Judge OKs Settlement to Change Charleston Newspaper JOA

By: Mark Fitzgerald

A federal judge granted final approval to changes to the Charleston, W.Va., joint operating agreement (JOA) that is intended to bolster the Charleston Daily Mail.

Under terms of the settlement, the Daily Mail will have to remain a five-day-a-week newspaper, and it must offer reduced-rate subscriptions for the next six months.

The settlement stems from an antitrust  complaint the U.S. Department of Justice lodged in 2007, alleging changes made to the ownership structure of the Daily Mail three years earlier were illegal.

In 2004, the parent company of the Charleston Gazette bought the assets of the Daily Mail from MediaNews Group. Included in the purchase was MediaNews’ 50% share in the JOA, Charleston Newspapers, which since 1958 has run business and production operations of the two papers while they continued to compete editorially.

Under the 2004 agreement, MediaNews continued to manage the Daily Mail’s editorial operations for a fee and the two newsrooms remained separate and competitors.

This January, the Justice Department settled with Daily Gazette Co. and MediaNews.

According to the settlement, MediaNews will have two seats on a five-member board of the JOA. Four of the five members must sign off on the budgets for each newspaper, and the size of the Daily Mail newsroom staff will be determined solely by MediaNews.

“The Daily Gazette Co. is pleased that the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia has given final approval to settlement of the litigation with the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, with no finding or admission of liability on the Daily Gazette Co.’s part,” Gazette Publisher Elizabeth E. Chilton said in a statement published in an unbylined Gazette article.

“This case concerned events that took place more than six years ago,” she added. “The resolution of the case will enable the Daily Gazette Co. and Charleston Newspapers to move forward with their mission of providing high-quality journalism and vital news and information to the Charleston community and the state of West Virginia.”

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