Thursday, August 22, 2013

Battle of Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun both publish daily newspapers in Las Vegas under a joint operating agreement (JOA).  Under the agreement, the two papers share printing and advertising staffs, but keep separate editorial staffs.  The current status of the JOA is unusual; instead of printing and distributing two separate newspaper editions, the Sun is published as a small advertising-free insert within the Review-Journal. The Sun, instead, has shifted its editorial focus to its online version - which has been very successful both editorially (winning several major journalism awards in recent years) and financially.  Earlier this month, the Review-Journal's owners (Stephens Media) reached an agreement with members of the Greenspun family (owners of the Sun) to "release" the Review-Journal from the JOA.

The Sun's editor and publisher, Brian Greenspun, has gone to court to challenge the proposed dissolution of the JOA.  The deal would free the Review-Journal from the burden of printing and distributing the limited insert that is the only print version of the Sun, in return for transferring ownership of the domain name (currently leased to and run by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau).  The cancellation of the JOA would leave the Sun without the infrastructure to print and distribute the physical edition of the paper.  The agreement also reportedly includes a non-compete clause prohibiting the production of a print newspaper or dissemination of news online, effectively killing the competition provided by the online Las Vegas Sun.  The deal was accepted by the two younger Greenspun siblings against the advice of Brian Greenspun.

Frankly, the Sun doesn't really need a print presence in Las Vegas - the current daily insert consists almost exclusively of features and is designed to minimally abide by the terms of the JOA.  Whether the JOA parties can unilaterally dissolve the agreement is debatable.  Those that have ended have done so by one of the newspapers folding.  Still, the most troubling part, and the one most likely to form the basis of a successful legal challenge, is the non-compete clause.  By its very nature, the clause is anti-competitive and flies in the face of the intent behind JOAs - maintaining competitive news presences locally.

It would be a shame to kill one of the best and most innovative online local newspapers in America.  I hope a way to let it continue operations will be found.
(And, incidentally, shifting ownership of the domain name from the newspaper would increase the likelihood of a successful domain name challenge from the city or other entity like the LVCVB - so the promise of big bucks from leasing may be ephemeral.)

Source -  Las Vegas Sun at Risk of Folding, Wall Street Journal
Las Vegas Sun website

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