Ryan Blethen – Editorial Page Editor, Seattle Times
Blethen is the son of the Times’ publisher and chief executive officer Frank Blethen, and took over the role in May 2009 after longtime editorial-page editor James Vesely retired. It will be 113 years this August that the Blethen family has owned the Seattle Times.
“This is the one job I wanted to get since I got into journalism,” he said. “I want to continue and maintain the page as the most respected editorial voice in the Northwest.”
Blethen was previously the associate editorial page editor for the paper, and in addition to his new duties he will continue to serve as a columnist. He is also the publication’s associate publisher, overseeing the company’s Washington Affiliate Newspapers, the Yakima Herald Republic, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and the Issaquah Press.
With a fresh mind and different perspective, Blethen plans on bringing the Seattle Times op-ed page into a new era of reader interaction across all generations. He hears daily from older readers, he said, and “they really want more letters in the paper.”
He added, “I’d like to get more Letters to the Editor on our pages. We are down to one page every day, except Fridays and Sundays when we have two. If I can figure how to do it more consistently and with the amount of space we have, I’ll be very proud of that.”
What about the younger generation of readers? Blethen said he plans to engage them online.
“We have a Twitter site for Seattle Times Opinion, we have a Facebook page,” he said. “Now we have aLetters blog, which is just like the letters we publish in the paper but people can comment on them.”
Maintaining the high standards of the editorial page and dealing with readers, Blethen said, are probably the most difficult yet easiest aspects of his new job. He receives hundreds of e-mails per day and tries to answer them all.
“Dealing with readers is sometimes easy and very enjoyable, when somebody is complimenting you,” he explained. “And sometimes giving a thoughtful response to a question or criticism [is challenging]. But I don’t want to give a stock answer to everybody.”
Blethen also looks forward to working with the staff and crafting the opinions on the page, but acknowledged that the final say is with the publisher. In his case, the publisher is also his father, a fact that only seems to encourage the new editor.
“I have a lot of experience working with my dad in and out of the office” he said. “One thing that I admire about my dad as the publisher is that he is willing to change his mind on a lot of things and consider other points of view.”
Being a Blethen in a high-profile role at the Seattle Times certainly carries pressure, and the young editor feels he has worked “very hard” to get this job. After graduating from Washington State University in 1999, he joined the Times as a reporter-intern.
He explained, “When you first start work at the paper as a Blethen, they put you on a two year program, where they work you in every department, so you get a flavor of how the whole operation works.”
It was during this rotation that he had a stint in the newsroom and found his passion for journalism. “I kind of assumed, that being a Blethen, I’d be on the business side,” he added.
Blethen went on to work as a regional editor of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram,Spokesman-Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic. In 2005, he joined the Seattle Times as part of the editorial department.
And does the young Blethen have any aspirations of being the publisher of the paper one day?
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a definite possibility, but I think my dad still has some time left.”
Blethen wants to receive press materials from local PR firms, as he feels their pitches are more relevant to the Seattle Times op-ed readers. He also explained that good PR professionals know the sections and are constantly in touch.
“It’s better when pitches are written by people in the Northwest and have a connection here,” he said. “We get bombarded with e-mails and phone calls by PR firms in DC and NY saying, ‘Hey I have this client, we’ve written this editorial for him, do you want to run it?’ I don’t have time for those because they are usually sending the same pitch to 50-60 newspapers. We like to be exclusive.”
Blethen strongly advises publicists to be short, concise and to the point with their pitches.
He explained, “I am looking for very specific details to why your pitch is important in a half page e-mail. There is nothing worse that when you are reading a pitch and you can’t figure out what exactly they are saying. And if you want to get my attention, your pitch cannot be the same as a news pitch saying ‘hey this is happening at this time, come and report on it’. The pitch needs to address more of an idea of what even they are pitching. Why they think the topic they are pitching is better discussed in a more civic way that a press conference for example.”
Blethen can receive PR pitches via e-mail and phone.
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