We got the saddest news over the weekend, Seattle’s oldest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is being put up for sale by the Hearst Corporation. If no buyer is found in 60 days, they can close it down.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for other papers, of course, and many, if not most of our newspapers are in the same situation. With readership down, many businesses don’t want to advertise, and classifieds are practically dead.
It will be a challenge to make papers relevant and provide information that one can’t get elsewhere, keeping subscriptions up, to lure advertisers.
Several features still seem to be popular. In Sunday’s paper, the advertising circulars there are unrivaled. Even with online coupons, the ad circulars remain popular. Cars. The car section is still huge. And real estate open house schedules. There is still no other comprehensive online equivalent.
As many have noted, the separation of the advertising and editorial departments have often lead to journalists digging their own grave. Yet what is the alternative? You often see book reviewers referring to some book on Amazon instead of a neighborhood bookstores website, a neighborhood bookstore that might actually buy advertising.
Our local newspaper real estate section is constantly referring to Zillow and Redfin and Trulia, calling up their executives for a quote, instead of calling the CEO’s of the local traditional real estate firms, the ones who actually buy ads every single week.
John Cook, who has a new tech site called Tech Flash, spent a good part of his career at the Seattle PI and writes about his take on the potential PI sale and says “It’s a sad day for us here at TechFlash.”
In his tech column John continually championed Redfin and Zillow, promoting, fawning, citing, quoting. Yet I can’t remember a single ad they ever bought in the Seattle PI. He’s continuing his romance at the Puget Sound Business Journal, granting column space to Redfin’s CEO to wax melodic about whatever flavor of the day catches his fancy. It’s one thing to report, it’s quite another to promote and pimp.
Of course, we don’t want our journalists to check the list of advertisers before they set pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. But selective reporting, ommissions and failure to check facts has the same result and is just as bad as being openly biased.
It’s easy to see how the same thing that’s happening at the PI could happen to the Business Journal, though the PSBJ has something that some folks want in the form of detailed residential and commercial property sales, permits, liens and bids, so they will probably be able to keep a good portion of their subscription base. But if that can be found easily online sometime in the future, maybe not. Puget Sound Business Journal prints most of their current stories online and TechFlash almost totally online (except for a once-a-week page), has very few ads, and is a stand-alone website. They have 3 writers listed. How are they paying them and can they continue to do so? I would think they’re living on borrowed time there, while they search for a successful way to monetize their site.
Just today, the New York Times had a story, “You Talkin’ to Me? New York’s Brash, Boisterous Blogosphere”
For the past few years, blog comments sections, acting as virtual town squares, have offered residents around the country a forum in which to weigh in — and vent — on a wide spectrum of local issues. But given New York’s size and diversity, not to mention its fabled brashness, political energy and high emotion, its blogosphere is taking a particularly striking shape
The world’s best newspaper is discussing the movement of discourse from the “Letters to the Editor” section to the “comments” section of neighborhood blogs.
How sad. We’re gaining so much, but losing so much more in the process. When a newspaper’s editorial staff disappears, it is a serious loss to society and a blow to democracy. I don’t have an answer, but I do know that we can’t afford to lose serious professional journalists. Though it may be impossible to be totally neutral and impartial on certain topics and stories, at least that was the professional journalists directive, and they often succeeded. If the only watchdogs of our government and corporations are bloggers, heaven help us.
(Note: I have two blogs on the Seattle PI website, Seattle Real Estate Professionals and the Capitol Hill blog. My grandmother worked for years for the Seattle Times, yet we all knew that the PI was a better paper, and we had a “secret” subscription for all those years. Now I can subscribe openly but if this paper closes, our city will be so much the worse for it.)