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Blethen bad news gets worse

We know the news hasn't been good for the Seattle Times folks of late, or for their soon-to-be ex-colleagues at the Blethen Maine Newspapers (the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel).

It's been bad for a while, but it just got even worse. Sure, we told you back in August 2006 that the Press Herald would soon be for sale, and we told you (20 minutes before the Press Herald's own Web site told you) when that became official company policy on St. Patrick's Day. And we mentioned the coverage of that announcement, as well as some thoughts on who might buy the papers.

We told you in August 2007 that the Press Herald had lost 27 percent of its advertising revenue in the previous two-and-a-half years.

In October 2007, we explored how "convergence" and multimedia journalism were being done at the Press Herald (or rather, not done; we can now add to that failure the elimination earlier this month of the job of "Online Reporter" held by Dieter Bradbury).

In December 2007, we revealed that an alert Phoenix reader told the world something the Press Herald brass hadn't - that Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley was a personal friend of Frank Blethen and a member of the family-dominated corporate board that oversees the paper.

We told you in early January that Frank Blethen had predicted that 2008 would be a terrible year requiring "deep cuts" for the company. And we told you a couple weeks ago that the layoffs had begun.

In February, we explained how Press Herald editor Jeannine Guttman failed to understand the results of a Pew Research Center report on what kinds of news interest men and women - and that men and women are very interested, at roughly equal levels, in breaking news and important issues of the day. She spent most of her time talking about how the paper offers NASCAR news and recipes to combine into one publication so many niche-market topics that you could almost call the Press Herald a niche sausage.

And earlier this month, I wrote about a blogger determined to draw attention to the Press Herald's journalistic shortcomings (a blogger who just today wrote in a posting that he is depressed about the paper's future prospects, and said he is "done wasting energy" on "the Seattle Blethens and their local minions;" what that means for future posts is unclear).

But now comes even worse news, from Seattle, via Crosscut and its intrepid reporter Bill Richards, who has worked for the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and has covered the Blethens for many years: Not only are print-ad revenues down, but they're down more than the Blethens expected. And online-ad revenues are also down, which suggests the Blethens' plans for future profits may be shrinking.

So however long they have to wait before they can unload the Maine papers, another question lingers for the Blethens - one certainly closer to their hearts: how long can they hang onto the Seattle Times, their family's flagship paper, before it collapses?

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