Las Vegas editor out as details emerge about judge story

Sheldon Adelson in 2010 (photo via Wikipedia)
Sheldon Adelson in 2010 (photo via Wikipedia)

The editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the paper that was recently purchased in secret by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has resigned, The New York Times reports. Michael Hengel “described his decision to leave as ‘mutual’ and said he did not believe he was forced out,” according to a brief item in the Review-Journal.

In an editorial posted Tuesday night, the “new owners”—Adelson is not mentioned by name—pledge to invest in the paper and “to publish a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.” The paper’s archive of recent tough articles and editorials about the new ownership appears to be intact, including this blockbuster about a judge who had angered Adelson.

According to the story, Review-Journal reporters were ordered to scrutinize Nevada county judge Elizabeth Gonzalez during the weeks leading up to the sale of the paper, a period when Adelson’s interest was not known. Later, a lengthy story that was critical of the judge appeared in Connecticut’s New Britain Herald, a tiny daily owned by Michael Schroeder, a business associate of Adelson’s and a former top executive at BostonNOW, a now-defunct free tabloid.

If you just can’t get enough, Matthew Kauffman has a fascinating story in today’s Hartford Courant. Among other things, several people quoted in the New Britain Herald article say they were never contacted, and the reporter whose byline appears on the article may or may not actually exist.

Timothy Pratt has a good overview of the whole situation at the Columbia Journalism Review. He quotes me, and yes, we did talk.

Frankly, I think a lot of us have been expecting either mass firings or mass resignations. We’ll have to see what kind of newspaper owner Adelson proves to be—although, as I told Pratt, he is not off to a good start. The Review-Journal staff, on the other hand, has proven itself to be enterprising and courageous in the face of a serious threat to the paper’s independence and integrity.

Update: Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward reports that “Adelson’s family foundation is the largest single funder behind JNS.org, a Jewish news service that serves a growing number of American Jewish news organizations.”

JNS’s publisher is Russel Pergament, a former Real Paper advertising and circulation executive and the founder of BostonNOW.

Previous coverage:

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.

Connecticut newspapers in Mark Twain’s court

Paige Compositor. For more photos (including Mark Twain in Legos!), click on image.

Last week I had a chance to attend the premiere of “On Deadline: Is Time Running Out for the Press?”, a documentary about the near-death and uncertain rescue of the Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald, both in Connecticut.

The papers were owned by the Journal Register Co., which, as it was entering bankruptcy in late 2008, threatened to shut them down if a buyer couldn’t be found. (The company, whose largest Connecticut paper is the New Haven Register, exited bankruptcy in August 2009.) The papers were saved by Michael Schroeder, 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.

The future of the Press and the Herald is by no means certain; Schroeder made that clear in both the film and in a subsequent panel discussion. But at least the papers have a path forward. The film itself, by John and Rosemary Keogh O’Neill, was enjoyable and worth seeing if you ever get a chance, though I found the drama over the papers’ fate more compelling than the overly nostalgic views of the newspaper business that were expressed by the principals. (Here is the trailer.)

In a delicious irony, the film made its debut at the Mark Twain House, in Hartford, a shrine to a great writer who, among other things, nearly went bankrupt because of his own involvement with the newspaper business. In the 1880s Samuel Clemens sank a fortune into the Paige Compositor, which he believed would make him a very wealthy man, given that it was 60 percent faster than the Linotype machine. The Paige, though, was prone to breakdowns, and it never caught on.

Technology has always been an issue in the newspaper business. It was the rise of cheap, high-speed presses in the 1830s that created the daily newspaper business as we know it. And, of course, it’s technology that is now rapidly ushering us into the post-newspaper age.