Newspaper takeovers, hostile or otherwise, are rarely a good time for most of the people involved. Editors, particularly, can find themselves in a bad spot. Add in a level of secrecy, and the new owners aren’t likely to have anyone on their team. That’s what happened just a few months ago at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and the wake of this buyout transaction brought the resignation of LVRJ’s top editor, Mike Hengel.
Editors aren’t the only ones who’ve felt the unstable ground underfoot. Reporters have said that they’re concerned about the security of their jobs, says CardsChat News. While no one is entirely sure what inspired new owner, Sheldon Adelson, to buy the paper, reporters banded together to make readers a promise: ” Review-Journal’s editors and reporters will fight” any orders to kill or water down stories or skew coverage in any way.
Secrecy Prompted Staff Concerns
Newspapers are bought and sold all the time. Warren Buffet has nearly made a career out of it. It’s even becoming a way for some publications to stay afloat. Consolidation brings strength in numbers, which helps struggling publications find more revenue. But the recent purchase of LVRJ appeared to be something different.
Hengel and LVRJ reporters’ concerns stemmed from all of the secrecy. The sale announcement came down December 10, but with one important bit of information withheld: the names of the new owners. Even the entity whose name was associated with the purchase, News + Media Capital Group, LLC, was incorporated, according to a pointed editorial published shortly after the sale was final, “for the purchase of the Review-Journal and a handful of sister publications.”
How LVRJ Staff Reacted
The editorial spoke in plain language about the concerns LVRJ staff had concerning the new owners and their potential motives. The Adelsons are a powerful family that contribute enormous sums to political candidates, they explained. And with 2016 being an election year, the concern was that the new owners would use their influence over the publication to affect what was written and what made it to print.
Although the Adelson family expressed their assurances that they didn’t intend to use the paper for their own political agenda, CardsChat News says LVRJ staff may have a reason to be concerned. Nevada is an early voting swing state, which could “certainly make it useful to a Republican mega-donor who wished to influence voters.”
Editor Michael Hengel Resigns
Less than two weeks after the buyout, editor Michael Hengel announced that he would resign, according to the New York Times. His resignation came directly on the heels of the LVRJ editorial. Hinge explained to the staff that he was “offered a voluntary buyout” from the previous owners. Similar offers were made to other staff, some of whom also accepted.
In Hengel’s absence, an interim editor was appointed. Reporters who were present for his announcement took to Twitter to respond. One reporter, Neal Morton, said Hengel had suggested that his resignation was in the best interest of everyone concerned, both at the paper and in his family.
The Las Vegas Journal-Record is an award-winning, long-running, major daily that has its beginnings in 1909. This sale was not the paper’s first rodeo, and it’s still standing strong. That’s true, even with the shift in staff after the Adelson purchase.
The arrival of a major political donor as the new owner and immediate departure of an editor who is renown for integrity left more than a few reporters and columnists wondering what had just happened. But as it always has, the newspaper still carries on.
Even with revenue streams starting to improve, it can still be a volatile environment for newspapers with change on almost every new horizon.
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