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NW media mogul buys Everett paper and enters coastal oil debate

The new owner of The Herald and Seattle Weekly is point man for a controversial refinery at Kitimat, B.C, tapping Alberta oil sands. David Black makes his case, and talks about his Seattle publishing plans.
David Black is new owner of the Everett Herald and Seattle Weekly.

David Black is new owner of the Everett Herald and Seattle Weekly.

 A beach at Kitimat, B.C.

A beach at Kitimat, B.C. Flickr

Canadian newspaper mogul David Black today added the 111-year-old Everett Herald to his 39-newspaper Washington group, having recently also bought Seattle Weekly In an interesting twist, Black has also become a major player in one of the Northwest’s big energy stories. He’s the pitchman for building a $13 billion refinery in Kitimat, B.C., assuming that it's possible to build the Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oil sands, across B.C. wilderness, to the small port up the B.C. coast.

More about the refinery proposal below. Today's big news is the purchase of the Herald, a 46,000-circulation daily that has been owned by the Washington Post Co. for the past 35 years. One big question is whether Black's Washington subsidiary, Sound Publishing, will turn the daily into weekly or biweekly publications, as happened with the former Eastside Journal after it was purchased by Black. Gloria Fletcher, president of the Sound subsidiary, was quoted as saying The Herald would continue publishing seven days a week, adding somewhat worryingly that daily frequency was her "intention right now." Printing will shift to a Black-owned facility and the Post Co. will put the Herald building on the market.

The Herald was long run by the Best family in Everett. When the Washington Post purchased the paper in 1978, it was part of a strategy of buying smaller dailies on the periphery of large cities, and then expanding into some of the big-city territory. The experiment largely failed, particularly in Trenton, N.J., outside Philadelphia, and so the Herald remained the awkward survivor of a discarded business strategy. Kay Graham, the legendary publisher of the Post, wrote in a 1997 book:  “We paid a monopoly price for a paper that was in a somewhat competitive situation with Seattle and then proceeded not to run it well until recently, when it has been vastly improved.” Like the Post, the Everett paper produced a quality editorial product, but recent years have seen a series of demoralizing layoffs. Allen Funk, an experienced publisher, departed his post in frustration in 2011.

The two recent acquisitions mean the Black group now owns 39 papers in Washington, with a combined circulation (most of it in the form of free household distribution) of 730,000. The papers are concentrated in Bellevue, Kent, and Renton; central Puget Sound and its islands; and the sole daily, the Peninsula Daily News in Port Angeles. Black papers blanket much of British Columbia and Alberta; he has a growing stake in the Bay Area; and he owns dailies in Honolulu and Akron, Ohio. All told, Black Press Ltd., based in Surrey and Victoria, B.C., owns 170 titles.

Now, about the controvedrsial refinery and pipeline proposal. Black's idea, first floated last summer, has roused lots of opposition and skepticism – in part because Black has no experience in the field. Enbridge, the Alberta company that wants to build the $6 billion Northern Gateway pipeline, doesn’t like Black's idea. First Nations oppose the pipeline, 25 percent of which would cross tribal lands. Black doesn’t have any investors, and he’s still trying to line up interested buyers of gasoline and diesel in Asia.

Reached by phone in Calgary this week, Black seemed his usual positive, low-key self, as he explained how he got into this project, as well as his plans for Seattle Weekly. At the time of the conversation there was no word about the Herald purchase, and efforts to reach Black for comments on the Everett deal have not yet yielded a response.

The story begins some years ago, according to Black, 66, when he was serving on the B.C. Progress Board, an entity trying to solve the province’s employment problems. Later, he began worrying about the environmental dangers of the Northern Gateway proposal, which would involve loading tankers with diluted raw bitumen, for shipment to California and Asia.

So he came up with a way to solve two problems. First, building a refinery at Kitimat, which would produce a lot of jobs — 3,000 permanent jobs by his estimate (10 times the pipeline employment). Second, transport refined instead of crude product, which would reduce environmental risk, since gas and diesel, if spilled, float on the surface and evaporate within two and 12 days respectively, by his account.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 7:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Without fail, all the Sound Publishing papers have deteriorated as news providers. They become community pap, with stories not articles. The commenting system only allows Facebook comments, which are generally monitored, and when something isn't liked by the publisher or possibly the writer, the comment is yanked.

No, this isn't good news for the Everett Herald community. The dumbing down of America continues. Homogenization has never been anything I've appreciated.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 7:40 p.m. Inappropriate

The Everett Herald was a consistently strong daily newspaper under Post ownership, and it is not likely that the tradition will continue under Sound Publishing. There are two sides of the Sound Publishing record in Washington salt-water communities: the good side is that community journalism has (usually) survived when it might have been a casualty of the decline of print journalism. The bad side is that the quality of Sound Publishing newspapers is, in most cases, mediocre at best. Black is a bottom-line publisher, interested only in newspapers as a business venture. It’s OK to do good journalism as long as the profit line is met, but if the profit line requires the sacrifice of solid journalism that’s the way it goes. And that’s the way it often goes. Black is not alone in this, but the large number of community newspapers he owns in the region is not a good thing. For many years, Washington had some of the best family-owned papers in the nation. A few survive, but most are now chained-up, sometimes to good effect but often to the detriment of the reading public. Everett had a good run under the Post, even with recent cutbacks and loss of some fine journalists. Black’s ownership may be good for Black, but it’s not likely to be good for Everett. That’s a shame.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

This does not sound at all good for The Herald, which has been a really quite good newspaper. Especially of late, with the addition of Crosscut's own (and missed) Midday Scanner as their editorial writer. Will there be room for such a voice there in future?

Regarding the tar sands pipeline and a Kitimat refinery, let's hope for the sake of the survival of this planet we are on that neither ever gets built. B.C. Indians have accomplished a lot in recent years, bouncing back strongly as a culture and doing great things. Let's hope and pray they can win here.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 9:59 p.m. Inappropriate

David is too kind.

This is an enormous loss for the entire region.

Snohomish County really represents the life force of the core of the people of the state.

The youth of the county are one of the greatest gifts to urban culture throughout the region.

All of us lose when this paper is diminished. And that's what Black is all about.

This is one big reason why we need things like Crosscut.

Jan

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 7:47 a.m. Inappropriate

The handwriting on the wall is all dollar signs for David Black: Look up Sound Publishing's executive roster and you find the business people, with nary an editor or writer-type in sight. I expect to see Seattle Weekly get Little Nickel-d and dimed to death by these folks. It's already down to its last two big guns, Nina Shapiro and Rick Anderson (and he's now just a contributing writer), and I predict much the same for the once-proud Herald. When Gloria Fletcher says her "intention right now" is to keep it a daily, she's also saying that's unlikely to be her intention later on. One universal trademark of Black publications - evident in their paper and online products - is that if it can be done on the cheap, then, quality, enterprise and originality be damned, cheap it is.

Rosen

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Got tar sands? Wanna be a shill for the coal industry? Buy media to get the word out. Solution: Don't read these papers in print or online, but if you have pet birds, go ahead and use them to line the bottom of your bird cage.

Mud Baby

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 12:20 p.m. Inappropriate

put the refined product on the established rail lines and ship it to the coast.

Granger

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

When The Washington Post bought The Everett Herald in 1980, it announced to its readers real journalists had at last moved into Pugetopolis. The new owners fired the old publisher on Page One, explaining he was getting the boot because he was owned by local business interests and slanted news coverage accordingly.

After that, The Herald became the one and only daily in the state you could trust to cover a story the chamber-of-commerce plutocrats didn't want you to read.

No doubt under its new ownership it will go back to being what it was, just another mouthpiece of the One Percent. And like all the other papers in Washington state, under its new owners it will no doubt resume its former practice of suppressing any story that does not meet with chamber-of-commerce approval. Moron Nation marches on.

Though The Herald's readers will suffer profoundly from the resultant moronation, the people I pity most are its reporters and editors, who will now learn the meaning of sweatshop journalism, with journalistic excellence submerged forever beneath word-and-story quotas -- the entire editorial staff reduced to lowest-possible-wage production workers whose ultimate purpose is nothing more than filling the spaces between the advertisements.

In this context, WaPo's betrayal of its employees is beyond obscene. It is also another lesson in the employees-don't-matter savagery of capitalism.

By far the greatest tragedy will be the number of older journalists inescapably imprisoned in the unconscionable brutality of these newly imposed working conditions – trapped because their only alternative is to quit, thereby condemning themselves to an irremediable descent into bottomless poverty.

Once again we see the unspeakable (and now obviously permanent) reality of the post-American-Dream economy: for those of us in the 99 Percent, it's either the soul-wrenching misery of wage-slavery or the infinitely more deadly wretchedness of permanent unemployment.

(Yes, as a former member of the working press – not to mention a survivor of the Robinson Newspapers brand of sweatshop journalism – I know all-too-well of what I speak.)

Posted Fri, Feb 8, 10:45 p.m. Inappropriate

If the PDN's fear of covering local controversies is an example, the sale doesn't bode well. Prior comments confirm this opinion.

louploup

Posted Fri, Feb 8, 11:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Not to diminish any of the concern stated here, but the assertion that after 1980, "...The Herald became the one and only daily in the state you could trust to cover a story the chamber-of-commerce plutocrats didn't want you to read" is abject nonsense.

rjudd

Posted Tue, Feb 12, 6:43 p.m. Inappropriate

You are either ignorant, in denial or both. Even before the advent of the news monopolies, Washington state's daily newspapers were notorious throughout the United States for suppressing any and all stories even vaguely unfavorable to chamber of commerce interests.

Breaking through that often-vicious censorship was the prime reason for The Seattle Sun (1974-1981), of which I was one of the founders. It was also among the key motives sustaining the old Seattle Magazine, which died in 1970.

Not surprisingly, both (very excellent) publications were destroyed by advertising boycotts organized by local Big Business interests. Without the caliber of funding available from The Washington Post, no publication could withstand such pressure.

Similarly dismal circumstances prevailed in all other Washington cities. Indeed it is at least arguable the sadly-downsized modern role of the U.S. journalist -- that is, as nothing more than a stenographer for the Ruling Class -- began in Washington state sometime after World War II.

In any case this is clearly what the late Henry MacLeod, managing editor of The Seattle Times, meant when he told me in 1973, "We do things differently here."

MacLeod had reviewed my resume and clips, commenting on the fact my 13 years on newspapers had produced substantial investigative work including two nationally significant stories. But he then dismissed it all as "East Coast experience...(which) doesn't count here."

"I think you'll be a lot happier," he concluded, "if you go back home."

His message, though politely stated, was that reporters such as I were considered troublemakers -- that we had not been trained to toady to the Ruling Class and therefore didn't know our place.

In those days most journalists – even a few of those born locally – were rebels at heart. Thus when The Post bought The Herald, there was a lot of cheering in the press corps, not the least because it meant there was finally a chance to remain amidst the physical beauty of Washington state and yet do real, genuinely fearless journalism at full and dependable pay – precisely the opportunity that hitherto never existed.

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:15 a.m. Inappropriate

I live in a community that has been afflicted by a Black-owned newspaper, and I have to pose a contrary opinion to those of the other commenters. They are all too kind, by a factor of 10. Every newspaper this man touches turns to shit, period. If there were proportionate jail terms for offenses to quality journalism, this guy would be doing life plus 199 years, in solitary in Supermax.

ivan

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 3:25 p.m. Inappropriate

@Jan: "Snohomish County really represents the life force of the core of the people of the state." Um, really? Not to over the top on that? The rest of us in King or the other counties don't have "life force?" Is there a vitamin I can take for that? Just wondering. ;-)

TomB

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 7:12 p.m. Inappropriate

@TomB, gotta drink the river water, it's the Everett aquifer source ... :-)

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