Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: The Great JOA Shuffle

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: The Great JOA Shuffle

Article excerpt

Well, here we go again. Another joint operating agreement (JOA) forged to preserve big-city daily newspaper competition for at least a century has busted up before even reaching its Sweet 16.

With Knight Ridder's dumping of the Detroit Free Press and Gannett Co. handing off The Detroit News to MediaNews Group Inc., the nation's largest JOA morphed from an arrangement splitting the risk and rewards equally between the two biggest chains in America into a big fish/little fish deal in which Gannett will take a reported 80% of the cut.

We say "reported" because as of this writing, neither of the chains involved is deigning to disclose the details of the renamed Detroit Newspaper Partnership L.P. Gannett maintains the $262 million Detroit deal is not "material" to its results, so there's no need to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission -- and neither believes its radical reworking of the JOA is any business of antitrust authorities.

In shutting out the public, Gannett and MediaNews are simply acting with the arrogant sense of entitlement that seems to come with the imprimatur of the risibly named Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970. The people's elected representatives gave JOA newspapers a rare exemption from antitrust law, yet their publishers act as if they alone set the rules.

All across the country, JOA papers have twisted their original agreements like origami torn from a legal pad -- and the outcome is never two stronger newspapers competing more fiercely than ever. …

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