With the Adelsons selling Las Vegas properties, what about the Review-Journal?

Review-JournalNow that tycoon Sheldon Adelson has died at age 87, his family-controlled Las Vegas Sands Corp. has announced the sale of its local hotel and convention properties for a whopping $6.25 billion. The only thing left with the family here in town will be the Las Vegas Review-Journal, bought in 2015 at a price so exorbitant that it prompted speculation it was purchased partly as an insurance policy to keep a lid on unflattering local coverage.

But with the Adelsons abandoning their Las Vegas operations, any need for any local insurance will pass. Which raises the question: What kind of a future does the RJ have?

This is all sheer speculation by me. But the overall problems nationally in the newspaper industry were well known even before the pandemic removed much paid advertising. Right up the road, Salt Lake City lost the daily print edition of both its daily newspapers on January 1. Here in Las Vegas I imagine there are large financial losses–the RJ‘s print circulation has dropped something like 70% in six years to maybe 70,000 now. So it’s not hard to envision a dramatic change in the paper’s ownership or operation.

A possible buyer might be one of several bottom-fishing hedge funds that buy newspapers and then make large staff reductions.The Adelsons, who paid a whopping $140 million for the paper (and then unsuccessful tried to keep their ownership secret), might have to take a $100-million-plus loss on the deal, but could get part of that back offsetting profits elsewhere. The family won’t starve, and a sale would stem the bleeding. On the Adelson watch, the RJ has been one of the few newspapers to actually hire reporters (albeit, some of them writing critically about family rivals). So a new owner might see “fat” to be cut.

Perhaps there is some nervousness among the rank and file at 1111 West Bonanza Road.

This may or may not be related. But at the end of her weekly column on Sunday, Debra J. Saunders, the RJ’s White House correspondent, announced she was leaving the paper, apparently immediately. She didn’t give much of a reason.

After 30-plus years writing for daily newspapers, four years covering Trump and five weeks covering Biden, I am out of gas. Covering Trump was like riding a roller coaster, and covering Biden looks like running a marathon after a roller coaster ride. Thanks for joining me on the roller coaster. I’m getting off here.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not sure what’s next — a return to journalism or something different. But first, I plan a month or two to sleep, read and recharge. Then I can decide about the next ride.

Saunders had been hired to cover the White House in 2016 as Donald J. Trump was arriving, in what struck me at the time as yet another conduit between Adelson, a big Trump backer, and Trump. Saunders was a well-known conservative who wrote more sympathetically about Trump and his policies than many other members of the White House press corps. But she was plugged into a different network of sources, so that sometimes made her copy interesting as a bellwether of right-wing thought. I will miss her reports here at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters.

Contributing significantly to RJ losses–and perhaps making it harder to unload the paper–is the RJ‘s joint operating agreement with the Las Vegas Sun, owned by the more liberal Greenspun family. Unless something is renegotiated–or the whole thing collapses–until 2040 the RJ is required to pay for printing and distribution of the Sun as an ad-free eight-to-12-page insert in the paper. For the Adelsons this has become a giant sinkhole. The Sun, which has virtually no staff and mainly prints wire copy, gets 10% of the JOA’s yearly cash flow, which was once $120 million, according to court filings, but has been less than zero in recent years.

Meanwhile, expensive lawsuits continue to fly against the RJ by the Sun, which has a habit of suing whoever is its current JOA partner (the Adelson family is the fourth RJ owner in the past 28 years). One, in federal court, features bizarre claims by the Sun of antitrust violations by the RJ. I say bizarre because the essence of a JOA is a federally sanctioned deal in which ostensibly rival publishers can pool their business operations and charge common rates–the very definition of antitrust behavior. I once likened this lawsuit to two thieves after a heist suing in court because they can’t agree on the division of spoils.

Another lawsuit, in state court, is over accounting issues. Then there’s the case currently before the Nevada Supreme Court dealing with enforcement of an arbitration decision concerning some of the accounting issues.

Besides the amusing invective hurled by high-priced lawyers, one common theme is the large amount of filings that both sides have asked the courts to keep secret from folks like me, especially in the Nevada Supreme Court. In my view, it sort of makes a mockery of claims by the newspapers in other cases of their professed commitment to the First Amendment and openness of judicial proceedings.

I welcome comments below from anyone interested in the issues I have raised. Anonymous posts are okay. Even welcomed.

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