Sheldon Adelson’s controversial newspaper purchase
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this month, and it is causing a great deal of consternation.
The Review-Journal has generally been considered the more mainstream of the alternatives and is the dominant paper in the market. Yet, cries of concern were raised when the property was sold that the new owner might exert influence over the editorial decisions made in what is now, his publication.
Not dissimilar to the uproar over Ted Turner’s attempt in the 1980s to purchase CBS when it came up for sale, the content providers (reporters/editors) expressed worry that the proclaimed “Mouth of the South” would turn the network away from its liberal past. Of course, Turner lost out on his bid and instead focused his efforts into turning his media holdings into a cable empire. The irony was that Turner has turned out to be anything but conservative, so all that liberal outrage was wasted in casting invective on someone whose main failing was that he was not New York elite approved due to his accent.
Fox News faces similar criticism as they are constantly attacked for editorial decisions to cover stories like Benghazi and Fast and Furious that CNN and over the air broadcast networks give scant attention.
Editorial decisions on what news to cover and how to cover it is at the heart of what media does. Network news broadcasts have twenty-two minutes to fill with a series of two to three-minute stories. Do the latest happenings on Wall Street warrant attention, or would the time be better served with the story of a returning veteran whose community built him or her a new home? Is the latest scandal in the Obama administration newsworthy, or is it judged to be nothing more than political grumbling by those who lost the election? Of course, decisions are made about which presidential candidates should receive coverage and which don’t, providing tens of millions of dollars of advertising equivalency for those who regularly make the cut.
It is the importance of these decisions that explains why the left always attempts to separate the editorial decisions from the ownership.
Allowing typically left-leaning editors to make the decision on what news is fit to print by placing a stone wall between the editor and publisher offices guarantees that the news coverage will be slanted toward the editor’s priorities and viewpoint. Only in the “journalistic” world does the employee dictate what the owner’s product should be, while bearing none of the risks of failure.
Within the past couple of years, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame purchased the Washington Post, and according to recent news reports, has brought forth innovations that have reportedly increased the Internet traffic for the company’s news website. It is unclear if Bezos is exercising any editorial controls, but if he did push for headlines to be punchier with some specific points of emphasis who could rightfully complain? If he chose to compensate journalists for writing stories that consistently went viral, regardless of content preferences, who can tell him that he shouldn’t? And if he noticed that certain topics garnered more eyeballs to the website who could blame him for pushing the editorial staff to focus on the topics that the public wanted to learn about?
That is the nature of what a publisher should be doing, and it is up to the employees to do their boss’ bidding or find another job. It has always been the rule in every other industry, employees follow the rules laid down by whoever writes the paycheck, and the newspaper industry should be no different.
It is unclear why Sheldon Adelson would purchase the main local Las Vegas newspaper outlet. The newspaper industry is dying rapidly and being forced to transform itself under pressure from the Internet. But the good folks who work for the Review-Journal should thank their lucky stars that someone wanted the publication and that it was not consigned to the fate of Newsweek which sold for a single dollar bill in 2010, in a takeover payments deal.
Now, Adelson can do whatever he pleases with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and those who work for it can choose to work for him or not. After all, it’s not like there is a shortage of unemployed journalists who would jump at the chance to get back into the newspaper game.
And that is the hard, unavoidable truth. To reporters and editors who find it shocking, I’d like to wish you a welcome to the real world.
The author is president of Americans for Limited Government.