Once upon a time--maybe a year ago, or a little longer--Seattle Weekly's financial performance was terrible, but those days are a distant memory. Sure, the paper's page counts have continued to fall, and circulation is down, and return rates are way up, and staff is being laid off on an almost weekly basis, but don't be fooled by such non-essentials. Everything is hunky-dory at Seattle Weekly these days, thank you very much.

That, at least, is the cheery news according to the February 7 Puget Sound Business Journal, which bought Weekly publisher Terry Coe's spin hook, line, and sinker. Coe was challenging an earlier New York Times article citing ongoing financial difficulties at the Weekly.

But do Coe's statements pass the smell test?

Coe claimed to PSBJ that the Weekly is only "about four pages smaller than it used to be," which he described as a cost-cutting move. Actually, compared to a year earlier, the Weekly is down 11 pages per issue since the beginning of 2003, from 100 pages on average to 89.

Coe also claimed Weekly revenues rose five percent in the fourth quarter of 2002. Perhaps that's true--since the Weekly is privately held, it does not publicly open its books. But if so, it's quite a feat, since the Weekly was also down 11 pages on average in that quarter, and did not raise ad rates or significantly boost its ad-to-edit ratio.

Moreover, Coe said, "Circulation is about even with last year." Actually, it's down. Verified Audit Circulation, the independent company that audits the Weekly's circulation, reports that the paper's circulation has slipped from 102,061 for the six months ending March 31, 2002, to 97,932 in the fourth quarter.

Coe also cited a low two percent return rate for the Weekly, adding, "More people are picking [the Weekly] up." But Verified reports that the Weekly's return rate actually rose to nine percent in the fourth quarter of 2002, up from six percent for the six months ending March 31, 2002. The PSBJ, which perhaps should have checked Verified's website to test Coe's claims, ran a correction about the Weekly's return rate on February 14. Coe would not comment for this article.