The recent purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ) by an entity reportedly controlled by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson is sparking concern among staffers at the paper. One reporter says that stories about the purchase before Adelson's involvement was public were edited by the publisher to remove references to the conservative billionaire.
Last week, LVRJ was purchased by a previously unknown company called News + Media Capital Group LLC. After days of speculation about the mysterious group behind the purchase, several outlets confirmed that Adelson and his family were the main buyers.
James DeHaven, who has reported for the paper for three years and has been covering its ownership change, told Media Matters that publisher Jason Taylor intervened last week to remove portions of two stories that hinted at Adelson's company as the buyer.
“We knew that we had been bought on Thursday, we just didn't know who bought us,” DeHaven said. “We ran a story on Friday in which quotes were removed by the publisher. Portions of a Saturday story were removed, all mentions of [Adelson] were removed.”
DeHaven said reporters at the paper had enough information to at least speculate about Adelson's involvement in stories that were published December 11. But he contends that Taylor intervened to remove portions of those stories.
“That's the first time it happened since I've been at the paper,” DeHaven said.
Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.
Review-Journal staffers, meanwhile, are offering concern about the Adelson purchase, noting his past history of conservative activism, political influence and even his previous lawsuits against journalists -- including one who had worked for the paper.
“His litigiousness is something we're all concerned about, that is what I am worried about,” said one reporter who requested anonymity. “It would be court-related in general, concerned about cases he has going through the courts.” The reporter added, “We're definitely worried about it. It would be good to have a local owner, but I think everyone is definitely still a little nervous.”
Another newspaper staffer highlighted that some reporters at LVRJ have previously had difficulty with Adelson: “Until our owners were willing to reveal themselves, we didn't have a lot of credibility. Some people here have had very difficult interactions with him, there's obvious concern here about it. We don't know how this current arrangement might change in the next few months. There are plenty of readers who have concerns about it.”
A third newsroom staffer agreed, adding, “We don't know what's going to happen next, we're just in a holding pattern. Everyone is pretty unsure, it could go a lot of different ways, just not sure. We have to move on to the next step of figuring out what he wants from us.”
DeHaven said the lack of initial information did not help the staff's trust in the new owners.
“It worries people,” he said. "It's concerning because we still need to disclose those people in order to do our jobs properly. It is also concerning because of Adelson's political leanings. I know our editorial board doesn't want their endorsements meddled with any more than we want our stories meddled with.
“In terms of news coverage, Sheldon is a big political donor. If you were reporting on him or his political donations -- he makes a lot of those -- that would be one area of concern.”
Jon Ralston, a former Review-Journal columnist whose website and TV show are seen as having the pulse of the state, said he is hearing worries from former colleagues as well.
“I think people are surprised and now wondering what they're going to do,” Ralston said. “I think they're very unsettled at the paper, who wouldn't be? We have a major political player who has an obvious political agenda buying a newspaper. You have to wonder if he will make big changes, will it affect news coverage? People are worried for their jobs, they are worried about interference.”