The Hearst Corp. is not - not - buying the Seattle Times, a Hearst official said today, and has dropped its $1-million-a-year option for first


Hearst: Will Drop JOA, Won't Buy Times

The Hearst Corp. is not - not - buying the Seattle Times, a Hearst official said today, and has dropped its $1-million-a-year option for first right-of-refusal to purchase the paper, were it ever to be sold. The Times, meanwhile, yesterday told the Newspaper Guild and other unions it wants a 12 percent pay cut from union members.

No decision has been made on whether Hearst's semi-doomed Seattle P-I will in fact become a Web-only news medium, says Hearst vice-president and general counsel Eve Burton. But if it does become an e-paper, it will be as a separate entity from the Times, "outside the JOA" - the 26-year-old Joint Operating Agreement. 

The comments are in response to a letter sent earlier this week by the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, which is seeking to find a buyer, or savior, for the P-I. Hearst has said it plans to close the paper by April if it isn't sold - though it may continue a scaled-down operation online.

Burton, in a letter to CTNT co-chairs Anne Bremner and Phil Talmadge, says Hearst officials "share your sadness regarding the dramatic changes in the newspaper industry that have necessitated Hearst putting the Seattle Post-Intelligencer up for sale. As both of you know, Hearst made every effort to keep the P-I alive."

Hearst, one of the wealthiest publishing conglomerates in the nation (with 15 record profit years out of the last 16), claims to have lost $14 million at the P-I last year, though it will not release documents to prove it. Arguably, if it was making every effort to keep the P-I alive, that should have included some (untried) creative solutions, such as going to a free tabloid edition.

"In answer to the issues you have raised," writes Burton, "we have publicly stated that we are not considering an acquisition of The Seattle Times. Accordingly, Hearst has not, and will not, be making the final payment under our Right of First Purchase Agreement.

"In regard to the question about whether Hearst will maintain a web-only operation, we are still studying that possibility and no decision has been made. However, if we were to move forward in this direction, we would do so outside the JOA."

The letter is effectively an obit on the Hearst-Times business arrangement. Hearst not only won't purchase the Times, it evidently plans to sever all ties through the JOA, which dates back to 1983.

That would put control of a cyberspace P-I solely in Hearst's (or a new

owner's) hands, though there's no telling how that would pan out

economically after dropping the revenue-sharing JOA. It might at least mean the hiring of an ad

sales staff the P-I currently doesn't have - all such sales are now

handled by the Times.

Update: Here's today's response from CTNT to Hearst's letter:

CTNT today encourages the community to discuss a possible community-wide campaign to purchase the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The goal is to ensure that the P-I, which has been publishing local news daily since 1863, is not lost forever. "Time is running out," said CTNT co-chair Anne Bremner, noting that the 60-day sale period announced on January 9 is nearly half over. Co-chair Phil Talmadge said, "We hope that the people of Seattle will show that they are willing and able to prevent the silencing of a valued editorial voice." ...CTNT welcomes help from local elected officials, as well as business, labor, environmental, neighborhood and other community groups, in responding to the closure threat. Community members interested in participating in the campaign are encouraged to write to

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