Las Vegas Sun

November 22, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

When competition in the news drives quality, the readers win

The bottom line of the news business should not be confused with the profit line of business.

It is no secret that there is an effort by the owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to end what is left of a 50-year joint operating agreement between the Las Vegas Sun and the R-J. The agreement was designed to guarantee that the people of Nevada — specifically, Southern Nevada — have the benefit of two separate newsrooms.

In what some might call a quixotic adventure into the federal courts to save the agreement (I call it absolutely essential), there has been a simplistic reference to the proposed end to the Sun newspaper as just a question of money. The R-J says it costs money to publish the Sun and most of the owners of the Sun say they want money more than they want the Sun.

I admit it has been difficult to define the real import of the JOA and what it means to the people of Las Vegas. Until today, that is.

The Founding Fathers came up with the Bill of Rights to provide citizens the security they needed from problems that would certainly result if the people in government were left unchecked. The First Amendment — which many say is the most important one — guarantees the right of free speech and freedom of the press.

The idea was that if citizens had the right to speak and write freely – thus providing a teeming marketplace of ideas and credible discussion — without government interference, our republic stood a better chance of survival. After more than 225 years, it is safe to say it looks like this system has a pretty good chance of survival.

And one of the main reasons we have managed thus far is because the people do, in spite of the clutter that exists today, have access to more channels of credible stories, editorials, features and photos. The distinction here is multiple channels, not multiple newsrooms. The newsrooms, unfortunately, are under siege.

So it stands to reason that our democracy and the people who live under its rules are better served with more, not less, credible information. And that brings me back to the bottom line of news organizations.

Both the front page of the Las Vegas Sun and the homepage of lasvegassun.com today are heralding the results of the 2013 Nevada Press Association awards ceremony that was last night in Elko. For news organizations, this is one of those times when we are judged against our peers, so we all pay attention to the results — whether we admit it or not. Usually we admit it when we do well and ignore the results when we have an off year.

This year the Las Vegas Sun and her sister publications, Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Magazine and VEGAS INC, did very well. In fact, if you stack the Greenspun Media Group newsroom up against the major competitors in Las Vegas, Reno and the rest of the state, you might conclude we did outstandingly well.

I mention this for two reasons. First, I take great pride in the professional journalists — the reporters, editors, columnists, editorial writers, photographers, designers, artists and everyone else — who produce and package the kind of credible information that people need to make competent decisions about their daily lives and their democracy.

I am certain that our competitors are equally proud of their people who were recognized by the association.

The second reason is that I couldn’t plead my case any better about the benefit that competition between newsrooms produces than the story on the front page that shows just how competition can drive quality.

While the Greenspun newsroom garnered the most awards in total and the most first-place awards by far, it must not be lost on the readers that the R-J also did well in some important categories.

For example, the Sun’s political editor, Anjeanette Damon, was awarded the outstanding journalist prize for large daily newspapers. Not only does she deserve it, but it reflects the commitment of the Sun to the coverage of politics and government in this state, a subject matter essential to a healthy democracy.

Nevada Press Association Awards

This photo was awarded third placed as part of the Launch slideshow »

Part of the body of work that the judges referred to in naming Damon the outstanding journalist was the “Line of Attack” election-truth meter that she and our politics team produces during the election cycle. It provides a significant public service to voters, helping them determine the truth of political advertising.

The judges also awarded the R-J’s Jeff Scheid first place for the photo of the year, which is a visual way of telling a story. Our nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist, Mike Smith, got the top prize for the best editorial cartoon. His talent is unlimited and the stories he tells in just one cartoon are unparalleled.

My favorite category is the community service award. That went to the Sun’s J. Patrick Coolican, who is currently on leave pursuing a much-coveted journalism fellowship. Community service, after all, is the real bottom line for any news organization.

The community service was provided by a story that wouldn’t get told if the Sun did not exist. It was a combination of Coolican’s columns and a collection of reports by Jackie Valley, Tovin Lapan and our former political reporter, David McGrath Schwartz, that examined human trafficking in Las Vegas. Thanks to the Sun, we can no longer hide from this shameful fact of life. We may not want to admit it, but the prevalence of child prostitution in Las Vegas is a major black mark on our city.

I could go on down the list, but that is not the purpose of my column. The reason for writing this is to demonstrate the value of all competing newsrooms to the city in which they publish.

The Sun does not have a monopoly on every good story that is printed in the daily newspaper. We share that space with the R-J. Together, however, we cover the proverbial waterfront — and who wins? The reader.

And it is not just the daily Sun. The Las Vegas Weekly and VEGAS INC, our business publication, are also part of the Greenspun newsroom. Reporters and editors produce each of these publications, which get distributed to different audiences. The Review-Journal is similar in its approach. In fact, since the crash in 2008, newspaper organizations have learned the benefits of tearing down the walls that once separated singular publications. It was both an economic necessity and an operational advantage.

Our tourist publication, Las Vegas Magazine, was also recognized as the best of its breed by the NPA (a fact we and our city’s major industry already knew, but it always feels good to hear it again). The features from LVM often find their way into our other publications, once again proving the strength of a single news-gathering force.

I have taken your time today to crow a bit, but also to point out that bottom lines can be different. For sure, a bottom-line profit is necessary on a sustained basis if any business is to remain viable. But for those of us who are in the news business for all of the right reasons, the bottom line is a bit different.

You see, our bottom line is our democracy. We cherish it and our role under the First Amendment. We believe that the better job we do in providing the credible news stories, the entertaining features, the thought-provoking editorials and cartoons, the story-telling photos that jump off our pages — as well as the writing that encourages citizens to envision better tomorrows; the better we do all of that, the better chance we all have to keep democracy moving forward.

And as much as many people in business might jokingly advance the idea of having a monopoly, each of us knows that we are all better served by having to compete for the public’s attention because, by doing so, we produce better and more meaningful stories.

Yes, the Greenspun Media Group cleaned up last night and we are all proud of that achievement. But we also know that we couldn’t have done as well without the competition at our heels.

It is true that even profit-making businesses in our free enterprise system will wither and die at the hands of monopolists. If we extend those monopolies to the news business it is no less true and far more dangerous because there is something much more precious than a profit hanging in the balance.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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