The Las Vegas Review-Journal filed court papers Friday seeking to end a 30-year joint operating agreement with the Las Vegas Sun.
The Sun has breached its responsibilities, failing to abide by the requirement to “preserve high standards of newspaper quality,” and the business arrangement has become obsolete amid the dramatic changing face of journalism, the court papers allege.
Both parties “never conceived of the modern media landscape” in the digital world when they negotiated the deal, according to the court papers.
The filing alleges that the Sun withholds local news content in favor of wire service stories and uses its print edition to drive readers away from the companies’ joint print product and to the Sun’s website instead. Each news organization’s website operates outside the joint operating agreement.
“It is well-known that this is a challenging time for the print newspaper industry,” the court filing states. “Smart phones have given nearly every adult in America 24-7 internet access, fueling rapid exponential growth in online news and social media.”
The Sun has not yet had the opportunity to respond in court to the allegations. In response to a request for comment, Sun CEO, Publisher and Editor Brian Greenspun said Friday, “You need to read the Las Vegas Sun starting Sunday.”
Alan Stavitsky, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he is not surprised by the attempt to dissolve the joint operating agreement between the two newspapers.
“Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen the JOA as a concept kind of fade away with the struggles of the newspaper industry,” Stavitsky said. “This was sort of a valiant effort by Congress, almost a Hail Mary, to serve two-newspaper towns. But in the end it wasn’t to be.”
Benjamin Lipman, the Review-Journal’s general counsel and vice president for legal affairs, said the court filing in no way attempts to put the Sun out of business.
“Other Greenspun Media Group products, both online and in print, operate outside this agreement and have nothing to do with this lawsuit,” Lipman said. “In addition, the lawsuit requests that the court allow the Review-Journal to stop printing and distributing the Sun newspaper, but it does not seek to prohibit the Sun from publishing a newspaper on its own.”
The Las Vegas JOA was first struck in 1989 under the U.S. Newspaper Preservation Act to keep the failing Sun afloat and preserve its presence in Southern Nevada. The two newspapers merged their business operations but remained independent editorially.
For the first 16 years, the Review-Journal printed the Sun as an afternoon newspaper. Then, in a revised joint operating agreement in 2005, the Sun agreed to be distributed as a section in the morning Review-Journal. The agreement expires in 2040.
“Despite the changing times and onslaught of new competition, the Review-Journal has done all that it can to continue producing a high-quality printed paper for the Las Vegas community” the court papers say. “The Sun should have cooperated with the Review-Journal and taken all necessary steps to help improve their joint product and meet those challenges.”
“The 2005 agreement contractually requires the Sun to cooperate ‘in every reasonable way’ that will promote the creation of a successful joint product,” the filing says.
The Review-Journal filing is in response to a 2018 Sun complaint that raised concerns about the distribution of profits under the joint operating agreement and how the Sun is promoted in the joint newspaper.
The case is in front of District Judge Timothy Williams.