Brian Greenspun, 66, is the son of legendary newspaper magnate Hank Greenspun, a one-time publicist for gangster Bugsy Siegel. Greenspun
started the Las Vegas Sun bought the paper that then became the Sun back in 1950. Initially, the Sun did quite well, and through the years the Greenspun family, Hank and Barbara, and their four children, was rolling in money.
Not just from the newspaper. The family invested in casinos, sold a cable company for $1.3 billion, backed lucrative real estate deals, and held onto the Sun, which at one point fiercely competed with the R-J in the kind of old-fashion newspaper war they used to make movies about.
But over the years, the Greenspun’s fortunes changed, especially after the economy imploded in 2009. Hank died in 1989. His wife, Barbara, died 21 years later and now—like many newspaper families—the siblings are squabbling over their paper’s future.
“I watched my parents fight every day to keep this paper alive,” Brian Greenspun said. “Certainly to keep the R-J from having a monopoly. It would not be doing justice to my parents if I gave in to the rest of the family. It’s hard to tell what my siblings feel, if they feel anything. They certainly don’t care about the newspaper.”
Some say it doesn’t matter whether the Sun is printed because it has a healthy Web presence. It publishes, on average, four times more stories online than in the paper, according to Tom Gorman, the Sun’s executive editor.
“For news junkies it is always a sad day when a newspaper folds, but, sadly, the average person in Las Vegas would not notice the Sun’s disappearance,” said Hausch. “Many who read the Sun now do so for the columns from The New York Times and other syndicated copy. They can find that elsewhere.”
Danny Greenspun, 59, says he only reads the Sun online. He says his brother’s suit is based on a false premise that terminating the JOA would end the Sun.
“No one from the family has commented on what happens to the Sun after the deal,” Brian Greenspun said at the SPJ meeting. “Financially we are better off after this deal is done. Should we choose to continue the Sun or not will be a financial decision. It’s not up to Stephens. It’s not up to the Department of Justice.”
Greenspun Media also prints Vegas, Inc ,The Las Vegas Weekly and other publications.
“If the Sun disappears it will be because of a decision made by the Greenspun family, not because the JOA has been dissolved,” said Hausch. “They could turn their Las Vegas Weekly alternative paper into the Weekly Sun and reaffirm a previous commitment to report stories not being told by the R-J or local television news. There are plenty of those.”
JOAs require Justice Department approval to terminate them. The department has been notified but can’t do anything until there is a written agreement between the two parties, and no one is saying when that might be.
“Brian is using the antitrust angle as a way to block dissolving the JOA,” said analyst Morton. “Generally the Justice Department will acquiesce if a paper is really a significant drag on earnings. The Justice Department will probably acquiesce on what the majority of the family wants to do. But it could turn out differently.”
Brian Greenspun wants to keep the paper going. His siblings appear happy to end the JOA.
“Their mother died a few years ago and she was very committed to the paper,” said Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada. “The question is how committed should the kids be? The paper has always been nearer and dearer to Brian’s heart.”
If the JOA ends, it could mean about 100 reporters and editors are out of a job. Gorman, the Sun’s editor, doesn’t think that will happen.
“Brian has a great passion for preserving and continuing his father’s legacy,” Gorman said. “I can’t imagine a Las Vegas without a Brian Greenspun newsroom operating here.”
Brian claims ending the JOA is a violation of antitrust laws and that the Sun couldn’t operate without the JOA.
Danny Greenspun disputes his brother’s contention that without the print Sun, the family couldn’t afford to keep the website.
“That’s the opposite of the truth,” he said. “We would have more money for the website. We’ve always spent more on our newsroom than the R-J ‘s ($1.3 million) reimbursement. To say the print is keeping the Web alive is false. Greenspun Media has been adding additional funding to the Sun in order to fund the operation of both print and Web.”