'Seattle Times' Sees Profitability After Cutting Costs


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Good news is rare in the newspaper business these days. But one paper says it's clawing its way back from the brink. The publisher of The Seattle Times says his paper has started turning a profit. He attributes that to dramatic cost cutting and to the demise of the city's other newspaper, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which now exists only online.


Newspapers, of course, face plenty of their own challenges, but one newspaper says it's now clawing its way back from the brink. The publisher of the Seattle Times says his paper has started turning a profit. He attributes that to dramatic-cost cutting and to the demise of the city's other print newspaper, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, which now exists only online. Deborah Wang, from member station KUOW in Seattle, reports.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

DEBORAH WANG: The big, open newsroom at the Seattle Times is not as busy a place as it used to be. In recent years, the Times has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs, leaving lots of empty seats.

Mr. FRANK BLETHEN (Publisher, Seattle Times): We have cut $89 million out of expenses in the last two years, which is huge for a company our size.

WANG: Frank Blethen is the Times' publisher. He says the Times has faced the same challenges as many other newspapers: declining ad sales, slumping circulation. But over the past couple of months, he says, it's turned a corner.

Mr. BLETHEN: Now, we're beginning to see some profitability. And as soon as there's any uptick in the economy and any uptick in consumer spending on advertising, we should do very well.

WANG: Blethen wouldn't say how big of a profit. The Times is privately held and intends to keep its business closely under wraps. But he did say the paper received a big boost when its rival, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, killed its print edition in March.

The Times began wooing PI subscribers and won over most of them, lifting circulation by 30 percent. The PI's move also ended the business relationship between the two papers. Under the joint operating agreement, the Times handled ad sales, printing and delivery of the two papers, and then had to share the profits with the weaker PI. Blethen had argued the JOA was dragging the Times down.

Mr. BLETHEN: Now, we get to keep 100 percent, and that makes a huge difference.

WANG: But that doesn't mean the Times is out of the woods. The company is still paying off debt from its earlier acquisition of a newspaper chain in Maine. And all the years of cost-cutting have taken a toll. The paper's now noticeably thinner than it was even a few months ago; when it hits the doorstep, it makes a plink rather than a bang. Ken Doctor is a news industry analyst for Outsell, a California-based research firm.

Mr. KEN DOCTOR (News Industry Analyst): You hold up that paper, and it's thinner and thinner. How long before you get to that decision point and you say, it's just too thin? And they're charging me more money. I'm just going to go online.

WANG: And that's where there's still competition. The PI may not exist in print anymore, but it's making a go as a scaled-down, Web-only newspaper with a paid staff of just 20.

For NPR News, I'm Deborah Wang in Seattle.

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