The Seattle Times hasn’t shrunk much more lately, so we haven’t used our “Seattle Times Shrinkage Watch” meme much lately.
The same can’t be said for the monopoly daily in Portland, the Advance Publications (S.I. Newhouse family)-owned Oregonian.
Like Advance’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Oregonian has cut back on home delivery (to four days a week).
Like the T-P and other Advance papers, it’s been corporately reorganized as a “digital first” operation.
Its shrunken newsroom staff has faced a series of management dictates to post at least three online news items per day, to participate in (and start) comment threads for each item, and to eternally chase the Almighty Pageview Count. (As if standard “content site” target analytics from circa 2008 were still valid and could still lead to profits.)
And, as of last week, the print Oregonian is now a tabloid.
They officially call it a “compact” format, but it’s the same approximate page size as the Stranger. (That’s about three-quarters the current page size of the Seattle Times.)
It has (or is capable of having) color on every page. Each section is stapled (though management vows it’s all still fully recyclable).
The acres of national/international wire stories that used to dominate the front section have been slashed into a few stories and digests at the section’s back. Local coverage is still around (including, this week, a series on workplace sexual harassment), but is far more tightly edited.
However, the paper seems to have only dropped one comic strip (Rex Morgan M.D.).
These aren’t the final changes coming to the once-venerable “Big O.”
Like many shrunken daily papers, it’s moving out of its historic headquarters building, into smaller rented office quarters.
And management has told the remaining reporters they’ll soon be judged, and incentivized, for their stories’ online pageview counts and “engagement” statistics.
Expect a lot less boring but important local-paper-of-record stuff and a lot more cute cat pictures.
As Sears’ Seattle store dies (see this blog’s previous entry), another company here in town has led a revival of shopping from home, with a “catalog” running to millions of auto-customized web pages.
But Amazon’s original business, and its most controversial presence, remains in books.
As George Packer recently noted in the New Yorker, Amazon has disrupted, and often infuriated, the champions of traditional publishing, also known as “Book Culture.”
Some of these folks gathered in Seattle in late February/early March for the annual convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).
AWP’s main public event was a giant book fair on the convention’s final day, featuring hundreds of publishers big and small, for- and non-profit. It’s the one time a year, in a different city each year, when poetry is a business!
And Amazon was there, as a convention co-sponsor and as a vendor, with a book fair table advertising its self-publishing services.
One of the small literary publishers at the fair had a raffle for one of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader devices. They promoted the raffle with a punching-bag toy, festooned with a photo of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ face.
More recently, Mayor Murray sent a formal proposal to UNESCO’s “Creative Cities” program, to become an officially, internationally recognized “City of Literature.”
The city’s formal application included a long original essay by Blueprints of the Afterlife novelist Ryan Boudinot.
The essay lists programs (to be supported partly by local public and private funding) Seattle would implement should it get the UNESCO nod. One of these programs would involve the city buying Hugo House’s building on Capitol Hill as a permanent “literary arts center” (that would also continue to house Hugo House’s programs).
Boudinot’s essay also gushes, in adoring detail, about Seattle and the Northwest’s cultural heritage(s) and its contributions in literature and publishing (especially Fantagraphics’ graphic novels) as well as in music and the visual arts.
And nowhere in the essay’s 7,000-plus words are the words “Amazon” or “Bezos” ever mentioned.
Classic P-I building from my book 'seattle's belltown;' museum of history and industry collection
I left the Missy James post up as this blog’s top item for a month, both to remember her and because I’ve been laser focused on finding paying work.
But it’s time for me to get back to the “writing” thang.
And there’s no more appropriate day to do so than on the fifth anniversary of the last printed Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The city lost a huge chunk of its soul and its collective memory when the Hearst Corp., awash in losses here and in its other print-media operations, pulled the plug on our town’s “second” yet superior daily paper.
There’s been a P-I sized hole in the local media-scape ever since.
Yeah, we’ve got the Seattle Times, albeit a shrunken one (though it’s apparently stopped shrinking any further, at least for now).
We’ve got the Stranger, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut, Publicola, and SportsPress NW.
We’ve got four local TV news stations (plus NorthWest Cable News), four local radio news stations, and all their respective websites.
We’ve got Seattle magazine, Seattle Met, and CityArts.
We’ve got the Daily Journal of Commerce, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and assorted tech-biz news sites.
We’ve got Horse’sAss, Seattlish, The Seattle Star, and dozens of other (mostly volunteer-run) blogs covering local politics, sports, and arts.
And, oh yeah, we’ve got SeattlePI.com.
It’s still run by Hearst. It still has Joel Connelly’s acerbic political commentary, Josh Trujillo’s dramatic photojournalism, and the occasional excellent news story.
But its staff has shrunk to 14 reporters, photographers, and “producers,” down from the 20 it had at its stand-alone start in ’09. That, in turn, was a small fraction of the team the print P-I had.
That’s still a full-time payroll comparable to that of any newsroom in town, except those of the Times and the TV stations.
But it’s stretched thin by the requirement to post dozens of “click bait” and “listicle” stories every day.
Hearst is running PI.com according to the 2009 rules of a “content” web business.
Those rules, which nationally gave us the likes of BuzzFeed and Elite Daily, have proven profitable only among the most sensationalistic and most cheaply run operations that feed either on gossip, noise, or national niche audiences.
It’s no way to run a local general-news operation.
And it’s no way to pay for professional local journalism on a sustainable basis.
But neither Hearst nor any of America’s other old-media giants has figured out a better way.
So it’s become the job of us “street level” bloggers to find new rules, new concepts, to forge a new path beyond the ugly web pages stuff with worthless banner ads. To create the New-New News.
My personal bottom line:
I want a local news organization, staffed by folks who know what they’re doing and who are paid living wages.
I want it to attract an audience at least as loyal (and as willing to help support it) as KUOW’s audience.
I want it to be the first place this audience looks to to learn what’s been going on around here, in the last day or the last hour.
I want it to reach out across subcultures and social strata.
I have collected a few ideas in this regard, a few potential pieces of this puzzle.
And I’d love to hear some of yours.
During our three-week-plus blogging absence, one of the events we failed to note was the demise of one of the unsung pop-culture greats, Samuel W. Petrucci. A logo and packaging designer, he worked on everything from the Charleston Chew candy wrapper to a Lassie lunch box. But he’s best known for the logo and box art on the original G.I. Joe dolls, often using himself as a model for Joe’s face. His daughter Lisa Petrucci is a prominent local “pop surrealist” painter and co-owner of Something Weird Video.
imagined audio-book listeners on a train, 1894
Back in the early days of telephones and phonograph records (1894 to be precise), essayist Octave Uzanne claimed “The End of Books” would soon be at hand. Uzanne predicted people would much rather listen to storytellers (with what are now called audio books) than read:
Our eyes are made to see and reflect the beauties of nature, and not to wear themselves out in the reading of texts; they have been too long abused, and I like to fancy that some one will soon discover the need there is that they should be relieved by laying a greater burden upon our ears. This will be to establish an equitable compensation in our general physical economy.
Elsewhere in randomosity:
Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos apparently summoned his inner Charles Foster Kane and decided, “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”
For a mere quarter billion (less than some of his fellow one-percenters spend on bigass yachts), Bezos has instantly become a news media powerhouse (of the “old media” persuasion).
Basically that’s all we know at this point.
Some people are suggesting that Bezos might use the WaPo as a bully pulpit for his own national legislative agenda (which may or may not include fewer minimum-wage hikes, sales-tax breaks on online/interstate commerce, and restrictions on book publishers and other suppliers from setting enforced retail prices on products).
Other people are suggesting a Bezos-subsidized WaPo could revive bigtime journalism by relieving it from the need to earn a Wall St.-acceptable profit level.
Still others wonder how someone based in this Washington can effectively lead an institution based in that Washington. Don’t just dismiss these as the typical remarks of Northeast provincialists.
As we’ve mentioned, the WaPo‘s business model has traditionally been that of a local paper whose locality happened to be the nation’s capital. Unlike the NY Times, it had little direct presence beyond the Northeast during the pre-online years, aside from its wire service and its syndicated columnists.
Under Bezos, the WaPo could become a national business; not just a DC/Maryland/Virginia business with national influence. Its website, and future related online products, could become not just greater attractors of “clicks” but greater forums for the big issues of the day.
But where would that leave the local DC news? (Remember, the WaPo originally “broke” the story of the Watergate break-in as a local crime story.)
The less-glamorous, formerly more-profitable half of the WaPo institution needs its own reassurances from the Bezos camp.
PS: The Washington Post Co. will remain under the Graham family, under a new name to be announced later. That company will still include the formerly Microsoft-owned Slate.com, as well as TV stations and the Kaplan educational-publishing outfit.
erika j. schultz via twitter
…fraudulently collecting $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students for the purpose of collecting student aid money. Whistleblowers claim that students graduate loaded with debt and without the means to pay off the loans, which are then paid for with taxpayer dollars.
the reason stick at blogspot
the new yorker
Known for decades as a cranky reactionary political commentator, you might find it hard to believe he’d started as a Seattle Times art and theater reviewer.
There, and later as managing editor at the P-I, he regularly advocated for the “fine arts” as a civilizing force, a means toward furthering the region’s progress from frontier outpost to respectable conservative community.
When the Seattle World’s Fair ended, Guzzo famously editorialized that the fair grounds (to become Seattle Center) should be devoted entirely toward arts/cultural pursuits. He specifically did not want any amusement-park rides there. He lived to see them finally removed.
One of Guzzo’s closest allies in this education-and-uplifting ideology was Dixy Lee Ray, who ran the Pacific Science Center. He later worked for Ray at the Atomic Energy Commission and during her one term as Washington Governor.
After Ray was primaried out of a re-election bid in 1980, Guzzo became a regular commentator on KIRO-TV. That’s where, in 1986, he delivered a blistering attack against greasy-haired, anti-social punk rockers. (The motivation was the infamous Teen Dance Ordinance, which Guzzo supported.)
In response, a local hardcore combo called the Dehumanizers released a blistering attack on him, in the form of a 45 entitled “Kill Lou Guzzo” (which began with a sample of Guzzo’s original commentary). Guzzo sued the band and its record-label owner David Portnow. Portnow responded by pressing more copies.
After retiring from KIRO at the end of the 1980s, Guzzo started a “voice of reason” website and self-published several books.
1950 front page via portland.daveknows.com
Imagine a Portlandia sketch about people desperately seeking newspapers.
For dog training and bird cage lining. For papier-maché school crafts projects. For kinetic art pieces and retro fashion ensembles. For Wm. Burroughs-style “cut up” wordplay. For packing objets d’art and eBay shipments.
But there aren’t any newspapers to be had.
Not in the vending boxes. Not in the stores. Not in the attics.
Not even in the landfills—they’ve been picked clean of ‘em.
The citizens are outraged. They form support groups. They exchange tips on where the rare newsprint can still be had.
Of course, they do all of this online.
That’s the scenario I imagined when I heard of the Newhouse/Advance Media chain’s latest cost-cutting spree.
You remember how Advance’s newspapers in Ann Arbor MI, Birmingham AL, and (most famously) New Orleans cut back their print issues to two or three days a week.
The New Orleans operation backtracked. This week it launched a tabloid called T-P Street on the regular Times-Picayune‘s off days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday). The Street papers will be sold in stores and vending boxes, but won’t be home-delivered.
That’s the tactic Advance is taking in Portland.
First, they registered a new corporate name, “Oregonian Media Group,” replacing “Oregonian Publishing Co.”
Then they immediately posted an announcement that claimed the new entity would “expand news and information products in Oregon and Southwest Washington.”
Of course, that “expansion” is really a contraction dressed up in corporate buzz-speak.
The print Oregonian is going newsstand-only three days a week this October, with home delivery offered four days a week. (Home-delivery subscribers will get full digital access to all editions.)
And at least 45 newsroom employees are losing their jobs. That’s about 22 percent of the paper’s current editorial workforce, which in turn is a little over half of its 1990s newsroom strength. Some 50 workers are being canned in other departments.
That reduction might not be the final total; at least a few new hires will replace high-senority people taking severance packages.
If you ask whether the Seattle Times could join the trend of papers only home-delivering part of the time, the answer is “maybe but it’s complicated.”
The Times took over the Everett Herald‘s home-delivery operation. If the now Sound Publishing-owned Herald wants to keep delivering every day, the Times is contractually obligated to do that delivering.
And if the Times has drivers and paperboys/girls in Snohomish and north King counties working every morning, it might as well have them in the rest of King County.
lynn emmert via fantagraphics.com
I swear I’m gonna have thoughts about the end of the Egyptian Theater and other things soon. But there’s only one story for me for today.
Kim Thompson, co-owner and co-publisher of Fantagraphics Books and The Comics Journal, died Wednesday morning, less than four months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
The Danish-born Thompson grew up loving both European and American comics, from crude superhero fare to slick French graphic albums. He came to the U.S. at age 21 and immediately became friends with Gary Groth, who’d started The Comics Journal with Mike Catron as a teenager. When Catron moved on to DC Comics, Thompson became Groth’s partner at the Journal. By the early 1980s, they’d branched out from reviewing comics into publishing their own.
By 1989 they moved their already substantial operation from the L.A. suburbs to Seattle.
I came to know, and work for, them soon after that.
In the office, Thompson played the “good cop” role. Where Groth was a demanding taskmaster and a hard-nosed boss (at least back then), Thompson was more easygoing and soft-spoken. He still had the same painstaking care as Groth for putting out the best comics and books possible, and for getting the most production value out of an in-house design shop run (at that time) on bobby pins and baling wire (and top talent, such as the late graphics ace Dale Yarger).
Thompson could also hold his own in making deals with comics creators, distributors, and retailers, and with the mainstream media. He famously told the Village Voice, “[L]et’s face it. If you’re a shop that has any claim to carrying alternative comics and you’re not carrying [Daniel Clowes's] Eightball or [Chris Ware's] Acme Novelty Library, that’s stupid.”
Eventually, Thompson got to make his books’ physical aspects as slick and professional as the content of the art within them, expanding from magazines and trade paperbacks into hardcovers and slipcase box sets.
Groth and Thompson’s books won awards in and out of the comics/graphic-novel niche. With recognition came clout, the kind of clout that got them the reprint rights to Peanuts, Donald Duck, and many other classics.
Their original publications, from Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World to Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, continually redefined the range of stories and moods the medium could convey. Comics were more than (as the tired cliché went) “not just for kids anymore.” They were a true art form; and, thanks partly to Fantagraphics and its stable of creators, the “mainstream” audience began to recognize this.
As the book trade roiled at the “disrupting” influence of e-books and chain bookstores’ rise and fall, Fantagraphics continued to grow. Its beautiful hardcover packaging helped readers to see its titles as art works in themselves, things people wanted to own as physical, tangible objects.
Thompson’s legacy, besides the many great cartoonists whose work he helped assemble, promote, and nurture, could be this packaging.
In it, he showed the rest of the (print) book industry how to stay in demand.