Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Brugmann called back to witness stand

On the last day of testimony in the Bay Guardian's predatory pricing lawsuit against the SF Weekly, Guardian owner Bruce Brugmann was asked to return to the witness stand.

The Weekly's lawyer, H. Sinclair Kerr Jr., asked Brugmann about his statement that he didn't know the Chronicle had lost more than $300 million in the past few years. The Weekly is arguing that all newspapers are losing revenue, so the Guardian can't blame its problems on the Weekly. Kerr pulled out a Guardian story from a year ago that reported on court records showing a $330 million Chronicle loss.

Here's how the SF Weekly reported the testimony:
    “The article reports the loss of $330 million, correct?” Kerr asked Brugmann (right). “Specifically the bottom paragraph on page one?”

    “Okay,” replied Brugmann.

    The publisher didn’t appear eager to acknowledge that he had angrily sought to discredit information that had been printed in his own paper.

    “Isn’t that correct?” continued Kerr.

    “I don’t know if it’s correct or not, but that’s what the sentence says,” answered Brugmann.

    The publisher then proceeded to repeat his claim that chain papers are not to be trusted when reporting their financial results.

    “I’ve been covering [Chronicle owner] Hearst since 1965,” said Brugmann, who failed to note that he has also sued the Chronicle, claiming, just as he has in the present lawsuit, that a competitor was to blame for his inability to sell sufficient advertising. “Their profit and loss statements have been a mystery to me for years.”
And here's how the Guardian reported it:
    The Weekly’s lawyers pulled a weird move at the very end of the trial, recalling Guardian publisher Bruce Brugmann to the witness stand and asking him a question that had almost nothing to do with the issues at hand. Brugmann had testified early in the trial, and on cross-examination, he was asked if he knew that the San Francisco Chronicle had lost some $300 million over the past few years.

    No, Bruce said; Hearst Corp, which owns the Chron, is a privately held corporation and nobody’s sure exactly what the numbers are.

    This time around, Weekly lawyer H. Sinclair Kerr pulled out a Guardian story from a year ago that reported on court records showing a $330 million Chronicle loss. I guess the implication was the Bruce didn’t remember what was in his own paper (frankly, I didn’t remember the exact figure either; I review almost every one of the hundreds of news stories we run every year, but I can’t swear to recall every detail of every single one).

    Bruce’s response: Sure, we reported on the best figures we could find. And the point was?

    Of course, the Weekly is trying to argue that since some daily newspapers are losing money, it would be reasonable to expect any an alternative newspaper in San Francisco to lose money, too. And thus any financial hit the Guardian has taken over the past seven years is the fault of market conditions, not predatory pricing by a big Phoenix-based chain.
Also testifying yesterday was Bill Johnson, who heads a six-paper chain that includes the Palo Alto Weekly. He pointed out that dailies have been hit much harder by the Internet than weeklies, a statement that should help the Guardian in its claim that it would have done better in recent years had it not been for unfair competition from the chain-owned SF Weekly. Johnson is quoted as saying: most non-daily publishers I know have done very well” during the past seven years, the time period the lawsuit covers.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller is giving attorneys for both sides today (Wednesday) off to prepare final exhibits for inspection by the jury, the SF Weekly said. Closing arguments are set for Thursday morning. The case should go to the jury late in the day Thursday.

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