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.
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.
For the 28th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most venerable (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known solar systems. As always, this is a prediction of what will become hot and not-so-hot in the coming year, not necessarily what’s hot and not-so-hot now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some BlackBerry stock to sell you.
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:
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.
When you tell someone with depression that they should maybe try harder to be happy, it’s essentially like telling a diabetic that they could totally make an adequate amount of insulin if they just concentrated a little harder.
chris luckhardt via seriouslyforreal.com
Former Seattle Times staffer Glenn Nelson has thoughts of his own about the paper’s pending online paywall (or, as he calls it, its “digital tin cup”).
Nelson mentions how, following his Times years, he served in several “subscription-model Internet startups.”
At those places, Nelson kept fretting that the Times would suddenly wake up and smell the digital coffee, then trot out online products based on the vast manpower the paper had (at the time) in sports, entertainment, food, and business coverage, and in photojournalism. (Nelson doesn’t think a better Times local-news site would have mattered, because “general news already was being rendered a commodity on the Internet.”)
These sites, had they been created, would have blown away any indie-startup competition.
But they never showed up.
Meanwhile, news-biz pundit Alan D. Mutter dissects why many people under the age of 45 don’t like print newspapers. It’s because they’re just too inconvenient to have around.
Mutter quotes venture-capital exec Mary Meeker as claiming…
…that young people don’t want to own CDs, haul around books, buy cars, carry cash, do their own chores, or be committed to a full-time job. Instead, they use their smartphones to buy, borrow, or steal media; rent shared cars at home and book shared rooms when they travel; hire people to buy groceries or cut the grass; and use apps from Starbucks and Target to pay for lattes and redeem coupons. Many of the digital natives even prefer short-term gigs that allow them to arrange their work around their life, rather than arrange their life around their work.
Actually, many younger (and older) adults would like full time jobs if there were any around to be gotten. But that’s beside the point here.
More important is Mutter’s observation that…
…The warmed-over digital fare offered by the typical newspaper falls well short of the expectations of two whole generations of consumers who are not only empowered by technology but also damn well sure of how to get what they want.
So it has come to this. The Seattle Times, unable (just as most all metro dailies are unable) to survive on shrinking print-ad volume and meager online-ad revenue, is resorting to the “paywall.”
Starting some time in mid-March, full access to the Times website will be restricted to paid subscribers.
Print subscribers will get full online access. Online-only subscriptions will be available at $3.99 per week (following an initial discount). That’s higher than the Sunday-only print subscription price, at least within King County. This is undoubtedly devised to prop up the paper’s print numbers, particularly on ad-flyer-heavy Sunday.
In announcing the paywall on Sunday, Times executive editor David Boardman wrote that the money’s needed “to support quality journalism.” The essay’s comment thread, natch, is full of wags snarking that “quality journalism” is worth paying for but the Seattle Times isn’t.
Even more than some metro dailies, the Seattle Times has painted itself into this corner, over many years.
It’s held to a bland, institutional ethic and aesthetic; even as its average reader became older, squarer, and whiter than the metro area’s overall demographic.
Its editorials hewed as close to a GOP party line as the Blethen family dared, in a solid-Blue city.
Faced with ever-declining revenues, it chose not to “reinvent” itself. Instead it became an ever-smaller version of its same-old same-old.
One issue this past month hit a new low of 22 pages (the bare minimum under its current design).
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my many years of studying the media, it’s that if you want to be “supported,” you’ve got to make people actively want to support you.
A thin assortment of lifeless stories about the ritual dances of politicians and corporate press releases ain’t gonna accomplish that.
(Meanwhile, one national commentator claims paywalls aren’t really working so well for non-national, non-business-centric papers.)
ap via nwcn.com
beth dorenkamp via grindhouse theater tacoma
chris lynch, seattlest (2010)
Seattle Weekly now has new owners and a new office in Pioneer Square, not far from where the paper had begun way back in ’75.
And it’s going to have a new publisher and a new editor. Those guys announced their respective departures just after Sound Publishing took over the title.
I’ve sent in my application to be the Weekly‘s next editor.
I told them they shouldn’t consider me if they just wanted someone to supervise more shrinkage, with the occasional formal nod to “social media” and online platforms.
But if they wanted someone who would fight to make the Weekly matter to this city again, I’d be their person.
David Brewster’s original Weekly team vowed to bring us, as one of their ad slogans put it, “the news that actually matters.”
That goal can be revived.
The Weekly can be a lot more than just another freebie collection of entertainment listings and medical-pot ads.
It can be the “grownup” alternative to the Stranger; the seriously progressive alternative to the Seattle Times; the street-wise alternative to KUOW.
Think of the pre-cutback versions of Willamette Week and the NY Observer. Papers that treated their entire cities, and everything that occurred within them, as their “beat.”
Imagine a news/opinion organization that makes the right kind of noise, that afflicts the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, that answers the questions and questions the answers.
Not just another formulaic “alt weekly” but a full service forum where anything can be discussed and there’s always something new.
That’s what I want to help create.
It would be far easier to create that entity from the Weekly‘s existing staff, circulation, and ad accounts.
But if not, then a startup.
People ask what I want to really do with my life. That’s it.