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Justice 'Reviews' Antitrust Charges vs. Detroit Papers

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Justice 'Reviews' Antitrust Charges vs. Detroit Papers

Article excerpt

THE U.S. JUSTICE Department's Antitrust Division says it is "reviewing" complaints from the AFL-CIO and striking Detroit newspaper employees that the joint agency that operates the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News is acting as a "price-fixing cartel."

In a petition to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, the unions argue that the Detroit Newspaper Agency -- which runs business and production operations for Knight-Ridder Inc.'s Free Press and Gannett Co.'s News while the papers continue to compete editorially -- should lose its exemption from antitrust laws because it has violated terms of the government-approved joint operating agreement, or JOA.

The two papers -- which lost millions during the 1970s and 1980s while fighting a newspaper war to a virtual tie -- began operating under the JOA in late 1989. Until last year, losses continued under the JOA despite substantial increases in the rates charged to advertisers and readers.

Those increases, the unions charge, represent an abuse of the JOA'S antitrust protection.

Also under study, an antitrust division spokesman said, is the JOA's publication of a combined News and Free Press since the strike began July 13. Normally, the Free Press publishes mornings, the News afternoons, and on Saturdays, Sundays and major holidays, they publish a combined edition.

Detroit Newspaper Agency has said it believes it is well within its legal right to produce continuing combined editions during the strike because it specifically amended the JOA agreement in 1992 to include just such a provision for strikes. …

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