The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

January 21, 2010

Deal to end lawsuit against Charleston publisher reached

CHARLESTON — The publisher of West Virginia’s largest-circulation newspaper will return control of the rival paper it bought in 2004 to its previous owner under a Wednesday proposal meant to settle a U.S. Justice Department antitrust lawsuit triggered by the purchase.

The settlement would also have the Daily Gazette Co. provide financial incentives to Denver-based MediaNews Group once it resumes independent control of the Charleston Daily Mail.

The proposed deal, filed in U.S. District Court, would restructure the long-standing joint operating agreement that allowed the Daily Mail and its larger rival, The Charleston Gazette, to share such costs as printing and delivery.

Among other provisions, the settlement calls on the papers’ joint operations to offer half-off subscriptions to new Daily Mail subscribers for at least six months. It bars any attempt to discriminate against the Daily Mail in the papers’ joint circulation or advertising sales efforts.

“Today’s settlement resolves the department’s antitrust concerns and allows readers to continue to have a choice between two independent local daily newspapers,” Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division, said in a news release.

MediaNews has overseen the Daily Mail’s news and editorial content, under a management agreement reached when it sold the newspaper. Wednesday’s proposal would expand that oversight to include such areas as newsroom staff size, hiring and pay.

“We will have more say in things going forward,” MediaNews Group President Joseph J. Lodovic IV said Wednesday. “It helps to ensure our continued involvement, which was always our desire.”

It also gives the former owner a chance to buy a future stake in the newspaper. The Justice Department sued over the $55 million purchase in 2007. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. can sign the proposed settlement following a 60-day public comment period, “upon a finding that it serves the public interest,” the Justice Department release said.

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