8:35 pm
Thursday’s sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal left staffers, and readers, with a lot of questions.
Perhaps foremost among them: Who now owns Nevada’s largest newspaper.
Answers remain unclear.
What is known: News + Media Capital Group LLC — a newly formed Delaware-domiciled company backed by “undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry” — paid $140 million for the Review-Journal and its sister publications.
That’s around $38 million more than New Media Investment Group paid for the all of Stephens Media LLC, a national chain of newspapers that included the Review-Journal, eight other dailies and 65 weekly newspapers. 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.
Who was willing to buy remains a secret.
News + Media manager Michael Schroeder has declined to disclose the company’s investors, as has Las Vegas Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor.
In discussions with employees, Taylor has said only that News + Media has multiple owner/investors, that some are from Las Vegas, and that in face-to-face meetings he has been assured that the group will not meddle in the newspaper’s editorial content.
A trio of media watchdogs contacted by the Review-Journal expressed concern over the newspaper’s shadowy new owners.
Not disclosing ownership, they said, raises ethical questions about how reporters can possibly disclose conflicts of interest with the company that signs their paychecks.
The timing of the transaction might also raise a question about the new owners’ possible political motivations.
“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?,” asked media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen. “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.”
Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, said you may have to go back a century or so to find an example of a similar nondisclosure in newspaper ownership.
“I believe it happened, for example, with Hearst papers, when Hearst (was) moving into a city (where it) might face public opposition, e.g.,” Benton wrote in an email Friday. “But I think you’re right to raise the ethical question. The decisions of any newspaper should be open to judgment by readers and the public, and those judgments are hampered if the public doesn’t know who the owners are.
“Journalists should be able to evaluate whether their ownership is having an influence on the paper’s content.”
Contact James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.