Las Vegas Review-Journal backtracks on ownership disclosure

Just last week, Glenn Cook, the interim editor of the embattled Las Vegas Review-Journal, told me, with some pride, that “there is no daily newspaper in America more transparent about ownership and potential conflicts than the Review-Journal.” He was referring, first and foremost, to a standing disclosure about the paper’s ownership by the family of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson that was linked prominently on the paper’s homepage and ran daily in the print edition.

Today, if you know the URL, you can still find the disclosure online. But it is no longer linked from the top of the homepage, and it is no longer in the print edition. 

The change was ordered by the paper’s new publisher, Craig Moon, a former top executive at USA Today. Moon, who joined the Review-Journal yesterday, told a Las Vegas Sun reporter that while the R-J will continue to disclose its ownership in stories on a case-by-case basis, the standing disclosure statement was “overkill.”

According to the story in the Sun, which is the city’s other local daily and a business partner of the Review-Journal through a joint operating agreement, Moon “argued that most newspaper owners have other financial interests and do not disclose them every day.”

Of course, most owners don’t take possession of a paper in circumstances like those surrounding the Adelsons’ purchase of the R-J. And most owners’ interests aren’t as tightly connected to their papers’ core coverage area. The disclosure statement that the R-J had prominently featured includes this description of those connections:

The Adelsons are majority owners of publicly traded Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian, Palazzo and the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas as well as hotel-casinos in Pennsylvania, Singapore and Macau, China.

The Adelsons are large contributors to political candidates and political action committees in Nevada and around the United States. The Adelsons own Israel Hayom, a daily newspaper in Israel.

They’re also philanthropists who, through their foundations, support a number of charitable initiatives, including medical research and Israeli causes.

Now, there’s another major Adelson interest to account for: Las Vegas Sands is behind plans to build a domed football stadium near the UNLV campus, and Adelson is expected to meet with the owner of the Oakland Raiders in an apparent bid to woo the team. These developments are the subject of a news article and an enthusiastic column on the R-J site. (Both include a brief disclosure about ownership at the bottom.)

The standing disclaimer, and a protocol for disclosure within stories, were the basis for Cook’s recent claim that the R-J was “the most transparent newsroom” in America, after several months of controversy and chaos surrounding its new ownership. That transparency, Cook told me, would be key to attracting and retaining “ethical and talented journalists,” as Adelson’s bankroll allowed the paper to make plans for hiring dozens of new staffers.

Cook did not immediately respond today to an email requesting comment about the change.

Moon, via email, confirmed that he made the decision about the standing disclosure statement. “If I had been publisher at the time, the statement would never have… been approved,” he added.

My attempts to reach R-J staffers today about the removal of the standing disclaimer weren’t successful.

But Jay Rosen, a media critic and journalism professor who has been following the Review-Journal situation for months on his blog, described the shift in policy as a “significant change to the agreement” made between the paper’s leadership and the newsroom.

When the sale of the paper was first made public, it came with an announcement that the daily management of the R-J would still be handled by GateHouse Media—and the paper’s outgoing publisher, Jason Taylor, was appointed by GateHouse.

But the broader context of this week’s events, Rosen said, appears to be a “divorce” between the R-J and GateHouse, whose role will be limited to services like circulation—and, he said, “a sign of tightening control by the Adelsons.”

This story has been updated to add additional comment from publisher Craig Moon.

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Timothy Pratt is a journalist based in the Atlanta area. He has written for The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, and many other publications. He also lived in Las Vegas and worked for the Las Vegas Sun from 2001-2009.