SEATTLE—REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: I think this was the hardest piece to do. The Blethen Family and Seattle Times employees have been through a lot over the years, and I dragged out some feelings about the past that were still pretty raw. I was touched the most by Mike Fancher - who worked at the Times for 30 years as a reporter, city editor and managing editor. He talked about years of incredible highs and painful lows, but he seemed to hold each and every one of those memories - good or bad - in a special place in his heart.
Seattle Times Series Part 3: "The Battle To Survive"
"My whole life has been branded, nothing but the Seattle Times," says Mike Fancher as he shows us a nerf football on a shelf in his home with "Seattle Times" printed on it. "That's my little news guy," he adds, pointing to a miniature bronze statue.
For 30 years, Mike Fancher lived and breathed the Seattle Times. He worked his way up from beat reporter, to city editor to managing editor.
"I even have little Seattle Times delivery trucks," he chuckles.
But by the late 90's that level of commitment for him and everyone at the Times would be put to the test.
"We had to prove we could manage in hard times."
"We were the first newspaper in the country to stop taking tobacco advertising," says Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen. He's pointing to a wall of plaques in his office that reach the ceiling.
In 1985, Blethen took the reins the day after then publisher Jerry Pennington drowned in a freak accident when his crabbing boat overturned. Frank became the 4th generation of Blethens to run the Times. Their family had owned the majority share of the paper ?just over 50% for more than 100 years.
"He earned that job by being the leader of the generation," say Fancher.
"You kind of pucker on occasions," admits Blethen, "thinking, 'Oh my god am I going to be the one who heads the generation that caused us to lose this?"'
By the mid-90's Frank and the Times were on a role. A Harvard Business School case study reported staff nearly doubled from 2,833 in 1990 to 4,140 in 1999, company assets grew an astounding 217% and annual revenues topped $400 million. The paper also won top awards for its journalism, including three Pulitzer prizes, and six more nominations.
"That was a period of tremendous accomplishment for the Seattle Times newspaper," says Fancher. "That's where we really earned our national reputation."
"The reward is immeasurable," says Blethen. "At the end of the day, that's why Bartell's is still controlled by Bartell's. That's why the Seattle Times is still controlled by the Blethen Family."
But maintaining that control would prove to be a challenge--especially with another heavy-hitter as co-owner.
"He resented us disagreeing with him," says Tony Ridder. We reached the former Knight-Ridder Newspaper Company CEO by phone in California.
Since the 1930's the Knight-Ridder company, as minority-share owners, held 49.5% of the Times - a sliver less than the Blethens that would stick like an in knife in Ridder's side.
"He didn't appreciate the fact that we didn't always think that he was the world's greatest publisher," says Ridder.
"You know you've got to consider the source," Blethen argues. "We've had a hostile relationship for 3 generations of Ridder's since 1930."