Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The former publisher of USA Today will lead the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the newspaper announced Thursday.
Craig A. Moon, the R-J's new publisher, said in an interview that he would work for the company backed by family members of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who purchased the newspaper last month.
Moon, who led Gannett’s flagship publication for six years before retiring in 2009, said he would oversee both the news and editorial staffs, but that there would be a separation between news and opinion operations to ensure unbiased reporting. He said he did not believe the Adelson family wanted to interfere with the news.
"I have met with the family multiple times,” Moon said. "Their interest has been strictly along the lines of: ‘We think this newspaper has been better than it is today. And we would like to make it better.’”
He added that the paper, which is hiring for several positions, would invest in investigative reporting and data-driven journalism. He said he planned to start the process of building a “world-class new media company.” The paper expects to name an editor in less than two weeks, Moon added.
The sale of the R-J in December was shrouded in secrecy for several days before members of the Adelson family confirmed they had purchased the paper and related publications for $140 million.
Almost immediately, newsroom staffers raised concerns about interference from Adelson. Those concerns were only heightened after the paper reported that a consultant for the ownership’s limited-liability company had published an article in his Connecticut paper critical of a judge handling a case involving Adelson’s business interests. The article was bylined by an author who appeared not to exist.
They also expressed concerns about GateHouse Media, the former owner. GateHouse Media employees had assigned three R-J reporters to monitor judges. One of the judges who the reporters monitored was presiding over the Adelson case.
The R-J’s outgoing publisher, Jason Taylor, is a GateHouse Media employee.
Unlike Taylor, Moon will work directly for the new ownership, which is organized under a limited-liability company backed by family members of Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.
"It’s up to me to manage the properties,” Moon said.
Although the newspaper still has a management agreement with GateHouse Media, Moon expects it to morph over time into a services agreement, as he evaluates the different resources GateHouse provides.
He cited two examples of this shifting arrangement. One was the decision, before he took control, for the R-J to bring back its internal design and copy-editing teams rather than outsourcing them to GateHouse. A second example he cited was his appointment, saying the owners wanted to install their own publisher.
Some of the services GateHouse might provide could be accounting, payroll or a circulation system.
Moon already exercised his authority Thursday by removing a disclosure on the paper’s third page, next to its masthead, that outlined the Adelsons' interests in everything from Sands to a local private school.
“I thought that was overkill,” Moon said.
He argued that most newspaper owners have other financial interests and do not disclose them every day. He rattled off a list that included Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, and Glen Taylor, a former Republican legislator who owns the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. On a case-by-case basis, the paper will keep posting disclosures on stories related to Adelson.
"What we’re looking for is a news report that is accurate, that is fully vetted and is fair,” said Moon, who worked at Gannett for nearly 30 years. "When we have stories that have a perceived interest for the Adelson family or for the Sands or for any of their other entities, we will put on a disclosure.”
But he fully anticipates that the Adelson family will express its opinions on the editorial page. As owners, they can express their views on that page, he said, noting the family's strong opinions on many subjects.
“We’re going to portray those opinions,” Moon said.
In addition to USA Today, Moon was publisher of four other papers in the Gannett chain, including the Tennessean and the Arkansas Gazette.
In a news release Thursday, Moon called the R-J role “an exciting opportunity.”
“I understand that ownership transitions can create questions among staff and readers alike,” Moon said in the statement. "I intend to answer these questions with my actions — actions that will demonstrate my commitment to the R-J, to the people who work here, and to the community we all serve.”
Under a joint-operating agreement, the Las Vegas Sun is distributed with the R-J and receives a portion of its advertising revenue. But the Sun and R-J are separately owned and operated.