The numbers look bad for the Seattle Times Co., corporate parent of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville. According to a story in the Jan. 9 edition of the Seattle Weekly
, print revenues at the company's namesake publication declined 9 percent in 2007 and are expected to drop by the same amount in 2008. As a result, the Times is trimming its budget by $21 million, including the elimination of 86 jobs.
While none of those positions is in the newsroom, the Weekly points out the newspaper hasn't had to resort to laying off journalists, because so many are quitting on their own due to minimal or nonexistent salary increases in the last two years. Those who depart voluntarily aren't being replaced. While the company offered generous buyouts to reduce expenses in 2001 and 2005, officials of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters at the paper, say it's unlikely to do so this time around.
The article and an on-line sidebar speculate that the cuts were announced at this time to set the tone for a meeting scheduled for Jan. 24 between the company and the union to begin discussions about a new contract. The current agreement expires in July. The poor financial assessment may also be an attempt by the Blethen family, majority owners of the Times and the Maine papers, to soften up minority owner McClatchy Newspapers to sell its 49.5 percent interest in the Seattle Times Co. The Blethens claim that as a result of the revenue decline, the value of McClatchy's share has dropped 70 percent in recent months, to just $19 million. When McClatchy bought out Knight Ridder Co.'s interest in the Times two years ago, the minority share was valued at $200 million.
The one bright spot for the Times, is its Web site, which is now one of the largest in the country and continues to add staff. The company said on-line revenues now equal 10 percent of print income, just about offsetting recent losses. The Web site is continuing to hire writers, although the Weekly points out they're non-union and "will work for free T-shirts and eagle-logo coffee mugs."
The implications of these cutbacks for the Maine newspapers aren't clear yet, but the Maine Sunday Telegram recently dumped long-time movie reviewer Marty Meltz and other freelance columnists and is replacing them with syndicated material or nothing at all. As the budget clouds roll east, more such reductions may be in the forecast.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com .
- Filed 01/10/08