Newspaper execs pose uncomfortably for camera

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By G.W. Schulz

Dean Singleton is fuckin' stoked! Check him out below! That's him on the right there. He's the CEO of MediaNews Group, beloved by laid off reporters and editors everywhere, some who adore him so much, they throw empty beer cans at him.

singleton1.jpg
Dean Singleton (right) with dreamy blue eyes
and conservative red tie. Tighten that knot, Dean!

If you owned as many newspapers as this guy does and flew around the country in your own private jet to deal with each one, you'd probably be able to hammer out a slightly bigger smile than this, huh? Dean's spicing things up at MediaNews Group with a brand spankin' new Web site and a recent office move across town to swankier digs in Denver, where the company has long been based.

So who's that guy on the left there? That's Joseph J. Lodovic IV, president of MediaNews. He earned a fat $1 million bonus last summer after the Hearst Corp., owner of the San Francisco Chronicle, gave MediaNews nearly $300 million to complete its big local newspaper buyouts that included the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times. Joe's muggin' big 'cause he knows he'll have his own private plane soon enough!

But Singleton’s comfort zone could receive a shake-up beginning later this month. Last week, federal Judge Susan Illston denied a request by attorneys for MediaNews and its business partners to dismiss local businessman Clint Reilly’s antitrust suit against the companies.

The trial is still scheduled to begin April 30, as far as we can tell, and Illston announced late last week that all this fighting over sealed documents would cease during the trial itself, because, she says, you and I have a keen interest in knowing what the corporate owners of major local newspapers are doing and why.

The defendants had asked that “discrete portions of evidence” attached to the MediaNews motion for summary judgment – legalese for “last-ditch effort to convince federal judge Clint Reilly is a loon and antitrust rules relating to newspapers are antiquated” – be kept under seal. The sealing orders have made covering this thing for reporters a real pain in the ass, actually. Illston complied, but made clear the public would have access to material disclosed in court.

“During and after the upcoming trial on the merits, the public will have a highly compelling interest in access to all evidence presented by the parties. The instant sealing orders will therefore have no effect on the sealing of any evidence presented at trial."

Legal interventions made by the Guardian and Media Alliance opened up some documents to the public showing how Hearst had once considered selling the Chronicle to MediaNews and how the two companies had been looking to do business with one another since all the way back in 1995 after a sketchy newspaper deal made Houston basically a one-newspaper town.

So World War II for Reilly begins in just two weeks. He first sued the Hearst Corp. in 2000 back when it was trying to shutter the San Francisco Examiner and make the Chronicle king shit of the city’s daily newspaper market.

He lost, but that trial nonetheless produced some memorable moments, like when former Examiner editor and publisher Tim White admitted he offered then-Mayor Willie Brown over lunch favorable editorials in exchange for Brown backing the sale of the Chron to Hearst.

Here’s what Guardian exec editor Tim Redmond and former staff writer Tali Woodward wrote about that precious gem back then:

“The real story of the trial goes far beyond the coverage-for-favors deals exposed in court and straight to the fundamental premise on which the San Francisco newspaper industry has been run since 1965. The evidence shows that the publishing companies have lied to the public so many times, on so many fundamental issues, over so many years, that it’s hard to believe either paper will ever salvage its journalistic credibility.”

So much sacrifice by Hearst to purchase the Chron – hundreds of millions of dollars – and only massive losses today to show for it. The Chron, in fact, is losing $1 million a week for Hearst these days, which sucks if you’re trying to finance the construction of big, ugly new half-billion dollar office towers.

Just yesterday, nonprofit media watchdog Gradethenews.org posted a commentary from one-time political editor for the Merc, Philip J. Trounstine, decrying local media consolidation as a threat to the range and depth of news reporting in the area. Trounstine says everyone knows objectivity is more or less a joke; like it or not, individual reporters will decide what to emphasize in a story and what tone to employ when, for instance, covering a speech by Obama. Fewer reporters means fewer perspectives on the candidate.

“The tragedy for the public interest is that instead of reallocating resources to increased local coverage, newspapers across the country and throughout the region are instead using the economic gains made from consolidation for short-term gains in profitability.”

“Consolidation,” Trounstine worries, means firing a bunch of people and doing more with less to make more for top investors.

*Photo from the new "contact us" section of www.medianewsgroup.com. That's funny. We've tried to contact both these guys a number of times in the past, but they never call us back.

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