Critical Thinking: How Transparent Should a Newspaper Be When Covering its Owner’s Special Interests?


Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson is the latest billionaire to purchase a newspaper (The Las Vegas Review-Journal). How transparent should a newspaper be when covering its owner’s special interests?


Alexis Alfred copyAlexis Alfred, 22, graduate student, American University (Washington D.C.)

Alfred is a broadcast journalism graduate student. She is a reporter and show host for her campus news show, The W.I.F.I.


Based on the coverage of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it seems as though someone wanted to keep the name of its new owner a secret. Once Sheldon Adelson was identified as the paper’s new owner, disclosures were set in place on the paper’s homepage and daily edition, but when the new publisher Craig Moon arrived, he had the ownership disclosures removed. Removing this information makes the newspaper—as a media source—appear to have something to hide.

In the original article published by the Review-Journal, Michael Schroeder, manager for the News + Media Capital Group LLC, parent company for the Las Vegas paper, stated to Review-Journal staff in a meeting that “they shouldn’t worry about the identities of the owners.”

But, why is everybody, including staff members, being left in the dark regarding the new owner’s identity and who the investors are? Why is the identity of the person backing one of Nevada’s biggest news outlets being kept secret?

In an article by the Huffington Post, the reporter stated, “The lack of disclosure appears hypocritical given newspapers’ traditional role of seeking transparency from others.” The reporter has a valid point. The job of the media is to inform the community of the truth. By keeping this information secret, and also removing the disclosures, the credibility of the paper could be at risk.

The newspaper should provide enough information to allow readers to make informed decisions no matter who’s involved. If the owner does something newsworthy, it is the responsibility of the paper and its journalists to investigate and report it. Reporters should never refuse to cover a story because it deals with the owner’s special interest. The principles that should guide a newspaper in this case are transparency and objectivity.

The Review-Journal should remain transparent and allow its readers to know about the changes happening internally. By being open with readers, the Review-Journal will continue to be a credible news source. By continuing to remain private about what is going on, readers will lose the connection and sense of openness that draws them to this paper. The Review-Journal will ultimately be at risk of losing its audience.



John Schrag copyJohn Schrag, 56, executive editor, Pamplin Media Group (Portland, Ore.)

Schrag has worked for PMG for 11 years and oversees news operations for the company’s 24 newspapers.

In an era when random bits of information pass for news, it’s crucial that newspapers connect the dots. And, when those dots lead to an owner, they should be brightly highlighted for readers.

Adelson is not the first politically active newspaper owner. William Randolph Hearst was a U.S. Congressman in the early 1900s . Here in Oregon, Hugh McGilvra served in the state legislature in the 1970s when he ran a small chain of weekly papers.

Owners involved in the community inevitably make news and they should be covered—and their link to the paper prominently noted.

Disclosure is not just ethical; it’s smart. If a news organization doesn’t point out an owner’s interest and involvement, you can bet a competitor will.

McGilvra’s papers are now part of the Pamplin Media Group, owned by Robert Pamplin, a prominent businessman and philanthropist. These days Pamplin is most likely to make news for lending his art collection to a good cause. But 15 years ago, shortly after founding the Portland Tribune, he donated an island used for his gravel operation to the city of Portland for a nature area.

Coverage in the Portland Tribune drew fire from a columnist for a competing paper, who felt the story should have re-visited environmental problems at the gravel operation. I thought the criticism was misplaced (it was a feature story, not an exposé) but readers could decide for themselves whether Pamplin got a pass, as the Tribune had disclosed his ownership of the paper in the story—a practice it continues whenever he is named.

My former employer, Willamette Week, has spent the last few years dealing the fact that Ellen Rosenblum, elected Oregon Attorney General in 2012, is married to one of the paper’s owners.

Since then WW has occasionally been accused of giving Rosenblum favorable coverage. Anyone reading the paper’s critical reporting on Rosenblum’s slow response to an internal surveillance program last fall would find that charge laughable. They also would find this parenthetical phrase, which appears whenever the paper writes about the AG’s office: “Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to WW co-owner Richard Meeker.”

That’s called connecting the dots.


Editor’s Note: Las Vegas Review-Journal managing editor Glenn Cook writes:

In response to your April 14 “Critical Thinking” feature on transparency in newspaper ownership:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal discloses the Adelson family’s ownership of the company in every report that addresses the Adelsons’ interests. The newspaper has done this since late December. In just the past week, the Review-Journal has provided such disclosures several. Some recent examples:

When the decision was made in late January to remove a much broader disclosure statement from our website home page and page 3A of our print editions, the practice of providing disclosures in every story about the Adelsons or their interests did not change. Far from leaving readers “in the dark” or “continuing to remain private,” as writer Alexis Alfred asserted in her opinion piece, the Review-Journal remains committed to openness about its ownership and the potential conflicts of interest that arise in covering the Adelson family. The basis of Ms. Alfred’s entire argument is false.

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Published: April 14, 2016


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