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Who Bought The 'Las Vegas Review-Journal?' Reporters Investigate


Las Vegas is the backdrop to plenty of tales of intrigue and mystery. Some of them are ripped from the headlines. This one is about the headlines. Someone bought Nevada's largest newspaper last week. But even the reporters there don't know who it is. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: There are actually two mysteries here. The first - why would someone, anyone, buy the Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million in cash for about 40 percent more than it had commanded in an earlier sale just months before? The Review-Journal may well cover the strip, but given the problems pummeling both that newspaper and the industry, that is one heck of a gamble. And then there's the second baffler.

JON RALSTON: When it came out that the owners were refusing to reveal themselves, I think people were really puzzled.

FOLKENFLIK: Jon Ralston got his first job in journalism at the paper and rose to become its chief political columnist. He's no longer there.

RALSTON: People in the businesses, especially, started to get very upset. People inside the Review-Journal were immediately unsettled by this. And I think it's become both a mystery and an outrage at the same time.

FOLKENFLIK: Some of paper's reporters began to wage a skirmish on social media, tweeting links to industry ethics policies demanding transparency about conflicts of interest, not that, as Ralston says, they have any idea what those conflicts might be.

RALSTON: We don't know who this is. Is it a gaming company person? Is it someone who does business in Nevada? Is it someone who advertises in the paper all the time?

FOLKENFLIK: Publisher Jason Taylor has said his new bosses, the investors who own the paper, are familiar with the media business and are locals. A bunch of plausible buyers have either denied involvement or refused comment. The newspaper's initial coverage of the sale raised questions about its secrecy, which seems unprecedented for major media. But passages were removed for later editions, an ominous sign of the new regime. No one employed by the paper would be interviewed by NPR. A spokesman for the new owners, Michael Reed, said reporters would be unaffected. Again, Jon Ralston.

RALSTON: People know who owns The New York Times, so they know who to be upset with or to congratulate. They know who owns major television stations. They know who owns cable news networks in general. And so if there are any obvious hobbyhorses, they know about them going in.

FOLKENFLIK: The Review-Journal has an arrangement with the smaller Las Vegas Sun, in which the two share costs and profits. In such an agreement, the U.S. Justice Department gets to scrutinize any new owner for antitrust concerns. A Justice Department spokesman wouldn't comment, but he acknowledged his colleagues had no idea who now owns the paper either. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.