The Block Island Times has been sold to a Connecticut publisher in the center of a national firestorm over journalistic ethics.
The Times and Michael Schroeder, president of Central Connecticut Communications, which owns the New Britain Herald and The Bristol Press, announced the deal on their websites, after the Providence Journal broke the news Christmas Eve.
Maryland-based broker W.B. Grimes & Company announced the sale Monday in a press release, according to the Providence Journal.
Schroeder also is manager of News + Media Capital Group LLC, a company that purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for a reported $140 million in December. According to reports in the Review-Journal, Schroeder initially refused to disclose who owned the Delaware-based limited liability company, though it was later determined to be casino operator and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a prominent backer of Republican politicians. Schroeder also is linked to the New Britain Herald’s story critical of a Las Vegas judge hearing a case involving Adelson. The Dec. 1 piece was written under the byline of Edward Clarkin, a person who does not appear to exist. The Hartford Courant has reported some parts of the piece, which was based on reporting done by Review-Journal reporters that was never previously published, appears to be plagiarized from law journals in several places, and quoted sources who told the Courant they were never interviewed.
The Block Island Times sale
In marketing The Block Island Times, W.B. Grimes & Company said it was an “award winning, 45-year-old Block Island Times with advertising at record levels and paid weekly circulation to match is newly on the market,” according to its website. “Two magazines, a dining guide, special summer editions, periodic insert sections and web initiatives enhance annual revenues which approach $1 million. Attractive bottom line.”
In the 2010 U.S. Census, the island’s population was 1,051, and the median household income was $44,779. The median home price is $1.175 million.
On Christmas, The Block Island Times’ publisher-owners, Fraser Lang and Betty Rawls Lang, posted a message on blockislandtimes.com, acknowledging the pending sale, but made no mention of the controversy surrounding the soon-to-be owner.
“We are confident that the new owner, Michael Schroeder, has the vision, resources and experience to take the helm,” the statement said. “We are pleased that his wife, Janet, will also play a role in the day-to-day management. They offer decades of business experience. Most importantly, they exhibit in their employment and volunteer work, a commitment to the community and its betterment.”
“When we learned that the tagline on their New Britain and Bristol publications was ‘It takes a newspaper to build a community’ we knew that they shared our goals,” it continued. “Michael will be introducing himself to our readers in the coming days. Stay tuned.”
The Langs will remain with the paper as consultants, they said in the statement, to focus “on new business opportunities and advising Schroeder on sales and editorial matters.”
“We enter a new chapter of our lives grateful for the opportunity to have served as the publishers of the newspaper in this community that we cherish,” the couple wrote. “Our goal has always been to deliver objective journalism and a forum for community discussion. This is a public trust as well as a job. Thanks to everyone for your friendship and support. And welcome to Janet and Michael Schroeder with best wishes for their success.”
Fraser Lang was reached for comment about the sale of the paper Tuesday.
“I am going to refer you to the statement that I made. It’s on the website and, that says it all,” Lang said.
When asked if he is concerned about the sale given the controversy that has surrounded Schroeder, Lang again referred to his statement.
Schroeder also announced the pending sale via a statement on the New Britain Herald website.
“We hope to serve the island’s residents with the same commitment we have shown to readers and advertisers in Central Connecticut, with strong, independent editorial content and service to advertisers,” he said.
In his statement, Schroeder said The Block Island Times staff would remain in place and the “acquisition only would strengthen the company’s commitment to its current businesses.”
“We expect the two locations to complement each other. The island tourist market is strong during the summer; the Connecticut papers are strong during the fourth quarter,” he said. “We’ll be able to give our people more opportunities, hopefully creating more work at both locations. Success means having happy people doing what they do best.”
Schroeder did not return multiple calls requesting comment.
A new owner in Las Vegas
In December, News + Media Capital Group purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal and several smaller papers in that state for $140 million, according to Review-Journal reports. That is $40 million more than New Media Investment Group – owners of Gatehouse Media, which owns the Providence Journal, among others – paid in March, when it bought the Las Vegas daily, seven other dailies and 65 weeklies for $102.5 million.
According to Huffington Post, an early edition of the Review-Journal included quotes about ownership of the paper that were later removed from the online version and from later print editions by its publisher Jason Taylor. The removed section read:
“Schroeder said News + Media does not own his newspapers or any other publications. When asked, he would not disclose the company’s investors.
‘They want you to focus on your jobs … don’t worry about who they are,’ Schroeder said.
Review-Journal Editor Michael Hengel noted the lack of disclosure. ‘The questions that were not answered Thursday are 1) Who is behind the new company, and 2) What are their expectations?’ Hengel said.”
Soon after, Hengel accepted a buyout and left the company, he said in a tweet.
The purchase has sparked national discussions about the intentions of the new owners of the Review-Journal.
“The way the Adelson family began its ownership of the Review-Journal – with secrecy, deception, and one opaque announcement after another – does not inspire confidence,” media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen told the Review-Journal. “Possibly this rocky start could be overcome, but the place to begin would have been with the public announcement of the purchase. In that announcement there is nothing about preserving the independence of the Review-Journal newsroom from undue influence by Sheldon Adelson, who as everyone knows is one of the most powerful people in the state and in Republican politics nationwide.”
Who is Edward Clarkin?
Concerns over Adelson’s intentions have grown with the mystery surrounding the Clarkin piece published in Schroeder‘s New Britain Herald. The 1,900-word story about business courts – not a typical topic in that newspaper, which this week ran stories like, “At Ferrari’s Appliance, ‘family-owned’ is a point of pride” and “Sewage arises during Plainville showing of ‘Force Awakens,’”– spent much of its inch count discussing a Las Vegas judge hearing a case involving Adelson.
Much of the material came from reporting done by Review-Journal journalists that was never published, that paper later reported.
The Review-Journal reported, “Just over a month before Sheldon Adelson’s family was revealed as the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, three reporters at the newspaper received an unusual assignment passed down from the newspaper’s corporate management: Drop everything and spend two weeks monitoring all activity of three Clark County judges. The reason for the assignment and its unprecedented nature was never explained ...
“None of the 15,000 words the reporters wrote about their time sitting in courtrooms was ever published by the Review-Journal, but days later a long article blasting [the judge’s] rulings in the Sands case appeared in a small Connecticut newspaper with a connection to Adelson that became known only last week.”
The only stories that had ever appeared under Edward Clarkin’s byline were three restaurant reviews, the Hartford Courant reported, and he is not an employee of the newspaper. His identity could not be established by any of the usual methods – property records, state voting rolls, social media – but the Review-Journal later reported Schroeder’s middle name is Edward and his mother’s maiden name was Clarkin. He has told several media outlets he does not know who Edward Clarkin is.
The Courant also noted several of the passages were identical to work published in 2008 in Business Law Today, a publication of the American Bar Association.
A reporter quits
This controversy led Steve Majerus-Collins, one of Schroeder’s reporters at The Bristol Press, to quit his job Christmas Eve. He made the announcement via a lengthy Facebook post in which he accuses his boss of being “guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions.” The piece has been shared more than 4,500 times and Majerus-Collins has been interviewed by state and national media in the days since.
He wrote, in part:
“I have learned with horror that my boss shoveled a story into my newspaper – a terrible, plagiarized piece of garbage about the court system – and then stuck his own fake byline on it. I admit I never saw the piece until recently, but when I did, I knew it had Mr. Schroeder’s fingerprints all over it. Yet when enterprising reporters asked my boss about it, he claimed to know nothing or told them he had no comment. Yesterday, they blew the lid off this idiocy completely, proving that Mr. Schroeder lied, that he submitted a plagiarized story, bypassed what editing exists and basically used the pages of my newspaper, secretly, to further the political agenda of his master out in Las Vegas. In sum, the owner of my paper is guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions.”
When reached by phone Wednesday, Majerus-Collins said he quit his job as a direct result of this episode. He had worked for Schroeder for years and found him “difficult” and “not the type of publisher you would want to work for,” he said.
He alleged the story ran under a fake byline and was slipped to copy editors late at night to ensure it would run. He said he thinks it was done to further someone’s political agenda, as it had nothing to do with central Connecticut and targeted a Las Vegas judge.
“This is absolutely horrendous – this is everything you cannot do [in journalism] and was put in the paper by the guy who owns it,” he said.
Majerus-Collins said he was aware of The Block Island Times purchase by Schroeder and had a warning for those who live on Block Island.
“If I was somebody that lived on Block Island and cared about my community, I would be worried,” he said. “It’s hard not to put two and two together and come up with a conclusion that is alarming,” he added.
Majerus-Collin’s wife, Jackie Collins, a reporter for the Bristol Press for 18 years, quit her job in 2011, after a story she was working on was quashed by Schroeder. In an interview, Collins said she learned from a source that the Bristol Hospital emergency room staff, which had worked for 18 years and had been receiving positive press for saving the life of Bristol’s mayor, was about to be fired by hospital leadership and replaced with a new group of doctors at a reduced cost. She said she spoke with the hospital president and asked him if this was true. The president told her he had made a deal with Michael Schroeder to “not run that story” because they didn’t want it to get out yet as they were “not ready.”
“[Schroeder] wanted to manage the news and to me, this was an egregious breach of trust with the community, who relied on the newspaper, and me as their representative to tell them the truth about what was happening in the community,” Collins said. “Schroeder was putting the needs of the advertiser ahead of the needs of the community. That is why I resigned.”
The hospital, she said, was one of the newspaper’s major advertisers.
“There is no excusing this behavior,” Majerus-Collins wrote in his Facebook post. “A newspaper editor cannot be allowed to stomp on the most basic rules of journalism and pay no price. He should be shunned by my colleagues, cut off by professional organizations and told to pound sand by anyone working for him who has integrity.”