Vegas newspapers back in court in joint operations dispute

Business News

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The rival daily newspapers in Nevada’s largest city are trading new broadsides in their years-long legal fight over one of the last remaining joint-operating agreements in the U.S.

Attorneys for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun went before a federal magistrate judge Tuesday to argue pretrial motions in an ongoing antitrust lawsuit.

The Review-Journal is accusing Brian Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, of offering to accept a $20 million buyout and quit publishing his newspaper in 2016, after the Review-Journal was bought in December 2015 by the family of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

“When the Adelsons refused to pay,” a Monday court filing alleged, “Mr. Greenspun retaliated by sabotaging the joint Review Journal/Sun newspaper and diverting readers to his separate online news product,” which is not part of the joint-operating pact.

The Sun, in a separate recent filing in the case before U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, accused the Review-Journal of concealing from the public and the court that Adelson himself has operational control of the Review-Journal.

Sun attorney Leif Reid on Tuesday called that a strategy to protect the billionaire casino mogul, to prevent questioning by Sun attorneys and to gain an advantage in the antitrust case.

“He’s the publisher of the Review-Journal,” Reid said. “They’ve kept that from readers.”

Some Review-Journal stories, particularly about business and the casino industry, end with italicized disclaimers saying the paper “is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.” Adelson is not identified on the Review-Journal opinion page, and J. Keith Moyer heads the masthead list of the newspaper’s executives as publisher and editor.

Since the Sun filed its federal lawsuit in September 2019, “the RJ has taken the position that Mr. Adelson … has no real role in its daily operations and publications,” the Sun’s Nov. 25 court filing said.

“For the first time on October 14, 2020, the RJ disclosed a damning and critical document — an employment agreement — demonstrating that defendant Sheldon Adelson is not just a semi-interested owner,” it said. “He is the co-publisher of the newspaper.”

Benjamin Lipman, Review-Journal vice president and general counsel, said Adelson’s role in the Review-Journal is no secret.

“The Adelson family has control of the newspaper. Neither they nor he exercise any daily control over what we do,” Lipman said.

Both sides accuse the other of sham court actions in battles waged since before the afternoon Sun and morning Review-Journal entered a joint-operating agreement in 1989.

The Review-Journal owns the printing presses and distributes the Sun as a section within its daily newspaper, the largest in the state. Sunday circulation was 86,000 in June 2019, according to court documents from the Review-Journal.

The Sun won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for public service for an investigation of construction deaths during a building boom on the Las Vegas Strip. It characterizes itself as “a left-leaning editorial voice.”

Adelson is a top Republican Party financial donor who also owns newspapers in Israel. The Review-Journal was one of few U.S. newspapers to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016. Its editorial page leans conservative and Libertarian.

The Review-Journal published a front-page editorial in August 2019 titled, “Why we want to stop printing the Sun.” It called the joint-operating contract a “relic” and accused the Sun of failing to meet its contractual obligation to produce “a high-quality metropolitan print newspaper.”

Both entities operate pay-to-view online news sites.

Their operating agreement was amended in 2005 to require each newspaper to bear its own editorial costs and the Review-Journal to share profits with the Sun. The pact is set to expire in 2040.

The Review-Journal maintains in Monday’s filing that the amended agreement was never ratified as required by the U.S. Department of Justice, and asks Navarro to let it terminate the deal.

Greenspun alleges the Review-Journal has tried to kill the Sun for years, and the fight became more bitter after the Adelson family and News+Media Capital Group purchased the Review-Journal five years ago.

Lipman has denied the Review-Journal wants to shut down the Sun, but says the Sun should be editorially self-sufficient.

The Sun accuses the Review-Journal of withholding agreed-upon revenues in a bid to starve the Sun out of existence.

In a separate lawsuit, a state court judge last February upheld an arbitrator’s finding that the Review-Journal owes at least $1.9 million in a profits-and-costs dispute over two years of operations. The amount has not been paid pending federal and Nevada Supreme Court action. Interest is accruing at more than $250 per day.

Joint-operating agreements once were common for newspapers, but only a handful of U.S. cities still have them, according to the News Media Alliance trade group. Others include York, Pennsylvania, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Detroit. A JOA involving the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News expired in December.

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