A series of odd and concerning events occurred this past week involving the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and it’s not over.
First, the paper is sold for a large profit and the newspaper’s journalists were told not to worry about the new owners’ identities. Now, the paper is reporting its journalists were ordered in a memo a month before the paper’s sale by the then-owners GateHouse Media to investigate three judges, which included one hearing a case involving one of the paper’s new owners.
“The memo, authored by Review-Journal Deputy Editor James G. Wright, notes the initiative was undertaken without explanation from GateHouse and over the objection of the newspaper’s management, and there was no expectation that anything would be published,” according to a story appearing Friday on the paper’s website.
District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who was one of the three judges observed by reporters for two weeks, is currently hearing a case involving Sheldon Adelson and his company, the story reported.
Adelson and his family were revealed as the new owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a story posted Wednesday on the paper’s website. The family confirmed the purchase Thursday in an editor’s note on the paper’s second page.
None of the 15,000 words the reporters wrote by mid-November about their two weeks monitoring the three judges were ever published, the new story reports.
However, a Connecticut paper operated by the overseer of the family-backed company that now owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a story at the end of November critical of the Nevada judge hearing the case involving Adelson.
If this wasn’t strange enough, the article lists as the author Edward Clarkin, who is basically a ghost.
“Attempts to locate Clarkin have been unsuccessful. Herald executives did not respond to requests for information, but a newspaper staffer said no one by that name works there,” according to the paper. “A nationwide search turned up no writer by that name, though laudatory reviews from Edward Clarkin, identified as being from the New Britain Herald and a sister paper, the Bristol Press, appear on the website of Tennessee mystery writer Keith Donnelly.”
Michael Schroeder, who now manages the Adelson-backed company overseeing the Las Vegas newspaper and owns the company the operates the Connecticut newspaper, declined to tell the reporters “how the article came about or discuss Clarkin’s role at the papers.”
What does this all mean? Michael Reed, the chief executive officer of the company that sold the paper to the Adelson family and still oversees the day-to-day operations, says nothing.
The paper quotes Reed as saying they’re trying to create a story. They should be focusing on the positive, not the negative, he told the reporters.
Frankly, the entire ordeal feels like the famed magic shows of Las Vegas. There are so many moving parts that it confuses the audience and makes them unsure what’s going on.
As the Society turned to its Code of Ethics earlier this week to demand the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s new owners to reveal themselves, I too want to point out that a core element of responsible journalism is accountability and transparency.
Part of being accountable and transparent is to “respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.” Until that happens, the world is left with at least a couple questions.
- Why were the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s reporters told to spend two week observing judges? If it was – as the paper’s former owner claims, a multi-newsroom project, name the other newsrooms involved.
- Does Edward Clarkin exist? Typically a person’s existence is an important and easily verifiable fact.
While this is very concerning, it’s important to note that there is a possibility that this is all an odd coincidence. However, the questions remain until the Las Vegas paper’s previous owner (and current operator) and the overseers of the Connecticut paper are transparent.
Frankly, the journalists in the Las Vegas Review-Journal endured enough turmoil over the past week. As shown by the reporters’ dogged and admirable pursuit of these stories, they are hard workers and good journalists. They deserve at least to know answers to these basic questions
Also, the people of Las Vegas deserve to know whether their state’s largest newspaper will produce responsible and thorough information to learn about their community – local and global. Quality information allows people to make informed decision and participate in democracy.
The questions are simple, but not trivial.
Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society’s ethics committee.