‘SF Bay Guardian’ Will Ask Court to Unseal Hearst/MediaNews Documents

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The San Francisco Bay Guardian and Media Alliance plan a court filing Thursday to intervene in the lawsuit to stop the complex Bay Area newspaper deal between Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group Inc. — with the intention of unsealing documents of the two publishing companies.

In an e-mail to E&P, Bay Guardian owner, Editor and Publisher Bruce B. Brugmann said the paper had been talking with Hearst about getting access to some of the documents, which the companies contend include trade secrets and other proprietary information.

“Hearst at first indicated they might give up some documents, if we specified which ones, which we did,” Brugmann said. “But they decided to stonewall and it looks as if they will continue to do so.”

A Hearst spokesman did not reply immediately to a message seeking comment. A spokesperson for MediaNews in Denver, where a blizzard has hampered many businesses could not be reached.

“The courts are supposed to operate in public, and there’s a clear public interest in this information,” Brugmann said in a later statement. ” “Our intent here is to ensure that the nation’s biggest newspaper chains, as they move to destroy daily competition and impose a regional monopoly on the Bay Area, cannot do so in the dark of night with sealed records that set a terrible precedent for the free press, the First Amendment, and open government.”

The lawsuit by Clint Reilly, a San Francisco real estate developer and former mayoral candidate, seeks to reverse the deal between Hearst and MediaNews for three Bay Area dailies and several weeklies sold off by The McClatchy Co. when it acquired Knight Ridder. Hearst, which publishes the market’s largest daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, bought the Monterey County Herald in California and the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota from McClatchy, then turned them over to MediaNews in exchange for a stake in MediaNews operations outside of the Bay Area. MediaNews, which already published dozens of papers in the region, at the same time bought the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times.

Reilly contends the deal would impose a newspaper monopoly on the Bay Area.

The alternative Guardian has been an outspoken critic of the deal. Media Alliance describes itself as a 30-year-old nonprofit media advocacy group with 1,800 members.

They are being represented by lawyers from the First Amendment Project in Oakland.

“There is a well established constitutional right for the public to have access to court proceedings and records, with only rare exception,” said Jim Wheaton, senior counsel for the First Amendment Project. “We expect the parties here, especially the parties in this case, as well as the court to continue to honor that tradition. This may be the biggest news story about the news in a generation and all the facts need to be out.”

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