Seven current and former members of the Las Vegas Review-Journal staff are the recipients of the 2015 James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for their coverage of the newspaper’s sale to the family of billionaire casino executive Sheldon Adelson. Glenn Cook, James DeHaven, Eric Hartley, Jennifer Robison, John L. Smith, Howard Stutz and James G. Wright received the honor.
“This award was created to honor courage in journalism – moral, physical, ethical, financial or political,” said Medill alumnus and co-judge Dick Stolley. “Because of the violent world we have to cover, journalists displaying physical courage have often been the winners, and justifiably so. This year is different. The staff of this newspaper displayed great courage in its coverage of a dramatic change in management in order to keep the public informed of news critical to their community. They risked their livelihood, careers and reputations in insisting on the kind of courageous journalism our medal was invented to celebrate. We are proud of them and of our choice.”
The announcement in December 2015 that the newspaper had been sold to a new and unnamed holding company, News + Media Capital Group LLC, sparked instant controversy, said Managing Editor Glenn Cook, who nominated the staff for Medill’s award.
“Everyone knew immediately that the anonymous purchase of a major daily American newspaper was unprecedented, and that secret ownership of the Review-Journal created an immediate ethical and credibility crisis not just for the newspaper, but for everyone employed by it,” Cook said. “How could reporters disclose potential conflicts of interest if they didn’t know who they worked for? How could readers trust them?”
Review-Journal staff quickly learned that reporting on their new owners would be difficult because, under the deal, GateHouse had been retained to operate the newspaper. Without telling the newsroom, someone at the GateHouse Media Design Center in Austin, Texas, ordered the Review-Journal’s presses stopped so quotes from News + Media Capital Group LLC Manager Michael Schroeder and then-Editor Mike Hengel could be removed from a story announcing the sale.
Reporters James DeHaven, Howard Stutz and Jennifer Robison, led by Deputy Editor James G. Wright, worked their sources until the shell company started to crack. An editorial by Cook (who at the time was the Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer) compared the lack of transparency in local teacher contract talks to his own paper’s lack of openness. Finally, on Dec. 16, the R-J was ready to report that Adelson’s son-in-law was behind the purchase. The scoop was ready to publish online at 2:30 p.m. but it languished, awaiting clearance from management. At 7:25 p.m., Hengel ordered the story posted.
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