Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The state of news in Seattle

(The Stranger often comments on the sorry state of our local news here in Seattle, whether it is one of our local TV news personalities, a particular campus newspaper, or, mostly, the mess that is the Seattle Times versus the Seattle P-I and how soon one or both will go out of business. I was originally going to post a short comment on this story in the Slog, but I became so long winded I decided to post a blog entry instead).

I don't understand how people can be so blasé about the fact that Seattle may soon become a "one paper town." With the potential loss of one of our daily papers it means we will have one less side of any story. We will lose either the Seattle Times, which has been drastically downsizing of late, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (the P.I.), which drew the short-end of the stick when the papers formed a "joint operation agreement" many years ago, merging their Sunday Papers and their classified ads. To me, losing one of our two daily papers means, like losing the Seattle Sonics, that Seattle is ceasing to be a "World Class City."

Seattle will still have its two weekly papers, The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly, but they will only remain in business as long as advertisers can afford to run ads in them. The economy, such as it is, holds no guarantees. Of the two weeklies, I believe The Stranger will outlast the Weekly. The Stranger is the far more entertaining and respected of the two and since, for the past 11 years, the Weekly has been owned by two different New York-based corporations, the majority of their articles come from syndicated sources. All of the Weekly's former local staff, except for a couple who remained on to blog, were either fired or quit to form their own internet company. Now the Seattle Weekly no longer seems relevant as a "Seattle" paper. (Except for the restaurant reviews and food blog, I never read it).

The Stranger (as much as I love it and participate on its blog everyday), seems incapable of just reporting the news without the writer interjecting their political or social beliefs into each story, as if the writer's opinion carries as much weight as the stories facts. It is often too snarky to be a "real" newspaper, in the traditional sense. When I think of what a newspaper should be, I think of papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, in that, 90% of the news should be unbiased factual reporting. (Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?) Another 5% can be opinion, limited to the "Opinion" section of the newspaper, and another 5% for "sundries" such as comics and light-hearted stories about cat's in trees or quintuplets or quintuplets in trees. Then you sell enough ad space to pay for producing the paper, including salaries, then you do it again tomorrow.

I used to count on The Stranger, and to a lesser extent, the Weekly, to do in-depth stories that neither the Times nor the P-I deemed news-worthy. But I can't remember the last time I read any actual news in the paper itself, none that I hadn't already read online anyway, which is part of the problem. By the time Thursday rolls around and the print edition of the Stranger hits the streets, the news has been parsed and picked over daily by the writers and readers of the Slog (the Stranger's blog). By the time it's in print, it's old news. The Stranger writers are so busy posting on the Slog, it seems like they don't have time to go out and do any actual reporting. They spend most of their time commenting on stories other reporters covered for other news organizations. I am not suggesting The Stranger is plagiarizing the other news organizations because they credit where they got the story and provide a link to the source (the same thing I and most every other blogger does) but the Stranger is a news paper and they used to do more than blog. I hope the editors free up some of their writers and tell them, "we don't want you to Slog again until you write 15,000 words on something important going on, whether it's about transit or the homeless, or police brutality." Real papers get nominated for Pulitzer's damn it!

Despite all that, the dailies can learn a lot from the Stranger. The Stranger does not need to publish a newspaper everyday because they can blog everyday, or if they chose to, turn the online version of the Stranger itself into a daily paper, though that might require hiring more staff to go out in the field.

The Times and the P-I can follow the lead of the Detroit Free Press, and others, and get rid of their print version altogether, just offer the news for free online and rely on online advertising to cover their costs. Since there wouldn't be a print edition, there would be a lot less overhead because there wouldn't be a need for typesetters, printers, delivery people, or other people who are vital to creating an actual newspaper. It's a shame that people will lose jobs, but that is progress. Creating a newspaper, like building a car, doesn't have to be as complicated as it is, just to keep people in a job. As the technology is created to make jobs more efficient, therefore cheaper, therefore affordable, you let people retire and don't replace them, and the ones who haven's been doing the job so long they've become "institutionalized" you retrain them for a job that a machine can't do, like reporting. (The only thing I think I will miss about having an actual newspaper is doing the New York Times Crossword Puzzle because I am more comfortable doing it with a pencil at my own pace rather than stuck at a keyboard typing while a time counts the seconds, minutes, and on Saturdays, hours it takes me to finish. However I can always wait and buy one of the many compilations published each year).

The Stranger should pray that both the Times and P-I survives, otherwise the Stranger will have one less source for its local news.


I want to acknowledge that Jonah Spangenthal-Lee consistently turns in interesting, well written articles with very little bias.


josh said...

have you looked at the weekly lately? The last time I picked it up, I was pretty surprised to see how locally-focused it was. It's especially as the Stranger (the Slog in particular) seems to be taking a turn for a national audience and focus.

Larry Davenport said...

Thanks for the heads up Josh. I'll grab a copy.

Thanks for reading,