MEDIA
01/04/2016 08:00 pm ET

Las Vegas Review-Journal Staff Balks At Limits On Covering New Owner

A staff meeting on how the paper covers itself played out live on Twitter.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Las Vegas Review-Journal staffers expressed frustration Monday after New Media Investment Group, the company managing the newspaper, brought in a Rhode Island editor to help establish guidelines for how the paper covers itself, the latest twist in a nearly four-week drama inside Nevada's largest media outlet. 

Yet even as management tried taking more control of how the paper reports on its own transactions and new owner, billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, features editor Stephanie Grimes opted for the level of transparency that's come to be expected from the Review-Journal newsroom. She live-tweeted the staff meeting. 

Dave Butler, executive editor of the Providence Journal, a New Media paper, told staff that the paper needed to reach a point at which it didn't disclose Adelson's ownership in articles anymore because readers were already sufficiently aware of his involvement.

Adelson's interests are bound to come up in numerous Review-Journal stories given his major role in the gaming industry as chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his role in politics as one of the Republican party's biggest backers. Grimes tweeted that reporters responded with "concern that transparency means being clear about owner when owner may have vested interest in what we're covering."

In the Monday meeting, Butler also mentioned local TV outlets' ability to cover court cases involving Adelson, which some staffers took to imply the Review-Journal should avoid reporting on them. Butler said the Review-Journal should not look like it's "out to get our owner" through its ongoing coverage, according to Grimes' tweets. He also said the paper risked looking "churlish" in the process, according to a newsroom source not authorized to speak publicly. 

In an email to The Huffington Post, Butler pushed back against the suggestion he instructed Review-Journal staffers to ease up on their new owner. 

"I didn't suggest letting up," Butler wrote. "I said there is a balance for all coverage and we ought never want to look churlish. That's why we're working very transparently to see what procedures should be set up to follow [to] ensure the promises have been followed."

Review-Journal reporters succeeded last month in revealing key details about the paper's secret sale to Adelson. But the newsroom was shaken soon after by the abrupt resignation of Michael Hengel. And now publisher Jason Taylor -- who literally stopped the presses to remove unflattering quotes in an early story on the murky sale -- is requiring that journalists get written permission before publishing articles about the paper. (Adelson has kept on New Media Investment Group, the Review-Journal's previous owners, to continue managing the paper after purchasing it.)

During Monday's meeting, Review-Journal staffers pointed to the paper's Dec. 20 front-page editorial as their starting point for discussing disclosure policies, according to the source. The editorial signaled that Review-Journal reporters would not limit disclosure. 

"We'll disclose their ownership of the Review-Journal when covering the gaming industry, when government actions affect their properties, when Las Vegas Sands and its subsidiaries have business in the courts, and even when we're reviewing or previewing shows, restaurants and events at their properties," the editorial read. "We'll disclose candidates and office holders who've received political contributions from the Adelsons. And if a story might cast a Las Vegas Sands competitor in poor light, we'll disclose our ownership in that case, as well. We'll disclose, disclose, disclose. That way, you can be the judge of whether we're being fair or whether we've become a micromanaged public relations tool."

Glenn Cook, a senior editorial writer, said during Monday's meeting that "the mere discussion of limiting disclosure is going to make reporters wonder do I even write this thing," according to Grimes' tweets. 

Grimes, too, indicated there's a gulf right now between the newsroom and management. 

Staffers first learned of Butler's arrival in Las Vegas after Politico initially reported he was joining as "interim editor." That article was later changed to reflect Butler's role in helping establish guidelines for covering the paper and Adelson's business interests.

"My role here is spend a few days to help them set up some industry standard guidelines," Butler told HuffPost. "Nothing more."

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