Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: Federal Blunderment

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: Federal Blunderment

Article excerpt

Time and again in this space, we've shone a light on the many cynical manipulations of joint operating agreements (JOAs), and cried out, "Where, oh where, is the Justice Department in all this?"

Now at long last the feds have intervened in a JOA, and all we can say is, why, oh why, did they pick this of all cases? And where, oh where, are their brains?

Our taxpayer-financed Justice Department lawyers the other day filed 19 pages of stunningly illogical mush in U.S. District Court in Charleston, W.Va. -- and managed to prove only that they haven't the slightest idea how a JOA really works.

The JOA between The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail is one of the oldest still going. It was created 12 years before JOAs were formally given antitrust protection in the risibly named Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 (NPA).

With control split 50/50 between the family owners of the morning Gazette and the eventual owner of the afternoon Mail, Denver-based MediaNews Group, this JOA worked to "preserve" the second paper about as well as they usually do: The a.m. paper chugged along nicely, while the p.m. daily slowly bled to death.

Three years ago, MediaNews sold the Daily Mail and its stake in the JOA to the Gazette, and the partners completely rewrote their arrangement. Now, Media News gets a management fee for operating the Mail, and the papers continue to compete editorially.

If this sort of wholesale reworking of a contract supposedly subject to public regulation sounds familiar, it's because MediaNews and Gannett Co. …

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