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With the impending sale of the Seattle P-I, much of the talk in local journalism circles is whether there are any heroes wearing a

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David Black Not Buying Seattle P-I

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With the impending sale of the Seattle P-I, much of the talk in local journalism circles is whether there are any heroes wearing a white hat willing to come riding out of the plains to buy the paper.

Chatting over drinks with one of the Post-Intelligencer's columnists on Tuesday, the talk was of whether we should incite a bidding war by spreading the rumor that Rupert Murdoch was seen on Elliott Avenue with his entourage, sizing up the P-I Globe.

Murdoch in Seattle? One can dream.

Unfortunately, the list of newspaper magnates willing to purchase a daily rag - a publication with no press facilities, plummeting circulation numbers and suckling on the hind teet of a JOA agreement - is mighty thin.

But there is one nearby publisher who did just that.

David Black, of Black Press out of Victoria, B.C. purchased the Honolulu Star Bulletin in 2001. The Seattle Weekly profiled the Canadian newspaperman last July, in our article "Betting on David Black".

In 2005, the publisher also purchased the now defunct King County Journal, (then the county's third largest daily paper), its press operations and the publication's profitable community publications, the Reporter newspapers.

Through Sound Publishing, Black controls half the community newspapers in Washington state; their combined circulation numbers exceed those of the P-I and its rival Seattle Times together.

Reached by phone Friday morning, Black said his news company is not in the market to buy the Hearst-owned Post-Intelligencer nor has the company thought of purchasing the paper in the past.

"We have a lot on our plate, having tripled the size of our properties (in Washington)," Black explained. "We've got to stick to our knitting here and finish that off before we do anything else."

So it looks like Black won't be getting sized for that white Stetson afterall.

Even though he's not buying the P-I, the publisher is still bullish on print newspapers, the much maligned "dead tree media".

"Newspapers seem to be singing about their own demise," Black said. "Part of the doom and gloom in the industry is self-taught; people are talking themselves into a funk."

Admittedly, revenue from his chain of community newspapers has flattened in the last several months, due to the economic downturn. Reading the Sound Publishing corporate site, the company is tinkering with some of the papers' format while also consolidating its press facilities. But compared to daily newspapers, Black maintained his weeklies are doing well.

Revenue numbers from his free classified papers, including the local Little Nickel publications seemed to give Black pause though, speaking more to the popularity of online classified websites such as Craigslist.

Circulation numbers at larger dailies have been dropping. But Black said the real loss of audience is being felt in other branches of the media. With the fragmentation of television networks, due to cable, newspaper readership numbers might almost be viewed as sound. And radio is also feeling the crunch with people turning off their AM/FM receivers and turning on to iPod.

He said that a lot of the circulation decreases have come from papers trimming their distribution lists, eliminating out-of-state sales and canceling free copies which would be handed out at hotels or airports.

Also, publications that have jacked up their newsstand prices are guaranteeing a drop in circulation. The vast majority of Black Press newspapers given away for free, delivered to homes, with the loss in circulation dollars made up for by the gain in advertising.

The cold certainties of the business cycle demand that in a recession, the demand for classified, real estate, automobile and print advertising goes down. It's something that Black seemed to accept.

When you play on the beach, sometimes you get sand in your shoes.

But instead of the economic downturn, what concerned the ink-stained Canuck the most was talk about newspapers getting a bailout from the government. All over Drudge and on cable news and in columns and editorials there has been chatter about the newspaper industry going hat-in-hand to politicians.

"I do not think publishers or professional journalists would appreciate a government handout," Black warned. "Those dailies, you're relying on them to keep democracy together. You want to ensure they maintain their independence."

 
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