Saturday, January 23, 2010

W.Va. papers, Justice Dept. strike deal to end antitrust lawsuit; cheap subscriptions for Daily Mail

One of the most rural states will continue to have ideologically competitive newspapers based in its central, capital city, under a settlement among the Department of Justice and owners of the two papers based in Charleston, W.Va.

Under the deal, which settles an antitrust lawsuit DOJ filed in 2007, recently bankrupt MediaNews Group will regain significant control of the editorially conservative Charleston Daily Mail and the paper will offer subscription discounts of at least 50 percent for the first six months to build its revenue base and compete with the independently owned and editorially liberal Charleston Gazette.

The papers have had a joint operating agreement since 1958. In 2004, the Gazette's owners bought the controlling interest in the JOA from MediaNews and started paying it a fee to manage its editorial operations. The suit alleged that the Gazette intended to close the Mail, which both papers denied.

The papers have competing staffs and publish a combined edition on Saturdays and Sundays. Circulation is about 73,000 on Sunday and 60,000 on Saturday; the Gazette's daily circulation is 46,000; the Daily Mail's is about 21,000, according to the Editor & Publisher International Yearbook.

"The proposed settlement requires the two companies to restructure the JOA again by giving MediaNews Group independent control over the operations of the Daily Mail as well as economic incentives," Editor & Publisher reports. The Gazette reported the deal in a relatively short story without a byline. Daily Mail Business Editor George Hohmann offers more details and writes that the deal "aims to keep both newspapers publishing with separate newsrooms and editorial opinions for years to come."

UPDATE, Jan. 25: Alan Mutter writes on his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog about how the MediaNews bankruptcy may affect the JOAs in which the company is involved.

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