Washington Post Co. chairman Katharine Graham told stockholders yesterday that "unless there is a major setback in the economy," revenues and profits for the communications firm this year will surpass the records set in 1976.
However, she told the company's annual meeting here, the rate of gain for the full year will not match increases in the first quarter of 1977 - when Post Co. profits jumped 32 per cent from the year-earlier period to $5 million (57 cents a share) from $3.8 million (42 cents) and revenues rose by 18 per cent to $94.6 million.
For all of 1976, the firm's profits totaled $24.5 million ($2.72 a share) compared with $12.04 million ($1.27) in the strike-depressed 1975 period.
The Post Co.'s meeting lasted more than two hours and was dominated by questioning and complaints from three sources - representatives of Accuracy in Media, Inc. (AIM), a Washington-based media watchdog organization; professional stockholder Evelyn Y. Davis, and Lester Kinsolving, an Episcopal minister, columnist and local radio commentator.
In an innovation for the company's annual meeting, Graham restricted initial questions to matters concerning Post Co. business operations before entertaining the comments of such groups as AIM on editorial content, which have occupied much of the time at previous meetings since the firm went public in 1971.
Graham told the stockholders in opening remarks that all three Post Co. divisions (newspapers, broadcasting, Newsweek magazine) "are off to a good start" in 1977.
She said an increase in pretax profits for broadcasting last year to $15 million from more than $8 million was made possible by groundwork in prior years when broadcast profitability was at a level below other firms. For example, she cited a computerized pricing and inventory control system over advertising time at WTOP-TV, developed by general sales manager James Boaz; the system permitted the station to take advantage "much quicker than most stations" of the increased business 1976 brought with it, she stated.
She noted that Newsweek has added full color availability to all pages this year, permitting much wider use of editorial color, even on stories breaking as late as Saturdays (the magazine is printed on Sundays).
The key development at The Post newspaper last year was circulation growth in the wake of a strike by pressmen that stated on Oct. 1, 1975, and was concluded substantially by mid-February 1976. post circulation is up 40,000 from a year ago to 555,000 daily and 766,000 on Sundays. Post and revenues in the first quarter were up 32 per cent, she revealed.
In Mrs. Graham's address to the meeting, and in responses by company officers to various questions, these other issues were discussed:
Noting that the Post Co. split its stock two for one last December and increased its cash payout for 1977 by 44 per cent, Graham said dividend policy will be reviewed "periodically." But management believes it is advisable not to have a high dividend ratio and to "strive for growth, both internally and by means of acquisition."
The company plans to continue its search for appropriate acquisitions but no specific possible purchases were identified.
Starting in 1975 and through last week, the Post Co. has purchased about 1.6 million shares of its class B common stock on the open market at a cost of $29.5 million ($18.30 a share), "an excellent use of our cash." Post Co. stock has been traded on the American Stock Exchange this year in a range of $21.50 to more than $25 a share.
Details of former company president Larry H. Israel's announced resignations, effective last Feb. 1, are "not such" that any company would want to discuss them, Graham said. His departure was by "mutual agreement" and nothing more will be said, she added. As reported earlier, Israel will be paid his salary of $225,000 a year through 1978 and a $200,000 severance payment in early 1979.
Post Co. legal fees in 1976 totaled $1.4 million, an unusually high amount because of defending an antitrust suit filed by distributors of The Post newspaper scheduled to come to trial inthe near future, general counsel Alan R. Fiberg said.
The newspaper would not actively oppose an attempt to unionize the currently non-union press room but, "I can't envision anything that would make them (press room workers who replaced the striking union woerkers) want to unionize," said newspaper division president Mark J. Meagher.
Murray Barron, president of AIM, told the meeting that members of his group believe there is a "constitutional imbalance" in this nation that requires people without access to the media to speak out against what he termed "excesses" currently found in some news reporting.
This summer, he said, AIM will publish an extensive study of press reporting of the Tet offensive in the Vietnam war, which he claimed was distorted.