Citizen Group Wants Seattle JOA To Disclose Details Of New Pact

By: E&P Staff The Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town (CTNT) -- which went to court to keep the Seattle newspaper joint operating agreement (JOA) going -- now wants a judge to order The Seattle Times Co. and The Hearst Corp. to disclose all the details of their private settlement that keeps the partnership alive for at least nine more years.

In a motion filed Tuesday in King County (Washington) Superior Court, the CTNT said it fears the Times Co., publisher of the Seattle Times, has some kind of secret deal with Hearst to close the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at some later date. The settlement, reached just before hearings in binding arbitration, ended litigation in which the Times sought to force an end to the JOA, arguing the cost of producing the market-lagging P-I was bleeding the company.

"Either they have something to hide, or not," CTNT says in the motion, which was reported in Friday's Times by staff reporter Eric Pryne.

In April the two companies announced they had settled all litigation, and terminated Hearst's 32% contingent interest in the JOA, which would have entitled Hearst to that split of the Times' profits until 2083 if the P-I were folded.

The Blethen family-controlled Times Co. agreed to pay Hearst $49 million, while Hearst will pay $25 million to keep the JOA going until at least 2016. The Times Co. in exchange agreed not to trigger a loss-notice clause in the JOA that allows either side to force an end to the agreement, the folding of the P-I, or both, if the partnership suffers three consecutive years of losses.

CTNT wants to know exactly how much Hearst is getting for giving up the 32% profit cut. The committee says in its motion that it has "good reason to fear that the new, instant payoff might simply be compensation in advance for voluntary closure" of the P-I.

Neither company had commented on the motion by Tuesday night.


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