Any doubt about who is running the Las Vegas Review-Journal was resolved abruptly Thursday. Owners Sheldon Adelson and his family summarily dismissed publisher Jason Taylor, a rising young star in the GateHouse group, and installed their own pick, former USA TODAY publisher Craig Moon.
Moon, in turn, will choose the paper’s next editor — a search that Taylor and others in GateHouse had been leading.
A management services contract with GateHouse, whose parent sold the paper to the Adelsons late last year, remains in place for now. But with the publisher no longer reporting to top GateHouse execs, they will not be involved going forward in key business and editorial decisions.
There were tea leaves to read in abundance Thursday suggesting that that billionaire Adelson has decided to assert his owner’s prerogatives rather than leave a buffer in place to avoid potential conflicts of interest:
- The Review-Journal, praised for its independent and sometimes rebellious coverage of the ownership change, printed only a press release story about the change with a few added comments from Moon.
- An elaborate page three disclosure in the print edition about Adelson’s business interests has disappeared. The big news in the city yesterday was the possibility of his Las Vegas Sands Corporation taking the lead in building a $1 billion sport stadium to secure an NFL franchise. It ran with a one-sentence disclosure that the Adelsons own the paper.
- Veteran GateHouse editor Dave Butler negotiated a detailed plan for editorial independence earlier this month on a troubleshooting visit to the Review-Journal, which Taylor accepted. My hunch is that set of guidelines may be short-lived as well under the new regime.
- No live-tweeting or on-the-record comment from staff was forthcoming — in contrast to transparency about Butler’s visit and appointment that week of interim editor Glenn Cook. (Cook said then he plans to return to his job as chief editorial writer when a permanent editor is named).
Moon, 65, had a long career at Gannett but retired as USA TODAY publisher in 2009. There have been three publishers since and radical changes in the paper’s print and digital strategies. Moon meanwhile has been doing some consulting and bought four small papers in North Carolina.
GateHouse hired Taylor away from Gannett last June to run the Review-Journal, which its parent, New Media Investment Group, had bought three months earlier along with other, smaller papers from Stephens Media. He will remain with GateHouse.
In essence, New Media flipped the property to the Adelsons later in 2015 at a huge markup. The new owner’s identity was kept secret briefly until Review-Journal reporters and Fortune broke the story.
Soon after, events unfolded suggesting Adelson’s representatives had prompted a Review-Journal investigation of a local judge handling a pending suit against him. The findings never appeared in the Review-Journal, but Adelson front man Michael Schroeder (since fired) published a version of the beefs against her in his small Connecticut papers.
It has been assumed (though never confirmed by the Adelsons) that they will decide who the paper endorses in the possibly pivotal Nevada Republican presidential primary Feb. 28. That seems more likely than ever after this week’s events.
A newsroom source tells me the mood there is grim:
People aren’t happy. We all think we know who the first people out under new leadership will be: the people who were most vocal during the last round of shenanigans. The disclosure being removed was a huge blow…It seems that the Adelsons intend to break every promise they’ve made to us, but now they’re just doing it through a front man to keep their hands clean. Almost no one has any confidence we’ll come out of this in one piece, where just two weeks ago we were finally starting to feel like things were stable. Hopeful, even.