Seattle's two newspapers, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have been operating under a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) since 1983. Now, that agreement is in jeopardy, and a judge is set to rule on a lawsuit filed by the Hearst Corporation (owners of the P-I) on Thursday. If he dismisses the suit, the P-I is toast. (I first blogged on this issue in this post.)
There has been a history of acrimonious relations between the two corporations, according to this article in Editor and Publisher. Both sides have been looking for ways to profit from the agreement's provisions, sometimes resorting to sub-rosa scheming. The P-I's position has been steadily weakening, and since the Times owns all the physical assets for publishing the papers, Hearst has little leverage. They have put the paper up for sale, but it is unlikely that it will find a buyer, and Hearst will have to settle for collecting 32% of the profits of the Times (until 2083), as opposed to the 40% they receive from the joint profits of both papers. The P-I's circulation is dwindling because they are simply not as good as their competition. They are reflexively liberal on almost every issue, which should go over well in a city such as Seattle, but they don't have the talent the Times can draw upon, and Hearst doesn't seem willing to make the investment in the paper that would be needed to keep it competitive. The idea of having two independent newspapers is a nice one, but if only one can survive, I'd prefer the Times over the P-I any day.
posted on September 22, 2003 03:05 AM
Given the way Hearst handled its end of the San Francisco JOA - they essentially gave away the Examiner so that the Gods of Antitrust wouldn't raise a fuss when they bought the Chronicle - I'm surprised they're getting away with painting themselves in Seattle as the poor, put-upon underdogs.