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Two Seattle Newspapers Back in Court this Week

Deborah Wang
04/26/2006

Lawyers for the two major daily newspapers in Seattle will be back in court tomorrow in the latest chapter in their on-going legal battle. A citizens group is challenging the papers’ right to settle the dispute through binding arbitration. KUOW’s Deborah Wang has the story.

THE COMMITTEE FOR A TWO NEWSPAPER TOWN STANDS FOR EXACTLY ONE THING. IT WANTS THE CITY’S TWO NEWSPAPERS, THE SEATTLE TIMES AND THE SEATTLE POST INTELLIGENCER, TO REMAIN ALIVE AND WELL.

ANN BREMNER IS CO-CHAIR OF THE COMMITTEE.

BREMNER: "We don’t side with the PI or the Times, but we simply are asking that both survive."

BREMNER SAYS THE PUBLIC HAS AN INTEREST IN THE SURVIVAL OF BOTH PAPERS. COMPETITION MAKES THEM BETTER, SHE SAYS, AND PROVIDES READERS WITH MORE DIVERSE VIEWS.

BREMNER: "There’s different vantage points out there, but what if we had only one every day. And that’s the result I don’t think that the public wants to see and I think the public demands to have diversity of voices."

WHICH IS WHY THE COMMITTEE WANTS TO REMAIN A PART OF THE LEGAL PROCEEDINGS THAT WILL DECIDE THE TWO PAPERS’ FATE.

AFTER YEARS OF WRANGLING, THE TIMES AND THE P-I HAVE AGREED TO GO TO BINDING ARBITRATION. A JUDGE WILL ISSUE A RULING THAT WILL EFFECTIVELY DECIDE WHETHER ONE OR BOTH PAPERS SURVIVE.

AT ISSUE IS AN AGREEMENT SIGNED BY THE TWO PAPERS IN 1983. THE JOINT OPERATING AGREEMENT ALLOWS THEM TO SHARE REVENUE AND OPERATING EXPENSES ON THE BUSINESS SIDE….BUT KEEP SEPARATE NEWSROOMS.

IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME, ACCORDING TO DOUG UNDERWOOD, A FORMER SEATTLE TIMES REPORTER WHO NOW TEACHES JOURNALISM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.

UNDERWOOD: "The feeling was that these companies had a cash box, they were very profitable and if they could just cut their costs, and consolidate their business operations, they could very easily run two newsrooms and still make lots of money. And that was really true up until recent years."

23 YEARS LATER, THE NEWSPAPER BUSINESS IS STRUGGLING. THE TIMES, WHICH IS LOCALLY OWNED AND THE LARGER OF THE TWO PAPERS, WANTS TO GET OUT OF THE OPERATING AGREEMENT AND GO IT ALONE.

THE SMALLER P-I, WHICH IS OWNED BY THE HEARST CORPORATION, ARGUES THAT IF THE AGREEMENT IS BROKEN, IT WILL NOT SURVIVE.

THE LEGAL DRAMA HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS, AND IT’S AN UNCOMFORTABLE POSITION FOR MEMBERS OF BOTH NEWSROOMS.

MIKE LEWIS IS A P-I REPORTER AND THE SECRETARY OF THE NORTHWEST NEWSPAPER GUILD.

LEWIS: "It’s not something which affects how you write an individual story, but is there a level of ambient worry about all of this? Absolutely."

IF THE ARBITRATION IS ALLOWED TO GO AHEAD, A JUDGE IS EXPECTED TO ISSUE A RULING IN THE CASE—AND POSSIBLY DECIDE THE FUTURE OF THE TWO PAPERS-- BY MAY OF NEXT YEAR. DEBORAH WANG, KUOW NEWS. Copyright KUOW, 2006

10.01.14

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