'Seattle Times,' 'P-I' Delay Arbitration Hearing

By: E&P Staff The feuding owners of Seattle's two daily newspapers unexpectedly pushed back the start of their much-anticipated closed-door arbitrations -- igniting speculation that they may be in talks to settle the dispute over their troubled joint operating agency (JOA) partnership.

Staff reporter Eric Pryne in a Saturday Seattle Times article reported that employees were told in an e-mail from Times President Carolyn Kelly that the delay was "a result of some scheduling issues and complexity around our upcoming arbitration."

As they have since announcing they would turn over their dispute to a non-appealable arbitration, the Times Co., and The Hearst Corp., publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, declined further comment.

The Times quoted "some observers" as saying the postponement was a "sign of renewed behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two parties."

As a result of the postponement, the deadline for the arbiter's decision has been pushed back to June 7, the paper reported.

The current dispute was triggered in 2003 when Hearst filed a preemptive lawsuit anticipating, correctly, that the Times Co. would trigger a clause in the JOA that would terminate the JOA or force Hearst to close the P-I in exchange for a 32% share of the Times' profit for the length of the agreement.

Hearst, whose P-I owns none of the equipment for composing, printing, or distributing a newspaper, says triggering the clause would effectively put it out of business. The Times contends publishing the P-I puts a drain on its paper that threatening its own viability.


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