MEDIA
12/12/2015 01:23 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2015

Las Vegas Review-Journal Removes Questions About Newspaper’s New Mystery Owner

No one knows who owns Nevada's largest media outlet.
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal removed quotes from a Thursday night article about the newspaper's sale that questioned its new owner's decision to remain anonymous, according to a newsroom source.

Around midnight Thursday, publisher Jason Taylor had editors remove a quote from Michael Schroeder, manager for News + Media Capital Group LLC, the undisclosed financial backers taking over the paper. In the original version, Schroeder, who also runs four community papers as president and CEO of Central Connecticut Publishing, was quoted telling Review-Journal staffers at a Thursday meeting that they shouldn't worry about the identities of the owners.

The original article also included quotes from editor Michael Hengel expressing concerns about the secretive ownership arrangement.

Taylor did not respond to requests for comment from The Huffington Post. Hengel also did not respond. 

The quotes appeared briefly online, but were later removed from the version of the story on the paper's website. The original version also appeared in early print editions that had already gone to press, according to a copy obtained by HuffPost.

It reads:

Schroeder said News + Media does not own his newspapers or any other publications. When asked, he would not disclose the company’s investors.

“They want you to focus on your jobs … don’t worry about who they are,” Schroeder said.

Review-Journal Editor Michael Hengel noted the lack of disclosure.

“The questions that were not answered Thursday are 1) Who is behind the new company, and 2) What are their expectations?" Hengel said.

During a Friday staff meeting, Taylor took responsibility for pulling the quotes and explained that he was involved with this particular story because it dealt directly with the paper, according to a newsroom source who is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The late-night editorial tweak only adds to the mystery surrounding the sale of Nevada's largest media outlet. 

It's highly unusual for a newspaper owner to remain secret. Typically, wealthy buyers of newspapers want the public clout that comes with owning a media outlet, and journalists around the country expressed surprise at word of a secret ownership.

There has been speculation about the backers' motivations and identities, including whether billionaire casino mogul and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson could be involved in the sale. (An Adelson representative did not respond to a request for comment.)

The mysterious ownership structure could also lead to Review-Journal reporters unknowingly wading into conflicts of interest if covering businesses owned by the undisclosed backers. The lack of disclosure appears hypocritical given newspapers' traditional role of seeking transparency from others.

Another curious aspect of the sale was that the news owners paid significantly more for the Review-Journal than the previous owners just seven months ago. In March, New Media Investment Group bought the Review-Journal's parent company, Stephens Media LLC, for $102.5 million, a deal that included eight daily papers and 65 weekly papers spread across the country. On Friday night, the Review-Journal reported that the new owners paid $140 million for the Review-Journal and several smaller Nevada papers. 

"The amount points to investors with deep pockets and a perhaps even deeper desire to own Nevada's biggest newspaper even though the paper's revenues, like those of all print publications, have been in decline," wrote the Review-Journal's James DeHaven.

Even as ownership changes, the day-to-day operations are expected to remain the same. The Review-Journal reported that GateHouse Media, a subsidiary of previous owner New Media Investment Group, would continue running the paper under its new owner. 

Several media watchers, including NYU professor Jay Rosen, questioned the timing of the purchase given that it's election season. 

"One of the first thoughts I had was: Nevada is an early primary state. The Review-Journal is the largest newspaper in the state. Was it sold to a player in that event, or people who want to be players?" Rosen asked. "That slightly conspiratorial thought may be way off base. Of course, there is no way to know as long as the ownership remains hidden. That's the point."

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