Paper acquired, questions of ownership persist

For the second time this year, the Boulder City Review, along with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and its sister publications in Nevada are under new ownership.

The publications were acquired Dec. 10 by News + Media Capital Group LLC, a newly formed Delaware-domiciled company backed by “undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry,” Michael Schroeder, who was identified as the manager of News + Media, said at an employee meeting last week.

News + Media Capital Group LLC paid $140 million for the Review-Journal, the largest media outlet in the state with a Sunday circulation of 184,000 and an average of 10.5 million monthly Web page views, along with five weekly newspapers: Boulder City Review; Pahrump Valley Times; Tonopah Times Bonanza; Las Vegas Business Press; Luxury Las Vegas Magazine; Best of Las Vegas; and the lasvegas.com website.

That’s around $38 million more than New Media Investment Group paid in March for 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. And pressure to reveal themselves has been growing steadily since the sale was announced.

Schroeder has declined to disclose the company’s investors, as has Boulder City Review and Las Vegas Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor. Michael Reed, CEO of GateHouse Media, the newspaper’s former owners and firm that will continue to manage the Nevada publications, did not respond to questions about the sale.

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.

 

‘No excuse’

 

One of the country’s largest and oldest journalism organizations has joined a growing chorus of reporters, readers and media watchdogs calling on the papers’s new owners to reveal themselves.

The Society of Professional Journalists — a 7,500-member advocacy group that promotes First Amendment and media ethics causes — said in a statement Tuesday there was “no excuse” for the newspaper’s owners to hide their identities.

“The Society’s Code of Ethics stresses that those engaged in journalism need to be accountable and transparent,” SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman said in a statement. “We now expect that of those behind News + Media Capital Group LLC.”

Media watchdogs have expressed similar concern. Not disclosing ownership, they said, raises ethical questions about how reporters can possibly disclose conflicts of interest with the company that signs their paychecks.

“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.”

National Public Radio media reporter David Folkenflik on Tuesday tweeted a quote, attributed to Reed, likening News + Media’s anonymous investors to those behind other major media companies and adding “the journalists in those companies don’t seem to be undermined.”

 

Speculation grows

The inflated purchase price has fueled speculation and denials surrounding the newspaper’s new owners, much of which has centered around Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN and a half-dozen online media outlets have speculated about Adelson’s involvement. Adelson, a mega-donor to GOP candidates and causes, has declined comment to all.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in Washington on Tuesday told reporters he suspects — but has no evidence — that Adelson is the secretive buyer.

So far, only billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun have ruled themselves out of a group of 10 to 12 investors thought to be possibly behind the purchase.

Sources close to Stephens Media LLC’s March sale to GateHouse Media have confirmed that Adelson, working through intermediaries, was one of several bidders, offering to buy only the company’s holdings in Nevada.

Schroeder has said his company had been looking to buy the Review-Journal “for six to eight months” before the deal was announced last week. Taylor, who became GateHouse’s publisher in Las Vegas in July, has said he learned of the News + Media interest in late summer or early fall, about the time that the new company was incorporated in Delaware.

“I think Las Vegas is a great market that has recovered tremendously,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity here.”

Schroeder is president, publisher and chief executive of Central Connecticut Publishing, which owns four community newspapers in that state. He was a news editor and manager of editorial technology at Newsday, a daily paper on Long Island, N.Y., from 1983 to 1992. He also worked for the now-closed Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register.

 

Odd parallel

 

Media reports in 2009, when Schroeder bought the Central Connecticut newspapers, show an odd parallel to his current involvement with News + Media.

According to a report in the Waterbury, Conn., Republican American, Schroeder said he learned those newspapers were on the market through an “investor friend,” and that he “repeatedly declined to name the investor, but described him as a ‘friend’ who wants to remain a silent partner. Details of the deal, including the sale price, were not disclosed.”

Attempts to reach Schroeder for comment at his suite at Las Vegas Sands’ Venetian resort were unsuccessful Friday, but public records show other clues leading in Adelson’s direction.

Schroeder, the only public face of News + Media, has been associated with Russel Pergament. Both were executives at BostonNOW, a defunct free daily newspaper in Adelson’s hometown.

Pergament, BostonNOW’s publisher and CEO, is CEO of NAN Holdings, a Massachusetts venture capital fund that helped finance the startup of Jewish News Service.

JNS has an exclusive agreement to distribute content from Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper owned by Adelson. Both JNS and Israel Hayom have been widely criticized for a perceived tilt in favor of far-right Israeli politicians.

Pergament has not responded to requests for comment.

 

GateHouse management

 

GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis said no changes are planned in the current operations of the newspaper. Davis said New Media Investment was not looking to sell the Review-Journal and its Nevada holdings, but the deal was in the best interest of the company’s shareholders.

“This is a dynamic period in the newspaper industry and our company has been very aggressive toward acquisitions,” Davis said. “(Selling the Review-Journal) was not part of our plan, but this was a good opportunity for our shareholders.”

Davis said the Nevada newspapers are the first outlets GateHouse will manage for a company other than New Media Investment.

“We look at this as a possible new business model,” said Davis, who told employees he hoped the management agreement would be long-term.

Howard Stutz and Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven. Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter. Contact Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Find her on Twitter: @_JRobison.

 

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