Judge seals file in MediaNews trial

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Some documents to be kept under wraps in suit claiming purchase of Times, Mercury News creates local monopoly

To the good: this is not a Bruce Blog head. This is the head and subhead on a surprisingly good story by George Avalos in today’s Contra Costa Times that gives some indication that the old Knight-Ridder fighting spirit on public access and accountability is still in play despite the new ownership of MediaNews Group/Dean Singleton.

More to the good: the story, unlike the Chronicle/Hearst coverage, lays out one of the key points of the Clint Reilly/Joe Alioto antitrust suit: that, as the lead says, “a wide range of documents could be kept secret in a lawsuit involving a realty executive and the owner of most of the Bay Area’s newspapers, including the Times.” Still more: the ruling by a federal judge “enables the parties in the suit, including defendants MediaNews, Hearst, Gannett Co., Stephens Group Inc, and a partnership of several of the newspaper companies, to keep numerous documents confidential and free from public scrutiny.” And Avalos got a key point into his story with a quote from Reilly attorney Daniel Shulman: “Newspapers believe the public should know about everything, unless it is information about newspapers.”

To the bad: Avalos allowed Media News/Dean Singleton to put its position in the story via an anonymous “representative for one of the newspaper companies that are defendants in the lawsuit.” This anonymous source put forth without gulping the monopoly boilerplate position: gosh, golly, gee, “the newspaper companies could be hurt competitively if some of the information is released to the public.”

Unsolicited advice to reporters and editors who have the uneviable task of covering the monopolizing moves of their monopolizing superiors: Do not let them get away with anonymous quotes from anonymous executives. Tell them to speak by name and title or the Bruce Blog will get them.

The critical point: there is a big difference between sealing records in a standard civil lawsuit between two competing companies and sealing records in a lawsuit that aims to, as Avalos rightly puts it, “derail and unravel the MediaNews Group purchases of the newspapers” and stop MediaNews from wielding “monopoly power over the Bay Area newspaper market.”

The Galloping Conglomerati, as I call them, already operate in effect unregulated public utilities, because of their monopoly positions in their (mostly) one newspaper towns. And, unlike PG@E and other utilities, they are exempt from public regulation because of the First Amendment. Now they are quietly seeking to lock up the area for good and impose in effect a regional unregulated public utility under one partnership on the entire Bay Area. This is heavy stuff and every major development in this saga ought to be on the front page of every paper and lead the broadcast news of every station in the Bay Area.

Go, Clint, go!!! B3, still blogging away on behalf of independent and competitive journalism

Contra Costa Times