Editor at Large, The Seattle Times
The Seattle Times is committed to celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a way that is a model for other businesses.
Nine years ago Publisher Frank Blethen made a unilateral decision that The Times would observe the paid holiday, at a cost of about $280,000 a year. About the same time he initiated a drive to encourage other media companies to share in promoting the holiday. The campaign has grown to include newspaper, television and radio promotion ads throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and Maine.
But why? How does a then-47-year-old white guy who grew up in Arizona as a Barry Goldwater conservative come to be so personally dedicated to celebrating the memory of a slain civil-rights leader?
Blethen admits that when he was growing up he knew very little about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and that he shared the negative feelings much of white society felt toward a man who seemed to be in the middle of turmoil wherever he went. Those feelings were reinforced by criticism of King in the press.
Blethen also trusted what he had learned in school — that America was a fair nation, a melting pot that treated people equally. His views began changing when he moved to Seattle and started working at The Times. He came to see that the principles of fairness and equality didn't extend to all.
"I don't know if you'd call it an awakening, because it was the start of a long process," he says. It included studying the responsibility of a newspaper to generate dialogue and to be a leader in its community.
The role of the newspaper is critical to achieving the kind of inclusive society King dreamed. Blethen says his awareness of that has come into sharper focus in recent years. Today it is reinforced by demographic changes that are making our country and our community more diverse and multicultural.
"It's in our self-interest to figure out how we're going to be inclusive. It's not something we should be afraid of. It's something we should be excited about and celebrate."
And, so, he has come to regard MLK Day as "the first real reflection by our country that diversity needs to be embraced. It's our most valid holiday because it recognizes real needs and real opportunities."
He is delighted at how other media companies have joined the campaign to publicize the holiday. He gives most of the credit to Dave Syferd, who shared in the original idea and whose agency, Elgin Syferd/DDB Needham, donates the campaign's creative work, and to Ron Elgin who carries on the commitment.
Despite his personal commitment, Blethen says it would be wrong to be critical or judgmental of individuals or businesses who don't yet observe the holiday. "These things take time, and what's important is that the number of people who embrace the holiday grows each year."
Blethen says he has learned enough about the Rev. King over the years to believe he would agree. "King preached tolerance and a certain amount of patience. It takes time to bring people in and you can only do it by embracing them with good will."
This Web site is one manifestation of the good will The Seattle Times extends to people everywhere in honor of the memory and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King.