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blethen-frankThe Seattle Times is making a big bet on digital, hoping to capture a new generation of readers who’ve fled newspapers as part of decades-long switch in news consumption habits.

In comments today at the Edelman Trust in Innovation panel, Blethen noted that The Seattle Times spent $4 million on a recent upgrade of its Web site and other digital properties, with more changes still to come.

“This has been an incredible period of innovation for us,” said Blethen, adding that the family-owned paper has “doubled-down” on digital.

A fourth generation member of the Blethen family, which has operated The Seattle Times since 1891, Blethen certainly isn’t a slick digital media executive. He’s proud of his newspaper roots, boasting that the newspaper has the second largest paid subscription base on the West Coast in part because of its guarantee to deliver newspapers to doorsteps by 5:30 a.m.

Even with those old-school newspaper roots, Blethen said he’s working hard to pick up the lingo of the technology business that’s reshaping the media world.

“I am learning a whole new language,” said Blethen, stumbling over terms like minimum viable product and iteration. “My wife says that I am an ‘iterate” and not sure what she means,” Blethen said to laughs. “It is an exciting new world.”

When Blethen started at The Seattle Times in 1985, he said everything revolved around print. It represented 100 percent of the revenue, and consumed all of the operations.

In the course of 30 years, the print world has shrunk. Today, he said 40 percent of the Times’ digital readers reach the company through social media channels or search.

“It was kind of like in the old days, we had to find the porch, so we could throw the newspaper on it,” said Blethen. “Now we need to find their devices, so we can be there when and where they are looking for us.”

Blethen noted that the dependence on search traffic creates a tough business model for newspapers like The Seattle Times. The Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that online search is the first place that people go for breaking news and then later to confirm the news, with newspapers slumping as a source of news.

“The big search people make a lot of money off of it, and we don’t make any,” he said.

At the end of the day, however, Blethen said the most important aspect of its business remains a trust with readers.

“We don’t succeed if readers and the public in this market don’t trust us,” said Blethen,

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