Seattle—REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: I didn't know what to expect when I met Frank Blethen. He has been the publisher of the Seattle Times newspaper since 1985. Interviews are rare. In fact, I was warned I may not get a lot of time to talk to him. The interview ended up lasting more than an hour - then add an hour-tour of his office, the Seattle Times newsroom and even the basement where the old printing presses are gathering dust.
His family has owned and operated the paper for 113 years and been through enough ups and downs to make any seasoned business manager nauseous. In past interviews Frank has been quoted as saying he would "guarantee" the success of the Times. I asked the Frank the same question. First he paused, and then with a slow and cautious tone, he again said: "yes."
But during our interview, he admitted this decade has been a tough one, and he worries about his family's beloved paper, and the future of newspapers across the country.
Seattle Times Series: Part 1 "Living on Life Support"
It's survived 113 years and it's the last one standing in Seattle. Six months ago, the Post-Intelligencer or PI newspaper stopped printing - making the Seattle Times this city's only major metro newspaper. We begin a special 4-part series that delves deep into a unique family, a struggling paper, and a changing culture-that's transforming the news.
There are nearly 1,500 independent dailies left in this country - only a small fraction is still family-owned. The Seattle Times is one of the last of the larger papers. And these days, money, and readers are getting hard to find.
"Do you read the newspaper?" I ask Jared Cole who's walking in downtown Seattle. "Not often," he says. "I get all my information online."
"It's too thin and it costs too much," complains Jerry Connors.
"I like newspapers," says Colt Winkie, "but I get stuff online because it's just quicker and easier."
"This decade has been a very difficult decade," says Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen.
In an age of multi-media and easy access information local newspaper publisher Frank Blethen is sitting in the hot seat. His family owns just over half of the Seattle Times - essentially making all the decisions. The McClatchy Company - which bought the papers from Knight-Ridder in 2006 - owns the rest.
But now, well over 100 years in print - the Times is hurting.
"The only way anybody is business has been able to counter the revenue drops in the last few months has been through cost-cutting," says Blethen, "and very significant cost-cutting. At some point you just can't cut anymore."
In the past 20 months the Times has slashed $91 million from its budget to try to stop the hemorrhaging: Chopping staff by nearly a third, cutting compensation by 12% and freezing pensions.
"So you reset your sights and values get recalibrated," says Blethen. "I think for the family and for the employees and for the community we're all in the same boat."
Just how much they've lost and what they're worth now Blethen won't say, and as a private company he doesn't have to. But, it's resulted in a thinner paper and less content.
"I just tell people you have to brace for uncertainty."
Blethen says a huge drop in advertising has hit newspapers hard - including his - with revenue plunging 30% in just the past year. Online viewership is up 20-30%, circulation is down, and classified ads - which used to generate up to 80% of the Times' revenue - is fading fast.
According to a study by the Harvard Business School: In the 1990's, annual revenues for the times topped $400 million. Last year: minority-share owner McClatchy valued their share at zero.