Weekly, nonprofit sue to open records

A weekly alternative newspaper and a nonprofit organization filed a motion in federal court Thursday to open the records of the most contentious media lawsuit in the Bay Area.

Ironically for a sunshine request, the motion by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Media Alliance was filed one day before the darkest day of the year. The pair filed the motion to intervene and open the records in the case of Clinton Reilly v. MediaNews et al. Reilly, a San Francisco businessman, is seeking to reverse the summer sale of the Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News and their affiliated papers from McClatchy Co. of Sacramento to MediaNews Group Inc. of Denver, a sale financed in part by the Hearst Corp., New York.

Hearst owns the San Francisco Chronicle; with the sale, MediaNews operates nearly every other paid daily in the Bay Area. Recently, Reilly alleged that an April 26 letter between the two firms indicates they plan to collaborate on national advertising sales and distribution. He charges the effect of the cumulative deals is to create a print media monopoly in the Bay Area.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston barred Hearst and MediaNews from any such cooperation until the outcome of an April 2007 trial. Hearst and MediaNews attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

At the newspaper companies’ request, most records from the case have been sealed from the public eye, though plaintiff’s attorney Joe Alioto has long urged media companies to file motions to unseal the documents. With the lawsuit, Media Alliance and the Bay Guardian hope to obtain records that may indicate further cooperation between Hearst and MediaNews. Cooperation could lead to anti-competitiveness in news and advertising that could hurt readers and advertisers, the plaintiffs allege.

“We’ve been watching the case, and have been very interested in it and concerned about it fromthe beginning,” Media Alliance Executive Director Jeff Perlstein said. “It’s become clear that there is information that the public is not seeing … about the relationship between MediaNews and Hearst.”

The Guardian itself has another lawsuit against a competitor, SFWeekly publisher Village Voice Media, formerly New Times, whose court records are not open, Guardian Publisher Bruce Brugmann said.

“We both did [ask for the records to be sealed],” Brugmann said, adding that he’s amenable to having many of those records open. “But it’s not the same thing. We’re not monopolizing the Bay Area. This is a major public policy issue.”

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