Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Joint Operating Angst

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Joint Operating Angst

Article excerpt

Most JOAs are shotgun marriages. In Seattle, the newspaper industry is witnessing its first shotgun divorce.

The messy legal dispute now playing itself out in King County (Wash.) Superior Court between Hearst Corp.'s Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Seattle Times, principally owned by Times Co. CEO Frank Blethen's family, is Exhibit A for the public policy argument to repeal the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 -- and prevent any future newspaper joint operating agreement (JOA).

Documents emerging from the discovery process illustrate how this JOA, like nearly every single one of the 15 dead JOAs and the dozen that still survive, was conceived in cynicism. Just last week, a memo surfaced suggesting that the Blethen family, in 1985 -- barely two years after signing an agreement that was supposed to last until 2083 - - had already set a goal of moving to "a one-newspaper agency."

And nothing captures the loony logic that sustains JOAs quite like the memo Frank Blethen sent employees two weeks ago. It's a natural for parody -- and an anonymous wag quickly posted a hilarious one. Blethen's sing-songy rhythm is right out of Robert Evans' narration in the documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture. ("Do I believe that metropolitan markets can no longer support two newspapers? Absolutely.")

He reprises his conspiracy theory that Hearst -- the company that owns the paper with the smaller profit-split, with the declining circulation, without a single printing press or delivery step van to its name -- has been cleverly "bleeding" the poor, poor pitiful Times. …

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