The Las Vegas Review-Journal is Nevada's largest newspaper and has been the flagship of two media empires. It began publishing as the Clark County Review on September 18, 1909. Founder Charles "Corky" Corkhill, then serving as Clark County's first sheriff, had edited the Las Vegas Age until its sale to Republican C.P. "Pop" Squires in 1908. Corkhill wanted a Democratic voice for Las Vegas. He promised the Review would be Democratic, "providing the Democrats behave themselves and 'come across' occasionally."
While Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Las Vegas, the paper was barely profitable. Corkhill lost ownership to his wife, Mae, in a divorce settlement in 1922. Finally, in 1926, she found a buyer: longtime Nevada mining camp editor Frank Garside. Since he was busy with another daily, the Tonopah Times-Bonanza, he hired Albert E. Cahlan as editor, who later became co-owner. By 1929, they had built the Review into a daily and merged it with former Governor James G. Scrugham's weekly Journal. The new paper was christened Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal.
Squires briefly expanded the Age to a daily, but the R-J's Democratic politics and younger staff overwhelmed him. The Age eventually retreated to weekly publication and the R-J bought Squires out in 1947. Cahlan ran the business side, wrote a daily column, "From Where I Sit," and dabbled in politics while his brother John Cahlan served as managing editor. John's wife, Florence Lee Jones, was the star reporter. They were clear boosters of the R-J, involving themselves and the newspaper in numerous community activities and printing as much favorable news about Las Vegas as they could.
In 1949, Garside refused to invest in newer presses, concerned about expenses and whether Las Vegas' growth would sustain itself. Cahlan found a new partner who bought out Garside–Donald W. Reynolds, who was building a southwestern media empire. Within a year, they had locked out the International Typographical Union, which was trying to organize some of their employees.
The ITU started its own paper, the Free Press, which Hank Greenspun bought and turned into the Las Vegas Sun, beginning a newspaper war that continues to the present day. In the 1950s, Greenspun almost caught up to the R-J in circulation, and the two papers fought over news coverage, the rivalry evident in their editorial columns. The R-J began morning and Sunday editions to compete with Greenspun.
The R-J also expanded its staff throughout the 1950s. The town was growing too fast for it to remain simply a Cahlan operation. Chet Sobsey served as a political reporter, then left to work for U.S. Senator Howard Cannon throughout his four terms. Jim Joyce worked at the R-J before beginning a distinguished career in advertising and political consulting. Royce Feour spent more than four decades associated with the R-J, mostly as a boxing writer. The Cahlans also hired away several Sun reporters; the R-J's greater profits enabled it to pay better salaries, although few Las Vegas reporters became rich in their profession.
Finally, late in 1960, Reynolds bought out Al Cahlan, who left the paper. Bob Brown soon became editor while one of Reynolds's employees back in Arkansas, Fred Smith, became general manager. While Brown improved the printed product, a fire that destroyed the Sun building in November 1963 effectively eliminated it as a competitive threat. The R-J increased its circulation lead amid several changes in the 1960s. The most notable of these was Brown's departure in 1964 due to a dispute with Reynolds over political coverage, followed by short tenures for editors Joseph Digles (two years after his promotion from managing editor) and Jim Leavy (a longtime Reynolds editor). Stability returned to the newsroom with longtime editor and columnist Don Digilio's promotion to editor in 1969.
Digilio remained for a decade, almost matching the stability that had been on the advertising and business side. Smith moved up in the company until he became chairman, running the whole Donrey Media Group. William Wright, who had come to the R-J in 1941 as an ad salesman, became general manager in 1966 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1981.
Digilio had been forced to leave in 1980 due to a scandal over his investments with community figures the paper was covering. He later returned to the R-J as a columnist. Reynolds imported George Collier, who edited one of his California papers, and retired Wright in favor of another executive in his media group, Earl Johnson. Collier spent only one year in Las Vegas, redesigning the paper completely before returning to California and giving way to another Reynolds veteran, longtime journalist Tom Keevil, in 1982.
Keevil remained as editor until his death in 1989. Sherman Frederick, a one-time R-J reporter and city editor, succeeded him and soon was promoted to publisher. After Reynolds's death in 1993 and his company's sale to Jackson Stephens, an Arkansas businessman, Frederick became chief executive officer of Stephens Media Group, as Donrey was renamed in 2002. He remained R-J publisher, with former Miami News staffer Thomas Mitchell as editor, veteran reporter and editor Charles Zobell as managing editor, and Allan Fleming as general manager in charge of daily operations.
Amid all of these changes, the R-J's circulation increased as Las Vegas grew. The paper also became more controversial editorially than it had been since Cahlan's ties to U.S. Senator Patrick McCarran. From the late 1980s on, the editorial page, which had long been moderately conservative, became more libertarian. While this fit with certain Nevada traditions—gambling, divorce, and prostitution laws, for example—the Las Vegas area remained more Democratic than Republican.
The R-J also benefited, and suffered, from lessened daily competition. After Hank Greenspun died in 1989, his family signed a Joint Operating Agreement with the R-J. The Sun would remain editorially independent, but the R-J would control advertising and circulation, and the two papers would publish a combined edition on weekends and holidays. Also, the Sun could expand its reporting staff only by paying for it itself or when the R-J expanded. These factors helped prompt the R-J to diversify, creating new publications or buying other ones so that it could expand, and do so without having to fund the Sun.
Under Frederick, the R-J started an alternative weekly, the Las Vegas Mercury, developed online sources and a book publishing company, started the View community supplements, and eventually purchased several rural Nevada newspapers that might otherwise have folded. Stephens Media also bought the Spanish language paper El Tiempo and three more specialized publications from Wick Media: the weekly Business Press and alternative paper City Life, and the monthly Senior Press. But while the Sun continued to publish and cause a stir, the R-J so dominated the market that it really had little competition, especially when the Sun ceased to be a separate daily in October 2005. It appeared as an insert in the R-J.
One change at the R-J has been a throwback to earlier times—a more stable, more senior staff. Especially in the 1970s and 1980s, Las Vegas was a transitional market for reporters trying to move up to larger cities and newspapers (although Mary Hausch spent nearly two decades as city editor and then managing editor, and several reporters and editors established roots in the community). Recently, more R-J reporters and columnists have followed suit.
The paper's most popular writer, John L. Smith, was raised in Southern Nevada and started writing a front local column in 1987. He has gone on to write several books on Las Vegas. The other front local columnist, Jane Ann Morrison, was the R-J's main political reporter for two decades. Steve Sebelius, its political columnist, arrived in 1999 to succeed Jon Ralston, a longtime political columnist who defected to the Sun and the Greenspun family's growing media empire of magazines and television.
In 2005, Sebelius left to edit the alternative weekly City Life, which Stephens bought and merged with the Mercury. A.D. Hopkins, a former Sun reporter and Valley Times managing editor, has spent more than a quarter of a century at the paper, editing special sections, writing investigative reports, planning special projects, and working in its book publishing ventures. Most of the top editors have been on the job for at least a decade and so have many of the news, sports, and feature writers.
As Las Vegas marked its centennial in 2005, the R-J celebrated similarly. Because it absorbed the Age, which was founded in 1905, it could legitimately claim to be as old as the city itself. And Las Vegas entered its second century with the Review-Journal in the same position it had occupied for most of the first century. It remained the city's dominant newspaper.
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