Seattle Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen will step down in 2025


Seattle Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen will step down at the end of 2025 after four decades leading the family-owned company.

Blethen, 79, confirmed his plans Monday in a Seattle Times interview. He said he expects to retain his position as board chair of The Seattle Times Co.

The newspaper’s seventh publisher said he hadn’t planned on making a formal public announcement, but he detailed his timeline for departure recently when he met with a group of former Seattle Times employees.

“When I got into that room and saw all those faces and people who put so much sweat and tears into The Seattle Times … I think I just sort of got caught up in the moment,” he said, describing the scene at the gathering. “I thought, well, ‘You guys at least need to know that we’re in great shape, and that I’m going to be leaving in a couple years.’”

Blethen led The Times through some of its highs — nine Pulitzer Prizes, including one awarded in 2020 for the paper’s coverage of mistakes by Boeing leading to two 737 MAX crashes — and its most difficult lows, including the Great Recession and an industrywide contraction. 

Alan Fisco, the company’s president and chief financial officer, will be named CEO when Blethen steps down, Blethen wrote in a message to employees sent Monday afternoon.

Blethen declined to share his preference for a successor as publisher, but said he would like it to be a member of the Blethen family. 

A family-owned, daily print newspaper is a rarity in American media, which has faced unprecedented economic collapse. Blethen has been called an eternal optimist, a journalism fanboy and a visionary. 

But he calls himself the “accidental publisher.” 

He was raised by a single mom in Arizona and barely knew his father, Frank Blethen, who was Seattle Times president from 1944 until his death in 1967. The newspaper has been in the Blethen family since 1896.

The younger Blethen spent a summer as a Seattle Times copy boy when he was a teenager to get to know his dad better, he said. After his dad died, he decided to take a job in 1968 at The Seattle Times as an assistant credit manager, thinking he would give it a year. He stayed within the company and rose through the ranks, and was named publisher of the Times-owned Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in 1977. 

It was in Walla Walla that he saw the impact a newspaper can have on a community, he recalled in a 1985 Seattle Times story. 

“Walla Walla was small enough that I really learned how a newspaper impacts a community. It’s a very personal thing to them,” he said in 1985. “The way you handle a story comes back at you, because you’ll meet those people in the streets. It doesn’t change the way you make your decisions, but it does heighten your sensitivity.”

He’s maintained an intense interest in seeing how Seattle Times stories shape readers and their communities, said Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores.

“He loves to hear about the impacts, whether it’s a big legislative impact or real personal, how somebody will read a story we wrote and help another person or donate money to a cause,” she said Monday.

He returned to Seattle in 1979 as assistant circulation manager, then moved to vice president for marketing and sales in 1983. 

Blethen was named publisher and CEO of The Seattle Times in 1985, just 18 days into his tenure as company president, after then Publisher Jerry Pennington died in a boat accident

Blethen handled the transition well even as he was thrust into the position, recalled Mike Fancher, who served as The Times’ executive editor for 20 years, between 1986 and 2006. 

“We sat together for hours, and days talking about our shared vision for the newspaper and the company, and Frank was absolutely committed to the independence of the newsroom,” Fancher said. “He pledged that he would never interfere with the journalism that we did, and he never did.”

It hasn’t always been smooth within the newspaper. Seattle Times workers went on strike for seven weeks beginning in 2000. Blethen’s reaction, which included boarding windows and erecting wire fences around company headquarters, soured relationships with some workers for years. 

“We look forward to working with the next generation of Seattle Times leadership to build a welcoming workplace where our members can afford to stay and thrive in the communities they serve,” Seattle Times Union co-chairs Sydney Brownstone and Anna Patrick said Monday in an email. 

The Seattle Times shifted to morning delivery in 2000, putting it in direct competition with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. During the first half of Blethen’s tenure, The Times and the P-I were locked into a joint operating agreement that required The Times to manage most business operations for the smaller Hearst Corp.-owned newspaper. The acrimonious relationship between the rivals dissolved in 2009, when the P-I stopped printing a newspaper.

The Seattle Times of today is far smaller, in employees and asset ownership, than it was when Blethen was tapped as publisher. The Blethen family sold four properties in South Lake Union from 2011 and 2013 for $88 million, and in 2020 sold its Bothell printing press property. The proceeds of the sales were reinvested in the newspaper. 

One aspect Blethen is especially proud of: When he looks at The Seattle Times every day, he sees women at the top of the masthead. As the son of a single mother, he said, he was especially sensitive to the discrimination women faced.

“There are a lot of women out there who can do great work that probably still aren’t getting the opportunities they need,” he said. “Although it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be.”

He’s also encouraged by an innovative revenue model of community-funded initiatives at The Seattle Times, which have been replicated by other outlets across the U.S. Since 2013, community donors have contributed more than $10 million to newsroom projects focused on education, climate, mental health, traffic, homelessness and investigative reporting. 

“My mantra is that good content and useful content is what you need to attract an audience, and you need to attract an audience if you’re going to get revenue and get paid for what you do,” Blethen said. “And you know, I think right now we’re putting out a really, really, really good newspaper.”