Crazy news coming out of California yesterday as the Phoenix New Times‘ parent company lost its appeal of a $21,000,000 fine. Yes, you read that correctly. So who or what succesfully sued the NT, and is Sheriff Joe popping Champagne as you read? Answers to at least one of those questions after the jump.
We won’t bore you with all of the details, but here’s the gist. According to The Stranger (a Seattle pub that’s been all over this story like a wet newspaper), it all started in way back in 1995. That’s when the owners of the Phoenix New Times (which is now owned by Phoenix-based Village Voice Media, the nation’s largest publisher of alt-weekly newspapers) bought the SF Weekly and set out to turn it into a Bay Area juggernaut. Which immediately put New Times editor/co-owner, Michael Lacey in a battle royale with fellow old-school rabble-rouser, Bruce B. Brugmann, co-owner of the Bay Guardian (motto: ”Print the news and raise hell”).
By 2008, these rival pubs were battling it out in court, with SF Weekly accused of “predatory pricing,” or selling ads at below market value to hurt its competitors, which didn’t have the deep corporate pockets to withstand running in the red. Sample quotes from The Stranger‘s coverage: “Brugmann printed up bumper stickers that say ‘Corporate Weeklies Still Suck.’” Meanwhile, “Lacey noted that Brugmann, for all his independent talk, once had among the investors in his paper Donald Werby, a billionaire real-estate mogul who bankrolled the Church of Satan (‘No, really, Lacey wrote) and was indicted for paying off underage prostitutes with cocaine before dying in 2002. (‘I missed the Bay Guardian‘s coverage of their investor’s indictment on child prostitution charges,’ Lacey added.)”
Long story short, in 2008 a local jury found the SF Weekly guilty and slapped it with a $16M fine. A ruling the New Times’ parent company immediately appealed. Yesterday, the appeal was denied, and now VVM is on the hook for some $21M, including interest rates of nearly $5K daily. (You can read the entire ruling here.)
No word from yet VVM (which, as we all know, is not in their nature). But that hasn’t stopped the Bay Guardian from doing a little gloating. In sum, while we don’t have a dog in this fight, we hope nobody loses their job over this ruling. Either in SF or here at Phoenix New Times. The Internet is doing such a great job of that on its own.
Image via KJZZ