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Seattle Times

Overview

This profile considers the Seattle Times group, centred on the daily Seattle Times.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • the group
  • evolution
  • studies

Introduction

The daily Seattle Times, owned by the Seattle Times Company, is the highest circulation daily newspaper in Washington state and the largest circulation Sunday paper in the US.

Seattle Times Co is controlled by the Blethen family, with 50.5% of voting stock and some 35% of non-voting). Knight Ridder has 49.5% of voting stock and 65% of non-voting. The Times has a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) with Hearst's Seattle Post-Intelligencer under the federal Newspaper Preservation Act.

In 1998 Seattle Times paid US$200 million for the Maine newspapers of Guy Gannett Communications, a print and broadcast group that is not related to the sprawling 'McPaper' Gannett group profiled elsewhere on this site.

The group

Other newspapers owned by Seattle Times include -

  • Central Maine Morning Sentinel
  • Kennebec Journal
  • Yakima Herald
  • Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
  • Portland Press Herald
  • Maine Sunday Telegram
  • Maine Coastal Journal
  • Issaquah Press

Apart from websites the group encompasses Times Distribution, commercial printer Rotary Offset Press, Inc and several non-newspaper subsidiaries in Maine.

Evolution

The Seattle Press-Times was acquired in 1896 by Colonel Alden Blethen, who had practiced law in Maine before losing the Minneapolis Tribune after a fire destroyed its building and failing with The Penny Press. Under Blethen's editorship circulation of the evening Times climbed from around 3,000 in 1896 to over 70,000 in 1915.

The paper weathered labour disagreements in the first two decades of last century - a counterpart to the strife affecting Colonel Otis of the Los Angeles Times - and from the mid-twenties was one of two dominant Washington state newspapers

In 1998 the Seattle Times Company paid US$200 million for the Maine newspapers of Guy Gannett Communications.

Guy Gannett (unrelated to Gannett, profiled elsewhere on this site) had five papers in Maine, television stations in Maine, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Illinois and Californian software house MarCole. Gannett traced its origins to Comfort magazine, launched in 1888 by Guy Gannett's father William. The Gannetts acquired a cluster of Maine newspapers in the 1920s, expanding into radio in 1938 and television in the 1950s.

In 1983 the Seattle Times Co and Hearst, owner of the competing daily Seattle Post-Intelligencer, implemented a Joint Operating Agreement under the the federal Newspaper Preservation Act. That agreement provides for the news and editorial operations of the two newspapers to be separate and competitive, with however all advertising, marketing, printing and circulation operations (and most business functions) for both papers to be managed by the Seattle Times Co.

The Post-Intelligencer traces its origins to the Seattle weekly Gazette founded by James Watson in 1863. In 1867 Samuel Maxwell bought the assets of the Gazette, renaming it the Intelligencer and subsequently merging it with the Seattle Post as the Post-Intelligencer. In 1921 it was sold to John Perry, acting as a 'dummy' for William Randolph Hearst.

The Post-Intelligencer is reported to have lost around US$14 million between 1969 and 1980, with Hearst apparently rebuffing approaches by Rupert Murdoch. At the end of the 1970s the Times required major investment and thus welcomed opportunities for cost savings through resource-sharing with the Post-Intelligencer, which Hearst successfully characterised as a "failing newspaper" in seeking a JOA. The Agreement was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by employees, advertisers and suburban publishers.

The Times and the Post-Intelligencer both experienced initial circulation gains and increased profitability after implementation of the JOA but relations between the two publishers were increasingly contentious. A 1999 revision of the JOA saw the Times move to publish in the mornings, with Hearst's share of joint profits increasing to 40%.

Studies

The major study of the founder is Sharon Boswell & Lorraine McConaghy's Raise Hell and Sell Newspapers, Alden J Blethen and The Seattle Times (Pullman: Washington State Uni Press 1996).

For the JOA see Tim Pilgrim's Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: The Seattle JOA and Newspaper Preservation (Norwood: Ablex 1997). A perspective is provided in Timothy Gibson's Securing the Spectacular City: The Politics of Revitalization and Homelessness in Downtown Seattle (Lanham: Lexington Books 2004)

There has been no major study of Guy Gannett Communications.