Monday, March 16, 2009

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes softly into the night.

I know that many newspapers are in dire straits these days. The Rocky Mountain News just closed its doors several weeks ago, and many other companies operating newspapers in major cities are on the doorstep of bankruptcy. Now, it is the turn of the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

The Seattle P-I has been around, in one form or another, since December 10, 1863. This week, on Tuesday, March 17, the P-I will stop publishing a printed version of the paper. It will, as currently being reported, continue with an on-line version only operating with a “much reduced” staff. Some of the local stories have made it plain that those few people who have been offered a place on the web-based PI were unhappy with significantly reduced salaries and benefits that came with those offers. Not that this wasn’t expected. Still, it’s difficult to see how this “web based” version is going to be anything near the quality of the print version. David Horsey is an wonderful political cartoonist who has won two Pulitzers for his work. Art Thiel is an extraordinarily gifted columnist whose main job involves writing about sports, but always seems to be able to include a lot of “big picture” information. He was usually able to get in a few jabs in the political arena as well, which I enjoyed greatly. Those two alone were worth the subscription price of the P-I. (I have since heard on the radio that both of these professionals will be part of the on-line version. It remains to be seen what that really is going to look like. I also heard that this latest incarnation will make use of local "citizen journalists". Meaning lots of free content for them.)

Seattle will now be a one-newspaper town. The Seattle Times is also a pretty good paper. However, it is rightly considered to be the more conservative of the two and sometimes takes some editorial positions that I don’t really care for at all. But, if Seattle is to have only a single newspaper, then the Times is a whole lot better than nothing at all.

But there’s the rub. McClatchy, which owns a significant share of the Times, has been letting their staff go left and right, and there is a lot of reporting going on that the Times might go under as well. They have been losing millions of dollars per year for quite some time. Seattle could possibly go from a two newspaper city to one that has no major dailies in the space of a year or less. That would be a disaster, in my mind.

I am much in favor of maintaining the printed news capabilities of this country, and I am not talking about a stupid rag like U.S.A. Today, whose major usefulness is being able to see sports scores when traveling out of town and for lining a parakeet’s birdcage. Bloggers get a bad rap for many things which I believe are really unjustified. I am talking about the “good” blogs, not this stupid little one that I have. Firedoglake is a very good example. Talking Points Memo is another. But as much digging as they do starting from a very specific point of view, they cannot replace the access and reporting ability that newspapers have. Or, at least that they used to have back when newspaper editors truly believed their first and foremost responsibility was to the public and not to some nameless corporate ownership group that also might require reporting from a “certain political point of view.” To have a major city like Seattle face the prospect of having no daily newspapers would be nothing short of a calamity.

About the only good news that I can see is that the prospects of the outlaying newspapers like the Tacoma Tribune (although that is also partly owned by McClatchy) and the Everett Herald would be looking up.

I am extremely unhappy about this development. In the last few years, the Seattle area lost its first professional franchise in the NBA Supersonics to Oklahoma City, of all places, the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, where you could take a leisurely train ride from Renton to the Columbia winery in Woodinville in vintage, restored railcars and enjoy a very fine dinner while watching some really cool scenery roll by, the waterfront trolley car, which made getting around the very long waterfront area very easy while you parked your car somewhere not terribly convenient to the rest of the waterfront, Boeing corporate headquarters, which moved to Chicago for some still not terribly clear reasons, and now one of its two daily newspapers. What’s next? Will the Space Needle be repossessed? Will Microsoft relocate to India? It seems as if the Puget Sound area is slowly losing some really vital parts of what really makes this a unique, vibrant place to live.

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