June 6, 2017 Last Updated 12:46 pm

Hearst acquires three dailies, eight weeklies in Connecticut from Digital First Media

Morning Brief: The Intercept publishes story derived from leaked NSA documents detailing Russian hacking efforts just days before the 2016 election, but exposes source, quickly leading to DOJ charges against contractor

The newspaper division of Hearst late yesterday announced that it had acquired the three dailies and eight weeklies of 21st Century Media Newspaper LLC, a large part of Digital First Media. The three dailies are the New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen.

“This investment strengthens Hearst Newspapers’ commitment to local communities in Connecticut, and expands Hearst’s local media presence to eight daily titles, 11 weeklies and a robust collection of digital outlets within the state,” Hearst Newspapers President Mark Aldam. “The New Haven Register has a rich tradition for high-quality community journalism dating back to the Jackson family ownership era. By connecting our current Connecticut media assets across Fairfield County with the New Haven Register group, we expect to advance enterprise journalism across southern Connecticut.”

Digital First Media, the seller, is the company formed by the merging of several newspaper groups including the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group. It is controlled by the private equity company Alden Global Capital which attempted to find a buyer last year but failed to do so. It then surprised everyone by becoming the owner of the assets of Freedom Communications when Tribune Publishing was prevented from buying them because the DOJ intervened saying that adding the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise to its existing LA Times and San Diego Union Tribune holdings would be anti-competitive.

For Hearst, the move is a major acquisition for its newspaper division, which has not be as aggressive an expander as Gannett or New Media Investment Group. The acquisition means Hearst in Connecticut will have a combined weekly circulation of more than 470,000 households and a monthly digital reach of 1.4 million unique visitors, the company said. The new properties will become part of Hearst Newspapers’ Connecticut Media Group, with group publisher and president of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul Barbetta, overseeing the business.

(Disclosure: I used to work for Hearst Newspapers in Los Angeles.)

The online news organization funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, The Intercept, has not exactly been friendly to the idea that the Russians were involved in last year’s election. It would be kind to say that those who write for the site, like Glenn Greenwald, have been waiting for future evidence to emerge. But either their website, and their journalists, have been immune to the trolls, bots and DDoS attacks, or they have been purposefully ignoring them.

So, yesterday, it felt odd that the website was reporting a major NSA leak involving documents that showed that “Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier” just prior to the November election. Of all the news organizations out there, The Intercept would not have been high on my list of news organizations that might have broken the story. (It should be noted that Glenn Greenwald’s name was not on the story.)

Within hours of the story appearing on The Intercept, the Justice Department announced had announced that it charged a contractor with leaking the documents.

The Intercept, Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle, Ryan Grim:

Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.

This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.”

The New York Times, Charlie Savage:

Intelligence Contractor Is Charged in First Leak Case Under Trump

The case showed the department’s willingness to crack down on leaks, as Mr. Trump has called for in complaining that they are undermining his administration. His grievances have contributed to a sometimes tense relationship with the intelligence agencies he now oversees.

The Justice Department announced the case against the contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, 25, about an hour after the national-security news outlet The Intercept published the apparent document, a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency.

The Washington Post, Erik Wemple:

Did the Intercept bungle the NSA leak?

On its site, the Intercept provides a tutorial to prospective leakers throughout U.S. officialdom. It advises them to take advantage of its SecureDrop server, for instance, and warns them to be careful about their Internet habits. “If you have access to secret information that has been published, your activities on the internet are likely to come under scrutiny, including what sites (such as The Intercept) you have visited or shared to social media,” reads the guidance. “Make sure you’re aware of this before leaking to us, and adjust your habits as needed well before you decide to become our source. Tools like Tor (see above) can help protect the anonymity of your surfing.”

Also: “Don’t contact us from work.”

Based on U.S. government documents released on Monday, it’s fair to say that Reality Leigh Winner didn’t apparently follow all those warnings.

CNN: What we know about Reality Winner
The Washington Post: The easy trail that led the feds to Reality Winner, alleged source of NSA leak
NY Daily News: Accused NSA leaker Reality Winner often clashed with Trump’s views before joining federal contractor

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