The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

25 September 2003

And still there are two

The Joint Operating Agreement between The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is still on.

Under the provisions of the twenty-year-old JOA, the Seattle Times Company handles advertising, production and circulation for both papers, and the profits are split 60-40. (It was originally 68-32, but the agreement was amended in 1999 to compensate for the Times' move to morning publication.) The Times sought to end the JOA this year, citing three consecutive years of losses; Hearst, the owner of the P-I, filed suit to block the Times. Today a King County Superior Court judge sided with Hearst and its claim that the losses suffered by both papers in 2000 were an extraordinary event, brought on by a seven-week strike; the JOA makes specific allowance for such events.

Hearst insists that the P-I cannot go it alone; Times management claims Hearst is trying to bleed them dry and then buy them out. (A separate agreement between the papers gives Hearst first crack at buying the Times.)

JOAs generally are in decline; fewer than half of the agreements set up since the passage of the Newspaper Preservation Act in 1970 are still in force. The Tulsa World used to be in a JOA with the rival Tulsa Tribune, but the Trib closed in 1992. Daniel Gross, writing in Slate, says the concept has overstayed its welcome:

It's easy to get that toasty First Amendment feeling when reading the Newspaper Preservation Act. But that's not what JOAs are about. Instead, JOAs seem to function like another government obstacle to free enterprise: protective tariffs. Like protective tariffs, JOAs insulate politically connected and favored industries from the competition that would cause them to change business models or innovate, and permit them to collect diminishing profits while doing nothing to ensure long-term viability.

And if the P-I subsequently goes under, at least one blogger won't miss it. Says the Timekeeper:

The P-I's circulation is dwindling because they are simply not as good as their competition. They are reflexively liberal on almost every issue, which should go over well in a city such as Seattle, but they don't have the talent the Times can draw upon, and Hearst doesn't seem willing to make the investment in the paper that would be needed to keep it competitive. The idea of having two independent newspapers is a nice one, but if only one can survive, I'd prefer the Times over the P-I any day.

The Seattle JOA provides that should the P-I fold, Hearst can go on collecting 32 percent of the profits from the Times for the next 80 years. Maybe they can use some of that gelt to improve the product at the Chronicle. (Which Chronicle — San Francisco's or Houston's — doesn't matter at this point.)

Posted at 8:01 PM to Dyssynergy


TrackBack: 12:27 AM, 26 September 2003
» JOA lives from Horologium
Chaz at Dustbury caught this, which ties in with my earlier post on the subject last week. The JOA is still on with the P-I and the Times. As Chaz notes in the comments of my earlier post, Hearst has......[read more]

TrackBack: 2:31 AM, 27 September 2003
» JOAs and the Tribune from batesline.com
Dustbury has an recent item about the dispute between Seattle's two daily papers, the Times and the Post-Intelligencer. The two papers have a joint operating agreement (JOA) -- content is handled separately, but production circulation, and advertising ......[read more]