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In December 2013, I wrote in this space about Bill’s Off Broadway, the legendary Capitol Hill pizza joint and bar.
It had just closed earlier that month. Its building at Harvard and East Pine was going to be replaced by a fancy new mixed-use development.
Now, Bill’s is back.
It’s got the same owners, much of the same staff, and the same menus.
It’s got the same interior color scheme.
It’s at the same corner.
But it’s not the same place; and it’s not in the same space.
Only the street-facing outer brick walls remain from the old building. Everything else, including the Bill’s interior, is all-new. Above the brick front, modern steel and glass construction rises six stories up.
This sort of thing is going on all over Pike, Pine, and Union streets on Capitol Hill. Everything from printing plants to luxury-car dealerships has been removed except for the skins. A few blocks away, even the beloved Harvard Exit Theater is being razed-and-rebuilt like this.
It’s going on all over South Lake Union. The massive Troy Laundry building has already been hollowed out. The former Seattle Times building, its interior recently defaced by squatters, will probably also vanish except for its art-deco frontage.
In these and other places around town, you can see forlorn exterior walls of brick and terra cotta, artificially braced up, standing in front of nothing but construction holes.
In the frontier towns of the Old West (including pioneer Seattle), main streets were full of “false front” architecture. Grand, pompous storefronts stood proudly as signs of civic ambition, drawing people into the little one- or two-story stick structures hiding behind them.
Today’s “façadism” (yes, that’s a term some people use for this phenomenon) attempts an opposite aesthetic goal.
It seeks to mask the harsh, brutal, hyper-efficient modernity of a structure by offering a make-believe connection to the funky old building it replaced. Long-time residents can drive past it and imagine that the historic old building is still there, as long as they don’t look too closely.
But that’s about all it does.
It doesn’t preserve the spaces within, or their diverse uses.
Eugenia Woo, a local historic-preservation advocate and current director of preservation for Historic Seattle, writes about “What Price Façadism?” in the latest issue of Arcade, the local architectural/design journal.
Woo decries the practice, as an aesthetic travesty that fails to preserve the old buildings’ “authenticity”:
“Stripped of everything but its facade, a building loses its integrity and significance, rendering it an architectural ornament with no relation to its history, function, use, construction method or cultural heritage. With only its primary facades saved, the original structure is gone, including the roof, interior features and volume of space.… Further, the scale and massing of the new building change the rhythm and feel of a block and neighborhood.”
Crosscut.com’s Knute Berger recently noted that property owners have sometimes manipulated the façades they’re supposedly preserving.
Berger writes that preservation advocates “have accused developers of damaging the historic integrity of building exteriors to ensure their building won’t be made a landmark, yet preserving the building’s skin as a ploy to win approval for more height for a new project. In other words, façade protections could actually be undercutting true preservation.”
Berger also notes that, at least in the Pike/Pine Corridor, current regulations have the effect of encouraging façadism instead of true preservation: “If an old building’s exterior is deemed to have architectural and contextual character, a developer can get additional height for a new structure in exchange for saving the façade. In other words, extra density and square-footage is dangled as an incentive to save an original exterior.”
The current tech-office boom, a legacy of city officials promoting urban development at almost any price (except in “single family” zones), and popular trends that see urban life as more attractive than suburban life have combined to create a “perfect storm” of development fever. This has put pressure on the continued existence of old commercial and industrial buildings, throughout Seattle.
Growth, say pro-development “urbanists,” is inevitable.
But façadism needn’t be.
There are other ways to keep Seattle’s built history alive, while accommodating new residents and new uses.
Instead of false façades, Woo would rather see a form of “smart planning” that either preserves historic buildings whole or replaces them whole with “new projects that are well designed, perhaps the landmarks of tomorrow, cohesively knitted into the streetscape.”
(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)
My ex-UW Daily editor (and proud Armenian-American) Suki Dardarian is the latest SeaTimes leading light to leave the Bore on Boren (née Fairview Fanny). She’s now a senior managing editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
She’d been a managing editor here, until SeaTimes management transferred her out of the daily deadlines and into the position of “strategist on audience development and community engagement.”
Her hubby (and fellow Daily vet) Peter Callaghan, currently one of the best remaining reporters about Wash. state government, will join Dardarian in Flour City upon the end of his current contract with the Tacoma News Tribune.
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.)