Seattle newspaper war begins

Posted: Monday, March 06, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) - The Seattle Times marked its morning debut with a bold red ``Good Morning!'' greeting at the top of the front page.

Both the Times and the rival Post-Intelligencer led Monday papers with developments in the 26-day-old Boeing engineers strike.

And both also featured front-page messages - below the fold - about their new head-to-head competition, a first for newspapers in a joint-operating agreement.

``I feel great!'' said Times Executive Editor Michael R. Fancher of Day One in the city's newspaper war. He urged readers to appraise the two newspapers, confident that ``there's no comparison.''

``Today is a great day to take both newspapers and place them side by side,'' agreed Ken Bunting, executive editor at the P-I. ``I think we do well with that comparison.''

Times reader Audrey Jernigan said her habits won't change - she'll still buy a copy of the former evening paper on her way home from work.

``I'm a Seattle Times person - that's my paper,'' said the transplanted New Yorker, a Seattle school-district employee. ``Just like I always liked the New York Daily News.''

Charles Heffser, who works at a Seattle Internet company, said he subscribes to the P-I and hadn't given much thought to the Times' new morning edition.

``I might'' check it out, he said, though he added that his wife was the ``serious newspaper reader'' in the family.

The Times offered a page-one feature about emergency medical care in the metro area and a plug for the second installment of its eight-part report on regional housing prices, as well as a new bottom-of-the-page ``newsline'' - capsule descriptions of the major stories of the day.

``Covering the news that breaks is something that any good newspaper is going to do,'' Fancher said. ``Going out and finding stories that are changing the quality of our life that other people haven't yet defined as stories is what The Times is all about.''

The P-I ran the first segment of a three-part series about Vietnamese refugees since the fall of Saigon on April 29, 1975, nearly 25 years ago, an update on weekend budget action in the Legislature and an Associated Press report on the importance of ``Super Tuesday'' to underdogs Bill Bradley and John McCain.

``They did two pieces of long enterprise - we did one,'' Bunting said. ``As a rule of thumb, the number of times we're going to ask readers to digest 250-inch stories are going to be few and far between.''

The P-I ``will be full of fun and energy and accessible. ... We're not going to bore our readers,'' he said.

The P-I's new editor and publisher, former Los Angeles Times executive Roger Oglesby, started work here Monday, Bunting said.

``We have some changes in store'' under Oglesby, he said, ``though we're not going to do anything drastic like go to a tab.''

The newspapers will compete ``fully and fairly,'' Fancher said, noting that he and Bunting ``are not enemies by any means.''

``We're decent people,'' he said. ``Having said that, we want to go out and crush them.''

The Hearst Corp.'s P-I - a presence here since 1863 - has undergone a $4.7 million newsroom overhaul, with a new computer system, and expanded its editorial staff by 20 to 210.

The Times - a Blethen family enterprise since 1896 that is 49.5 percent owned by Knight Ridder - is maintaining its editorial staff at about 300.

The Times' primary focus now is to hang on to its 220,000 subscribers.

``We feel very good about how that's gone so far,'' Fancher said.

The P-I has 191,000 subscribers, and about 500,000 area readers take the ``combined'' Sunday edition, to which the P-I contributes three pages.

Under the JOA, The Times handles printing, advertising, circulation and distribution, but the morning time slot gave the P-I an advantage outside the immediate area. Those readers could get the P-I, but not the Times, whose afternoon editions simply could not be delivered to them on time.

The Times was the only afternoon newspaper to dominate in a U.S. market, and the switch recognized a national preference presumably shared by many new residents in the booming Pacific Northwest.

The Times tried a morning edition in the early 1980s - alongside its evening paper - and had about 50,000 subscribers for it when JOA was signed in 1983. The morning effort was scrapped under the pact approved by the Justice Department under the Newspaper Preservation Act.

With their different readerships - only 8,000 people subscribe to both newspapers - neither side expects changes in advertising revenues.

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