Mike Fancher / Times executive editor
Extra Edition driven by devotion to news, not making a profit
Times executive editor
Profiteering is an ugly word, especially when the charge is making money by exploiting the deaths of innocent people.
Some readers have been angered by what they believe is an attempt by The Seattle Times to profit from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We're selling copies of the Sept. 11 Extra Edition of the newspaper and reproductions of the edition's front page.
"How dare you sell copies of yesterday's extra edition and 8-by-12 posters of its front page like a cheap souvenir," wrote one reader. "This tragedy is hardly a day old. Will you be selling rubble of the devastation tomorrow?"
We're not trying to make a profit in offering these reprints. The only reason we do it is that some people want them as a piece of history.
The presumption of profiteering comes from the price at which we sell them — $2.50 for the Extra Edition and $15 for the glossy reproduction. That seems like a lot of money, compared with the 25-cent cover price of the newspaper.
Actually, $2.50 is about what it costs us to package and mail a copy of the newspaper. Anyone who comes to our offices can pick one up for a quarter.
We offer laminated reproductions of every day's front page for people who want a keepsake that will age better than the newspaper itself. The standard price is $15.
Ironically, covering a story like this involves huge financial losses for The Times. We do it because we are a journalism company. Covering the news is what we do, even when there is no way we will ever recover the expense.
We chose to print an Extra Edition because we knew it would be important to people. Amazingly, we sold more than 80,000 copies on the day of the terrorist strikes. That is deeply satisfying.
It's also very expensive. We haven't calculated how much money we lost by printing the Extra, but we know it was substantial. We've lost even more in the days since, but that hasn't stopped us from adding lots of news space to report the story.
How can a newspaper lose money when it sells 80,000 extra copies? Simple: We lose money on every newspaper we sell. The quarter price of any day's newspaper doesn't cover the cost of the paper on which it's printed, much less all of the other expenses involved in creating, printing and delivery.
The basic financial equation of any newspaper is that advertising revenue subsidizes readership. The price of the newspaper to readers is cheap, which helps build a large, loyal readership, and that adds value for advertisers.
There is no extra advertising revenue to cover the costs of a special edition. To the contrary, advertising revenue fell in the aftermath of the attacks. The loss of airline advertising alone in recent days has been substantial.
We're not complaining about these economic realities, but they sure make the accusation of profiteering all the more stinging.
As I said, we're a journalism company. We cover the story first and figure out the finances later. In deciding to do the Extra Edition, no one asked, "Can we afford this?" The only question was whether it was possible.
Thanks to the dedication of people throughout the company, it was.
Every reader an editor
I'm often taken aback by how thoroughly and carefully readers delve into the newspaper. No error is too small for someone to catch. Every nuance is scrutinized, especially when the news is as compelling as it has been in recent days.
One reader, for example, felt we shouldn't continue to use the label "Terror in America" when events had moved to a different place. We agreed and changed the label to "America Moves Ahead."
Another reader felt we erred in printing a headline that included President Bush's use of the word "crusade."
The reader pointed out that even the White House was conceding the word might not have been the best choice, given its historic implications of Christian wars against Muslims in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.
In reporting the president's remarks, it wouldn't have been appropriate for us to judge whether he used the wrong word. Our responsibility was to report what he said.
In subsequent days we reported reaction to the comments, including a statement from the White House that the president regretted using the term.
Still another reader pointed out that a feature on healing messages from religious cultures had words from Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Shakespeare, Kahlil Gibran and Ecclesiastes, but nothing from Islam.
Another observed that the introduction to a story about the national day of prayer and remembrance said people gathered at mosques, synagogues, temples, town halls, airport terminals and grocery stores. It didn't mention churches, which the reader felt was a slight to Christians.
One thing that emerges in this continuing dialogue is that the newspaper's sharpest critics are often its most avid readers.
That, too, is deeply satisfying.
Inside the Times appears in the Sunday Seattle Times. If you have a comment on news coverage, write to Michael R. Fancher, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, call 206-464-3310 or send e-mail to email@example.com.