Notes on the bizarre ownership situation in Las Vegas

Michael Schroeder, who has some involvement in the mysterious sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was the subject of a puffy documentary five years ago after he saved Connecticut’s New Britain Herald and Bristol Press from extinction. The trailer for the film, On Deadline: Is Time Running Out on the Press?, is still up at YouTube (above).

The New Britain and Bristol papers were being sold off at the time by the bankrupt Journal Register chain, whose Connecticut flagship was the New Haven Register. Journal Register later acquired a charismatic chief executive, John Paton, who renamed the expanded company Digital First Media. The chain went into bankruptcy again, emerged again, and is now in the process of being downsized and sold off.

Schroeder, I wrote in 2010, was a veteran newspaper executive who, among other things, was a top executive at BostonNOW, a free tabloid that until its demise competed with Metro Boston. Schroeder attended the premiere of On Deadline, held at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and in a brief conversation I found him to be affable and seemingly committed to the future of his papers. (Indeed, he still owns them.)

Now, according to New York Times media reporter Ravi Somaiya, Schroeder has emerged as a manager of News + Media Capital Group, which was incorporated in Delaware on September 21 and which purchased the Las Vegas paper last week. Somaiya writes:

Reached at his office Monday, he [Schroeder] was willing to talk about the state of the newspaper industry, but declined to comment on the identity of the buyer or buyers, or discuss anything else about the situation at The Review-Journal.

Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post has been all over the story, reporting, among other things, that Review-Journal staff members have been tweeting out their frustration at the ethics of a newspaper company’s not revealing who its investors are. Nigel Duara of the Los Angeles Times has a good piece (link now fixed) on the situation as well. Even Jeb Bush has gotten in on the action:

Here’s what we know. New Media, a sister company of GateHouse Media, purchased the Review-Journal last March and sold it last week along with several smaller papers to News + Media for $140 million, which seems to be universally regarded as well in excess of what the properties are actually worth. GateHouse will continue to operate the paper. A toothsome story about the sale in the Review-Journal was defanged, HuffPost‘s Calderone revealed.

The guessing is that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is the likely buyer. But I’m going to throw out another possibility. New Media/GateHouse—which last week quietly acquired the parent company of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (the press release I’ve linked to also announces the Las Vegas sale)—may be trying out yet another ownership scheme, taking on new investors as it continues buying up media properties across the country.

Lest we forget, New Media/GateHouse, headquartered in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, now owns and operates the overwhelming majority of daily and weekly community papers in Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including the Providence Journal, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, and many, many others. Company officials have always preferred to operate in the dark.

Worth keeping an eye on.