‘Seattle Times’ Moves (Again) to End Deal With ‘P-I’

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(AP) The Seattle Times is seeking for a second time to end its 2-decade-old joint operating agreement with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The Times on Thursday notified the newspaper’s owner, The Hearst Corp., that between 2002 and 2004 it suffered consecutive losses under the 1983 agreement in which The Times handles circulation, printing and advertising for both newspapers in exchange for 60% of their joint profits.

The Times, owned by the Blethen family and Knight Ridder Inc., says the agreement is no longer profitable, thereby triggering a clause in the agreement that would require owners of both papers to begin working toward closing one of them.

“Attorneys for both sides are discussing next steps with regard to the litigation and the loss notices. The parties have agreed that no further comment will be made while these discussions are ongoing,” Hearst said in a statement Thursday.

In a memo to employees, Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen said workers might see “media coverage in the coming days regarding developments” in the JOA. It was unclear whether he was referring to Thursday’s developments or ongoing litigation over a previous notice to end the JOA.

Neither owner would comment further.

The Times, since April 2003, has been trying to dissolve the JOA and has sought to invoke a clause in the contract that allows either paper to end the agreement if it suffers three consecutive years of losses.

It originally claimed it lost money in 2000, 2001 and 2002, thus triggering an 18-month period during which The Times and the P-I could negotiate the P-I’s closure.

Hearst sued, arguing that the Times shouldn’t be allowed to count losses caused by extraordinary events, such as a 49-day strike against both dailies in late 2000. The Times countered that under the language in the contract, no such exception exists.

King County Superior Court Judge Greg Canova in September 2003 ruled that the strike couldn’t count toward The Times’ losses.

A three-judge state Court of Appeals panel overturned the lower court’s ruling. And in late June the state Supreme Court sided with The Times.

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