Thanks to billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family, many Americans are getting their first look at the inner workings of a newspaper.
In this case, it’s the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Adelson family purchased the paper late last year.
Much has come out since about alleged manipulations at the paper as a result of that purchase. One is that reporters were asked to investigate three local judges, one of whom is overseeing a pitched legal battle of which Adelson is a part.
Another, that certain quotes were removed from a story about the purchase.
For his part, Adelson said he bought it not for himself but for the daughter of his wife. He has also said he will have no part in newspaper operations.
Of course, doubts have been cast about that, especially since Adelson is a major local and national Republican political campaign contributor.
It leads to many questions, not the least of which is: will this impact the credibility of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Long-time columnist John L. Smith told KNPR’s State of Nevada he is not surprised by questions about the paper’s credibility.
“I expect people to be skeptical,” he said. “They should hold us to a high standard. And we are not independent, if we have somehow fallen short of that and not been tough where we need to be then we should be held to account.”
Smith said he believes the paper’s staff has done a good job of being independent especially because of the limitations on staffing.
“I’m proud of us,” Smith said. “I’m not just proud of the team that put this together or the columns that have been written, the editorials that have been written, this is a tough process and I think that we’ve stood up and we’ve been independent.”
Smith is in an interesting position at the paper. He has worked there for more than 30 years, but Adelson sued him over a book he wrote to the point where he had to declare bankruptcy.
“I can’t imagine that having Mr. Adelson purchase the paper was designed to make me feel more comfortable,” Smith quipped.
Smith said he understands the questions surrounding the sale. Members of the Adelson family are political active and Sheldon Adelson is obviously a major player in the city’s major industry.
“There are a lot of ethical questions that are presented,” Smith said, “A lot of questions of credibility are presented to the newspaper now that we have a new owner, but it doesn’t keep me from going to work.”
Smith knows there is work to be done as the paper transitions to a new owner, but he is optimistic.
“The newspaper is an important part of this community,” he said, “And its accuracy and credibility are very, very important and we’ve got editors who take that job very seriously.”
Sherman Frederick is now an outsider at the RJ, but for 34 years he was an insider, starting as a journalist, moving to editor and finally publisher. He currently owns Battle Born Media, a group of five newspapers in rural Nevada.
He said the secrecy surrounding the Review-Journal’s new ownership in the first few weeks was unusual. He also thinks the Adelson family may have hurt their own efforts by not communicating their intentions for the newspaper and the community.
“I think it’s fixable, but I haven’t seen anything yet that looks like it’s going to get it on the right track,” he said.
As for the future of the paper, Frederick believes the Adelson family could run into credibility problems, if they try to influence the news coverage.
“If they try to take the news coverage in a way that would lose credibility, I think they’re going to lose their newsroom and I think they’ll have a very tough time getting it back,” he said, “You have got to find a way to get your arms around this newsroom and convince them to ride for the brand.”
Frederick said the Adelsons have purchased a great newspaper and if they decide to put money into it could be even better.
“Just imagine if that newsroom were doubled? Just imagine what that would be like?” he said, “I think Las Vegas is either going to be the worst served newspaper market in the country or the best. I’m hoping for the best.”
Sherman Frederick, former publisher; John L. Smith, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist
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