Barons back off newspaper trial - Page 3

Barons back off! Settlement in newspaper trial blocks future Hearst-Singleton deals - and may lead to release of key documents
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argued first in Reilly's 2000 suit that the Bay Area is brimming with aggressive newspaper competition, and for that reason, he had no grounds to denounce the closure of the Examiner planned at the time. The papers argued in 2006, however, that newspaper competition in the Bay Area is actually all but non-existent because the markets are subdivided, so Clint Reilly doesn't have anything to complain about.

Some of the most interesting material is still under court seal, including the depositions of senior publishing executives. But the settlement specifically allows Reilly to go back into court seeking an order to open those records, and he and Alioto vowed to do that very shortly.

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Overall, it's been a monumental year for newspapers, replete with massive waves of unfortunate irony. Banner headlines at dailies across the country have prophesied the death of newspapers, a trend story that Hearst and MediaNews tried to use in court to convince judge Illston that the industry was wilting under a consolidate-or-die atmosphere. A better analysis, of course, might conclude simply that shareholders aren't getting the enormous returns they once did, with the exception of the Chronicle, which, we learned from Reilly's suit, has been losing $1 million a week for Hearst -- if not more.

A shareholder revolt broke to pieces one of the nation's largest newspaper chains, Knight-Ridder, respected by many in the industry for its commitment to investigations, bold enterprise reporting and funding for national and international bureaus. The company was forced to sell after investors grew restless, and Singleton swept in to takeover the chain's gem, the Merc, as well as the Times in Contra Costa County.

Layoffs ensued and MediaNews immediately began consolidating business-side functions in a single San Ramon office where operations for several papers could be managed at once. And MediaNews recently spiced up the company's Web site, an emblem of its new dominant position. But like the old site, there's very little information about the company's journalism awards, and no bios of its editors, profiles of its reporters or portraits of anyone driving the company's papers from the bottom up. Like the old site, there's information for investors and photos of the company's top executives, including one of Singleton smiling alongside company president Lodovic, who earned a $1 million bonus just as MediaNews consummated its marriage with Hearst last year.

At MediaNews papers in the Bay Area, single stories began appearing in several papers under one byline during Reilly's suit meaning fewer perspectives for major Bay Area issues. Again with a touch of irony, one of the regular bylines on stories covering Reilly's suit has been from veteran Merc reporter Pete Carey, who under the paper's old owners helped win two Pulitzers, first for its joint 1985 coverage of the downfall of Filipino despot Ferdinand Marcos and second for stories explaining how red tape blocked needed retrofits at some California highways leading to greater infrastructure damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

In Minnesota, a Ridder family heir hung on as publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press after Singleton took it over last year with Hearst's help before he left just recently for a job at the competing Minneapolis Star Tribune. The move has devolved into a bitter court dispute with Singleton, according to the Twin Cities alt weekly, City Pages. The Ridder family's involvement with the Pi Press lasted more than 70 years.

Even Singleton's beloved flagship paper, the Denver Post, couldn't escape "industry changes" - that is, layoffs.

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