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Sun up: An exchange on the new state of the Las Vegas Sun
by Scott Dickensheets & Andrew Kiraly | posted July 2, 2014
SCOTT: Sing it with me, Andrew: Here he comes to save the day! (C'mon, you know the words …) It seems that Brian Greenspun, through some combination of buyout, asset-swap and/or threats of big brotherly noogies, has wrangled sole control over the Greenspun Media Group from his siblings (with whom he has been notoriously squabbling). First order of business: He halted the negotiations, previously approved by his brother and two sisters, that would have dissolved the joint-operating agreement with the Review-Journal, which keeps the Sun alive. Until now, despite Brian's various legal maneuverings, most of us assumed that the doomsday clock was ticking off the paper's final minutes.
In a way, I'm surprised I was surprised by the deal. The minute I heard about it, I mentally smacked my forehead: Of course. It makes sense. An ownership shuffle is a clean, angst-free way to resolve both the family and the JOA issues, and it leaves the media holdings in the hands of the only Greenspun who really cared about them anyway. That Brian appears to be going all-in on the journalism properties isn't surprising: As the oldest son of a complex, charismatic father who built the Sun into the cornerstone of his family's civic stature — and left it as his real legacy, Green Valley and the cable system notwithstanding — Brian has always appeared more emotionally invested in the journalism stuff than his brothers and sisters. Now this deal appears to save the Sun, and preserves at least the theoretical possibility of another compelling journalistic voice in the community, even if the print Sun has lately been reduced — correction: reduced itself — to running reams of wire copy.
ANDREW: It was definitely a nice little surprise checkmate — I can totally imagine RJ Publisher Ed Moss doing a whaaaat just happened?! face-grab — that hadn't occurred to me. In both our chit-chat about it between us and other media gossip circles, the dissolving of the JOA and the presumed subsequent death of the Sun had taken on this sense of a grinding, inescapable heat death. Is it me, or is Brian Greenspun kinda giving off quasi-hero vibes in all this?
But hold the comeback "Eye of the Tiger" music montage! Now Brian has shored up a bunch of Greenspun legacy media — Las Vegas Magazine, Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Inc., among others, including The Sunday, which I'm still baffled by. It starts to look as problematic and unwise as it does noble: He's calved off from the family iceberg a host of primarily print publications. In the 21st century. In a crowded market where weeklies are thinning or dying. In an economically recovering city where dailies are slashing staff. The rest of the pubs he took as part of the deal don't have the convenient corporate-welfare IV drip that the Sun does via the JOA, which injects the paper with a share of annual RJ profits (according to the RJ, it was $1.3 million in 2012). I don't know how the GMG empire was previously structured, whether everything was silo'd off, whether profitable divisions that were big producers could carry the losers and the limpers, but I'll be curious to see how well a "pure" media company does with him at the helm.
SCOTT: Ah, the implications of "Brian at the helm"! He is, after all, the same Brian Greenspun who reportedly invested a truckload of family treasure in Sam Zell's kooky Tribune Co. misadventure (goodbye, money!), and who continued bankrolling the costly schemes of online guru Rob Curley long after everyone else got fed up with them. Some ex-Sun staffers can regale you with tales of stories supposedly spiked because they might've conflicted with some Greenspun agenda. More recently, journalists Dana Gentry and Jon Ralson left the Sun for what they felt was insufficient backing of Gentry's reporting on a prominent investment firm (the subject of which shared an attorney with Greenspun). So, a mixed record, let's say. What those foibles portend for his leadership, unencumbered by family input, is anyone's guess. Yet I also think the GMG staff will appreciate the new clarity of single-sibling ownership. And the sense of renewed, squabble-free commitment from the top. Because, again, credit where it's due: Brian's putting himself on the money line on behalf of journalism, print or otherwise, and the rank sentimentalist in me roots for that. (Not to mention that I worked for GMG for most of two decades, FYI.)
I'm as puzzled by The Sunday as you are, Andrew, but in a Q&A posted on the Sun website, Brian insists that it's taken off like a tasered cat. Readers love it! Advertisers say it's what they want! The Weekly is doing fine, too, he says. And the future's so bright you gotta wear shades: "In the next few months," he says, "we’re going to unveil bold new plans for high-impact and enterprise reporting that could create a model for the rest of the nation." Sounds groovy but, really, the nation? Still, for all that hyperbole, a true, legit, balls-out effort to achieve such goals ought to be good for the state of journalism here, don't you think?
ANDREW: Yeah, in light of that glittering cloud of PR bloviate matter, we should also remember he promised that The Sunday would be "an essential guide to Las Vegas." Okay, okay, I'll admit that I'm intrigued and even pleased by some of the moves The Sunday has been making, and hopefully the Sun comes to embody at least a promising percentage of what he's promising. I suppose it's too early for irrational optimism. Right now, I'll let myself be happy that there's a Sun, if not the Sun — you know, the sleek machine that was nabbing awards and finalist nods just a few years ago, scrabbling through the ribcage of the RJ like a hungry baby alien. However, if they want bold and high-impact and enterprise, they're going to need, you know, journalists, and my understanding is that these days, that exit door is getting quite a workout.
But yeah, part of me wants to say to all that compelling hyperbole, Whoa there, one thing at a time. When I hear "bold new plans," I remember, uh, 702.TV. I'd be more stoked if he'd said something like, oh, We're going to focus on in-depth reporting and great writing that tells the stories — good and bad — of Las Vegas. From where the Sun is at now, reaching for the stars might result, I'm afraid, in another dire faceplant. I hope they have the courage to aim not so high.
(Note: This post was updated on July 3.)
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