Washington Supreme Court Rules in Favor of ‘The Seattle Times’

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By: E&P Staff

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Seattle Times this morning in a protracted battle with rival/partner the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The papers have operated jointly since 1983.

?The Seattle Times family is gratified that the state’s highest court has upheld the Appeals Court ruling,? said Frank Blethen, publisher, in a statement. ?This lawsuit has been a costly and time-consuming effort during a particularly difficult time for metropolitan dailies.?

The Times, majority owned by the Blethen family, alleged that in 2002 Times’ executives attempted to negotiate with Hearst, the owners of the Post-Intelligencer, over losses incurred by the Times. When talks stalled, the Times invoked the ?loss clause? — part of a JOA that provides that if either paper loses money for three consecutive years, it can notify the other paper and begin a process to discuss changes in the agreement or ultimately terminate the JOA.

Hearst filed a pre-emptive lawsuit.

?We are disappointed with the decision but this case is far from over,? said Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer. ?We believe we will ultimately prevail. There are many issues to be resolved. We will continue our efforts to preserve two separate and distinct editorial voices in Seattle.?

At issue, according to a statement, in the Supreme Court decision was Hearst’s claim that losses in 2000 and 2001 relating to a newspaper strike should not be counted under the ?loss clause? in the contract. The court agreed with the Times that nothing in the contract excludes strike losses.

?The Times has lost money every year since 2000,? Blethen said in a statement. ?It is our hope that that the Hearst Corp. will join the Times in modifying the JOA contract to reflect today’s difficult newspaper economies so that the Times has a fair chance to become profitable again. A return to profitability will enable the Times to remain locally owned and focused on quality, independent journalism for our city and our region.

?The Times entered the JOA more than 20 years ago with the Post-Intelligencer, which was failing financially. For most of that time the JOA served our community well, but it doesn’t any more. Increased media competition, changing demographics, and economic pressures have made the JOA, as presently structured, obsolete and a threat to the Times’ survival. Our only objective, when we acted reluctantly to modify the terms of the JOA, was to assure the preservation of the Times as a financially viable newspaper serving the needs of the community.?

The Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court ruling from March 2004.

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