LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal capped more than a week of turmoil sparked by the sale of Nevada’s largest newspaper to the family of casino magnate and Republican party kingmaker Sheldon Adelson with an announcement on Tuesday that he’s stepping down.
Mike Hengel stunned the newsroom with word that he had accepted a voluntary buyout, according to several staff members who took to Twitter after the announcement. Hengel didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
A “message from the new owners about the future of the Las Vegas Review-Journal,” due for publication on the front page on Wednesday, also announces Hengel’s departure, along with “other R-J employees.”
Photographer Kevin Cannon and reporter Bethany Barnes each confirmed their postings to The Associated Press, along with longtime columnist Jane Ann Morrison. She posted a message saying Hengel “leaves the RJ with his integrity intact.”
“I think my resignation probably comes as a relief to the new owners,” Hengel said, according to an audio recording obtained by the AP.
The owners’ statement was released to AP by Mark Fabiani, a hired communications specialist, in response to messages to Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese. Adelson is chief executive and chairman of publicly-traded Las Vegas Sands Corp.
It comes two days after an unsigned front-page editorial on Sunday declared in headlines, “Every newspaper has conflicts, and we’ll be open about ours,” and an inside editorial about how Adelson might change the editorial page headlined, “He’s the boss.”
Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor also didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to messages.
Adelson’s family ended days of speculation when it revealed last week that it was part of the recently incorporated News + Media Capital Group LLC, which bought the Review-Journal and some affiliated publications on Dec. 10 for $140 million.
It said Gatehouse Media LLC, a subsidiary of the former owner New Media Investment Group, would continue to run the publication.
New Media Investment bought the newspaper in February from longtime former owner Stephens Media LLC for $102.5 million.
Hengel came to the Review-Journal in December 2010 after serving as editor and publisher of a Stephens publication, the Pine Bluff Commercial, in Arkansas.
The Adelsons said they postponed making public their involvement to avoid distracting from the Dec. 15 Republican presidential debate held at The Venetian, Adelson’s flagship casino-hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
The statement released Tuesday cites the two sales within a year and pledges “new investments necessary for the Review-Journal to succeed,” including “services such as enhanced fact checking” and a reader advocate or ombudsman role.
“We pledge to publish a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate,” the statement says. “We decided to buy the Review-Journal to help create a better newspaper — a forward thinking newspaper that is worthy of our Las Vegas community.”
Associated Press writers Sally Ho and Kimberly Pierceall contributed to this report.