Seattle Times executive editor David Boardman told us interns some great stories as he led us on a tour of the city last month. One of them concerned Frank Blethen, the paper’s publisher.
Years ago, a reporter investigated a few claims of unfair hiring practices at Nordstrom. The reporter found out the department store, founded in Seattle, treated minorities unfavorably and often denied them job opportunities. When Nordstrom caught wind of the Times’ intention to publish the expose, someone from the store called Blethen and demanded he pull the article, threatening to pull all the Nordstrom advertisements from the paper until further notice.
Many newspapers run by national corporations might have considered this a quandary. Blethen, whose great-grandfather founded the Times in 1896, needed all of one second to fashion a response. His answer to Nordstrom was, as Boardman said, “two words, and the second one was ‘you’.”
Nordstrom pulled their ads as promised, though a few months later, a meager number of Nordstrom ads once again began to appear in the paper. The store’s advertising presence in the Times has never been as great since that fateful article, but Blethen considers the loss in ad revenue well worth it.
While I know The Seattle Times, like other newspapers, has taken a financial hit in recent years, you’d never know it. Everyone here is jovial, friendly and enthusiastic , and I have heard not one word of post-layoff sadness or bitterness escape anyone’s lips. Breaking news appears on the website fast, no sweat. Even with a decrease in copy editors, investigative stories are always impeccably researched and fact-checked, not to mention mindblowingly thorough.
The newsroom environment here is by far the most positive and exciting I’ve witnessed. Why? I don’t have numbers to prove it, but I’ve heard several people say the fact that the Times is family-owned makes all the difference. Some say they’ve received job offers at bigger, more prestigious papers all over the country, but they turned down the offers because head honchos at other newspapers don’t look after their newsrooms the way the Times publisher does. Frank Blethen and his ancestors have all felt fiercely protective of the Times product and the company’s promise to expose the truth, so much so that they sometimes sacrifice profit to make sure the Times is the best it can be.
And in these a-changin’ times, someone who values the truth over money really stands out.