21 January 2010

U.S. Justice Department Unveils Settlement with W.Va. Publisher

In 2004, the publisher of West Virginia's largest-circulation newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, acquired its in-city rival, the Charleston Daily Mail, for a reported $55 million. Three years later, the U.S. Justice Department sued the publisher, the Daily Gazette Co., alleging antitrust violations.

As The Associated Press and others report, the department's Antitrust Division has announced a proposed settlement to the lawsuit, filing its terms in U.S. District Court.

The goal of the deal is two independent newspapers. Toward that end, it gives control of the Daily Mail to its previous owner, MediaNews Group.

The Denver-based chain had already been overseeing the content side of the newspaper through a management agreement. The settlement would greatly enhance its duties.

The deal also restructures a joint operating agreement that for decades before the sale, allowed the two newspapers to shoulder an array of costs together. The two share a building, a printing press, a fleet of delivery trucks and circulation and advertising sales offices.

Among other provisions, the deal would offer 50 percent discounts to new Daily Mail subscribers for at least six months, set the paper's newsroom staff at 32 for one year, and offer MediaNews a stake in its ownership if its conditions improve.

While the circulation of both papers has fallen in recent years, the Daily Mail's has fared the worst even after switching from evening to morning publication. "The Charleston Gazette is West Virginia's largest newspaper, with an average daily circulation of 40,671 according to September figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation," the article said. "The September numbers put the Daily Mail's circulation at 19,225."

A federal judge can approve the settlement following a 60-day public comment period. By then, the holding company of MediaNews expects to emerge from the "pre-packaged" Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization that it announced last week.

The Gazette and the Daily Mail each offer coverage of the settlement.

No comments: