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Reporters in Las Vegas Try to Crack Case of Who Owns Their Newspaper

The New York Times logo The New York Times 12/15/2015 By RAVI SOMAIYA
The Las Vegas Review-Journal, where only the most senior executives know the owner’s identity. © Ronda Churchill for The New York Times The Las Vegas Review-Journal, where only the most senior executives know the owner’s identity.

Journalists at The Las Vegas Review-Journal described the newsroom as somber and confused on Monday, as a seemingly simple question remained unanswered: Who bought the newspaper for $140 million in cash last week?

Several of the paper’s journalists used Twitter to offer protests against the new owner’s lack of transparency, including a number who sent messages that linked to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which includes a section on transparency.

One journalist from The Review-Journal, who spoke, like others, on the condition of anonymity in order to describe a tense situation, said it was difficult to demand transparency from the people and institutions the paper reported on when their organization was not being forthright itself.

Other reporters were working on uncovering the identity of the buyer; an article that sought to explore the paper’s ownership was submitted but not published, according to two people familiar with the situation.

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And so the mystery remained unresolved. It began late last week, when New Media Investment Group, the company that had bought The Review-Journal as part of a package of newspapers for $102 million this year, announced it had sold the paper. A company called News + Media Capital Group L.L.C. paid $140 million for The Review-Journal, and some other assets, New Media said, a price seven times adjusted earnings and very generous for a newspaper that is fighting steep, industrywide declines. 

A subsequent article on the website of The Review-Journal about the sale last week was edited after it was published to remove references to the buyer’s identity being unknown. The paper’s publisher, Jason Taylor, speaking to reporters in the break room on Friday, defended the decision, but his answers did not appear to placate the staff.

News + Media Capital Group was incorporated in Delaware on Sept. 21, according to its certificate of formation. Named on the documents is Michael Schroeder, described as a manager of the company. Mr. Schroeder, a Connecticut resident, is also chief executive, editor and publisher of The New Britain Herald and The Bristol Press, among other local publications.

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

The paper will continue to be managed by Gatehouse Media, a subsidiary of New Media Investment Group. All but the company’s most senior executives and those most directly involved with the paper are unaware of the new owner’s identity, said a person with knowledge of the matter.

Both Mr. Taylor and the paper’s editor, Michael Hengel, directed all inquiries to the chief executive of New Media Investment Group, Michael E. Reed. Mr. Reed declined to comment, and suggested calling Mr. Schroeder.

Because the newspaper is a prominent platform in a key electoral state, some wondered whether there could be a political motive behind its purchase. Some in political and media circles suggested that the casino magnate and billionaire political backer Sheldon Adelson could be behind the change in ownership, but representatives for Mr. Adelson did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment on Monday. (Through a spokesman, the Republican donors Charles and David Koch publicly denied to Fortune magazine that they had any role in the purchase.)

Even presidential contenders were left to wonder. Jeb Bush met for an hour with The Review-Journal’s editorial board on Monday. The only question left unanswered after the meeting, he said in a Twitter message, was “Who owns the newspaper?” That message was then reposted by the newspaper’s own Twitter account.


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