Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Newspaper Dispute:

Sun lawyer: Apartment guides don’t replace news

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Brian Greenspun

Attorneys for Las Vegas Sun Editor and Publisher Brian Greenspun scoffed today at suggestions that the newspaper’s role can be replaced by the likes of publications that target niche audiences such as car buyers, pet fanciers and brides.

In the latest filing of court papers challenging efforts by Stephens Media, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to dissolve a joint operating agreement and cut the Sun free of its support, Greenspun’s attorneys say Stephens Media’s end game is to kill the Sun, turning Las Vegas into a one-newspaper city. Such an outcome, Greenspun’s lawyers argue, would violate the very federal law that led to the creation of the business partnership in the first place.

Greenspun triggered the litigation after Stephens Media offered to transfer the website to his three siblings in exchange for their agreement to dissolve the joint operating agreement, which Stephens Media has found burdensome. The Greenspun Corporation leases the URL from Stephens Media for $2.5 million a year. Brian Greenspun was unaware of those negotiations.

When the family put the agreement with Stephens Media up for a vote Aug. 7, Brian Greenspun voted against it. He has said he is willing to buy the newspaper from siblings Danny Greenspun, Susan Greenspun Fine and Janie Greenspun Gale. Their father, Hank Greenspun, started the newspaper in 1950.

“If the Las Vegas Sun were outside of the JOA, it would fail without a substantial investment in the tens of millions of dollars to put it in a position to publish on its own,” Brian Greenspun wrote in a declaration attached to Wednesday’s filing.

“Because of my concern for the well-being of the Las Vegas Sun, I have been operating as its editor without any pay since 2011," he added. "It has been at great personal, financial and mental hardship to do so, but without my doing so, the Sun, its websites and the other print products would most likely not have survived.”

Stephens Media has contended that Brian Greenspun’s antitrust lawsuit to maintain the JOA lacks merit because there are print and online substitute newspapers in the Las Vegas market. But Greenspun lawyers Joseph Alioto and Leif Reid maintain that none of the offerings can replace the Sun’s scope and ability to deliver news.

Lawyers for Stephens Media listed Auto Trader, Bridal Spectacular, Las Vegas Pet Scene, Construction Notebook, several apartment guides and other niche publications as potential substitutes for the Sun.

“Unfortunately, neither local television, local radio, the Internet, nor nonprofit and community media is equipped to fill the reporting and editing gap left behind when a newspaper fails, and thus these mediums do not serve as a competitive substitute for newspapers,” according to Greenspun's filing.

The filing addresses issues raised by U.S. District Judge James Mahan and contentions by Stephens Media in its response to Brian Greenspun’s request for a temporary restraining order blocking the JOA’s dissolution. With the approval of the U.S. Justice Department, the JOA was created in 1989, binding the Review-Journal to print and distribute the Sun and share advertising revenue. The agreement was amended in 2005 to allow the Sun to be distributed within the Review-Journal and is set to expire in 2040 or be extended in 10-year increments.

Mahan granted Brian Greenspun’s request for a temporary restraining order until the merits of Greenspun’s request for a permanent injunction are argued. That hearing is set for Friday.

In an interview, Alioto attacked the Review-Journal’s suggestion that the Sun can publish without the R-J’s support.

“The Review-Journal is saying, ‘Well, the Las Vegas Sun can compete on its own,’” Alioto said. “With what? We handed everything to (the R-J). They’re saying, ‘You can go out with the masthead, but you don’t get money, you don’t get printing, you don’t get racks, you don’t get anything.’ ”

Greenspun’s lawyers also attacked Stephens Media claims that he lacks the legal standing to sue because he is not a paid subscriber to the Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun package, only receiving a complimentary subscription as the Sun’s ranking executive. His attorneys argue that any news consumer has the legal standing to challenge a deal that would dramatically limit competition in the local news market and to claim otherwise is “grasping at procedural straws.”

The need for competition forms the foundation of the joint operating agreement at the heart of Greenspun’s lawsuit.

The JOA was struck to ensure that Las Vegas would have two independent newspapers with differing editorial points of view.

Under the JOA, Greenspun Media Group, the Sun’s publishing company, receives a share of the Review-Journal’s advertising revenues — most recently amounting to about $1.3 million a year.

In defense of Greenspun’s request to maintain the JOA, his attorneys point to Reilly v. Hearst Corp., another legal case in which a newspaper subscriber challenged an organization’s attempt to create a media monopoly.

Clint Reilly, a subscriber of the San Francisco Chronicle and reader of the San Francisco Examiner, sued the Hearst Corporation after the publishing giant and Examiner owner tried to acquire the Chronicle. Reilly, represented by Alioto, successfully argued that the acquisition would decrease competition in the market and create a monopoly, in violation of the Newspaper Preservation Act.

As in the Hearst case, Alioto and Reid anchor their arguments to the Newspaper Preservation Act, which states that the federal government must preserve the publication of newspapers in any city, community or metropolitan area where publishers drafted a joint operating agreement because at least one of the newspapers struggled financially.

The deal Stephens Media struck with the three Greenspun siblings would end the annual profits payment the Greenspun Media Group receives, pay each of the Greenspun siblings $70,000 in severance pay and grant the family full ownership of the URL

It also would cause irreparable harm to the Las Vegas community by effectively shutting down the Las Vegas Sun, Brian Greenspun’s lawyers argue.

“The important role newspapers continue to play in a society is not to be underestimated,” Greenspun’s filing says. “Thomas Jefferson considered a free press so vital that he declared, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.’”

In response to a question from Mahan about why Brian Greenspun wasn’t also including his siblings as defendants, Greenspun’s attorneys said the family dispute is not the legal issue in this case.

“This is a case about (Stephens Media’s) illegal actions, which aim to eliminate the Las Vegas Sun and monopolize the Las Vegas newspaper market,” the lawyers wrote in the filing.

Sun reporter Tovin Lapan contributed to this story.

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