Charleston Newspapers antitrust settlement approved

By Steve Korris | Jul 23, 2010


CHARLESTON – U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver looms as a dragon guarding the Charleston Daily Mail from those who would weaken it.

An antitrust settlement he approved on July 19 equips him with phenomenal power to regulate both newspapers and strengthen the Daily Mail.

"The Charleston Daily Mail shall continue to be published as a daily newspaper," he promised in an order of final judgment.

He wrote that the essence of the judgment was the prompt adoption of procedures and prohibitions "to assure that competition is not substantially lessened."

He must satisfy himself that Charleston Newspapers, an operating partnership between the dailies, does not discriminate against the Daily Mail.

He won't allow either daily to influence the content of the other.

He expects proof of compliance in 60 days, and every year for five years.

He won't allow the Daily Mail to shut down until the U.S. Attorney General conducts an investigation that could include interrogation of editors and reporters.

He gave the Gazette five business days to restore ownership of the Daily Mail to Media News Group, a Denver company that sold the Daily Mail to the Gazette in 2004.

Daily Mail promotions ended and circulation dropped after the sale, prompting the government to file antitrust charges in 2007.

The settlement aims to reverse the Daily Mail's decline overnight.

For six months, Charleston Newspapers must offer new Daily Mail subscribers a discount of at least 50 percent.

Anyone who hasn't subscribed in 60 days will count as a new subscriber.

Charleston Newspapers must promote the discount through its website, telemarketing, single free copies, kiosks, and door to door campaigns.

The Gazette can discount subscriptions too, but not as deeply as the Daily Mail.

Copenhaver attached to his order all agreements between the dailies, giving every provision the force of law.

An amended joint operating agreement provides that, "Preservation of the editorial independence of the newspapers is the essence of this JOA."

Both dailies promise editorial products compatible with the needs of the market, which Copenhaver defines as Kanawha and Putnam counties.

Both dailies promise a high standard of journalistic excellence.

Charleston Newspapers will adopt equal budgets for news space and color at both dailies, though either daily can exceed the budget if it reimburses the partnership.

Charleston Newspapers will charge the Daily Mail a management fee that will increase if circulation rises or decrease if it falls.

A new Charleston Publishing Company will run the Daily Mail newsroom, exercising exclusive supervision over editors, reporters and photographers.

Charleston Publishing will determine the number, identity, and salaries of editorial employees, so long as it sticks to its budget.

Copenhaver attached an exhibit showing capital account balances of $63,750,000 for the Daily Gazette Holding Company and a dollar for Charleston Publishing.

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