Seattle Newspaper Goes Online Only; World Doesn't End

Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

seattlepi dg15.pngHearst's decision to shut down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and go online only is an anticlimax -- a long-telegraphed decision. And it's the second such semi-shuttering in the U.S., but definitely part of a trend that will gather strength in the next several years.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will roll off the presses for the last time Tuesday, ending a 146-year run.

The Hearst Corp. announced Monday that it would stop publishing the newspaper, Seattle's oldest business, and cease delivery to more than 117,600 weekday readers.

The company, however, said it will maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation's largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product.

"Tonight we'll be putting the paper to bed for the last time," Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. "But the bloodline will live on."

The longer-range issue, in Seattle and lots of other cities, is what kind of journalism will be done, and by whom. There's plenty of reason to worry about the demise of newspapers in the short term, but probably more reason to have some level of confidence that we'll end up with the community information we need down the road.

How we'll get there is, in some ways, the topic of a new project I'm semi-launching in the next few days -- a website/book/etc. that asks how we can make media users, consumers and creators alike, much more active (as in activists) in their use of media. This is a demand-side issue as much as a supply-side question, and I hope, with the help of lots of folks, to work on this hard in the next several years.

More about this new project tomorrow...

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  1. Detroit is undergoing a similar change with the News and Free Press, whereby the printed paper will only be delivered to homes three days a week and available on the newsstand every day, with an expanded online presence.

    Time will hopefully show it to be an innovative proactive way to preserve the newspaper, without bankrupting the papers in the process.

  2. The online P-I will employ roughly 20% of the print edition’s newsroom, and those who are in that “lucky” 1/5th will be taking significant paycuts and benefits cuts (keeping in mind that they were already in the lowest-paid field that requires a college degree).

    The world ended for a lot of those guys today.

  3. Journalists are undergoing what other businesses have dealt with for years, decades — a changing marketplace caused by changing technologies and attitudes. I don’t celebrate the job losses, far from it.

    This is terrible for the people, in a lot of industries, who are facing wrenching change — and we could and should do a much better job of helping them through these transitions. But all of this is part of a market-based economy.

  4. “The online P-I will employ roughly 20% of the print edition’s newsroom, and those who are in that “lucky” 1/5th will be taking significant paycuts and benefits cuts”

    Thank you, Inkstain, for clarifying that.
    Whenever somebody says “See? The world didn’t END!” it usually means it ended for more than a few folks.

  5. Absolutely. I wasn’t trying to imply you were being callous. I was just adding some information that I feel is important.

    The newspaper industry employed 69k people in 2006 as reporters or copy editors. I think you’ll likely see that number shrink to 20k by the end of 2010, with very few “alternative media” looking to hire to replace them (well, I’ll be honest, “us”). Add in the several thousand journalism majors that schools pump out every year, and you are looking at 60k unemployed journalists.

    Not a huge thing on the larger scale of things, but that’s a big hit.

    I’m not proposing any solutions, I don’t think there are any. I’m just saying what I see :)

  6. The world ended for a lot of those guys today.

    Don’t be such a downer, dude. There’s always jobs at Walmart.

  7. I heard an NPR piece about this the other day.
    I’ve never read the paper and don’t live anywhere near Seattle, but this kind of thing concerns me as a trend.

    I’m all for getting rid of physically printed newspapers and moving them online, but that’s not really what they’re doing here. They are laying off most of the newsroom staff and cutting out investigative reporting in order to move to shorter, mostly aggregated, ‘web-friendly’ content.

    This means that they’re not really moving the paper online. What they’re doing is creating a new blog using the Seattle Post-Intelligencer brand as a springboard. I don’t see how this will continue to serve the community in the way a publication with the strong investigative bent of the P-I supposedly did.

  8. It’ll be much easier now for editors to fix embarrassing typos, grammatical mistakes, factual errors, inaccuracies, unpleasantries, and (eventually) politically uncomfortable history.

  9. Absolutely right @BRIANARY, they can just unpublish the problem articles and all their troubles will go away!

  10. What happens to the people who have paid ahead for their subscriptions or ads with the physical paper? Somehow I don’t see them giving the money back.

  11. What happens to the people who have paid ahead for their subscriptions or ads with the physical paper? Somehow I don’t see them giving the money back.

    They’re switching us over to the Seattle Times.

  12. I’m surprised that the P.I. went to online-only, because I expected it would shut down entirely! There was no longer enough support in Seattle for 2 dailies; really there hasn’t been for years. Hopefully the Times can survive…

  13. “Hopefully the Times can survive..”

    It doesn’t look good. Everyone I know in the industry has Seattle as the first no-newspaper town in the deadpools. The only question is whether it happens in late 2009 or early 2010.

    But it will happen. And other towns will follow.

  14. Damn the horseless carriage putting the buggy-whip manufacturers out of business!

    Seriously, why hasn’t this happened sooner? That speaks to the staying power of entrenched industries. I’m just glad that newspapers aren’t also getting bailouts like GM, Ford, and Chrysler do, or like farmers receive agricultural subsidies.

    This isn’t the end of news, people. Just the end of communicating it via pulped dead trees shipped to your doorstep in fossil-fuel consuming trucks.

  15. zuzu- that keeps being said, and it keeps being partially wrong.

    Newspapers weren’t put out of business because the news wasn’t good enough (more people are reading the stories newspapers reporters produce than ever before) or because the printing became too expensive. They aren’t being replaced by something better.

    They are dying because they were in a symbiotic relationship with companies that sell advertising, and those companies *were* replaced by their version of the horseless carriage (or more accurately, by mass production that flooded the market with advertising options).

    It’s much, much closer to the end of news than you realize.

  16. What a silly title for this article, and such ill-informed comments. Did anyone read the article in the NY Times about this shutdown?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/business/media/17paper.html?hp

    There will be, as of tomorrow, 20 people covering Seattle, where there were 165 yesterday. The new online “newspaper” is yet another opinion journal, not a source of news. The other newspaper, the Seattle Times, is tottering.

    Those of you saying that new media will replace the newspapers please tell me: how is the city to be covered if there’s no revenue to pay reporters.

    The people of Seattle will know much less about what is going on in their town.

  17. @enodo, yes, the new seattlepi.com won’t have as much original news as its former incarnation. It has definitely taken a big step backwards in terms of its quality and quantity of journalism. However, by making this move now, they might live to fight another day.

    As sad as this all is, I can’t help but think of Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable blog post:

    So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

    I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it… We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

    If people want news, they’ll make sure they get news somehow. It’s impossible, though, to know right now what that “somehow” will be. Hopefully, the slow death of newspapers will sow the seeds of the future of journalism.

  18. I fell deeply for the pressmen who work at newspapers that are in decline or closing down. Their’s is a dying trade; one that will, hopefully, be preserved so that future generations will be able to experience the printed word in a format that it was truly designed for. My grandfather and my father were both in the printing trade -my father passed away just as computers were coming into wide-scale use in the printing profession and he did not live to see the desktop publishing revolution- and have passed-down their love of printing, in all its forms, to me.

  19. @DBX: Agreed. The level of knowledge and discourse in our society is not a given – it has gone up and down over times and places. There is no reason to expect that things won’t get worse now.

    How about this scenario to set your teeth on edge: in a couple of years, the only journalistic enterprises left standing could be Murdoch’s. This isn’t so far-fetched: where I live, in Brooklyn all the local papers are now owned by Newscorp. Or consider Italy, where essentially all the TV stations are owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s absurd Prime Minister.

    The sort of sanguine “futurism” illustrated by this series of boingboing posts is really irritating.

    @FALCON SEVEN: When I was a boy my father worked at a financial newsletter. It was written in an office building in downtown Manhattan, and the presses were in the basement! (This was the 1960s.) One of the guys who worked the linotypes made a slug with my name on it.

  20. “how is the city to be covered if there’s no revenue to pay reporters.”

    Countless blogs, event calendars, television, radio … all of these things could be aggregated with a high degree of personalization.

    This is a golden opportunity. Plenty of people have complained about the media for decades. We no longer need to buy ink by the barrel, or a press, or trucks or paperboys. The word democracy comes to mind.

  21. I am not saying that the passage of print media won’t be a cultural or historical loss. Those losses will be profound.

    But I have to ask: Why are people acting so shocked by the end of newspapers? This has been a staple of sci-fi movies set in the Future as long as there have been sci-fi movies set in the Future.

    People read screens or walk through holograms. They drink news out of colorful bottles or they have electrodes mainline news into their brains.

    Newspapers have never existed in the sci-fi Future.

  22. you all worry too much. After the Wet Firecracker Wars, the EMP damage alone will ensure a return to newspapers turned out by hand cranked presses full of news collected first hand and sold on street corners by boys in kickerbockers.

  23. “Countless blogs, event calendars, television, radio … all of these things could be aggregated with a high degree of personalization.”

    Agreed. But this will combine to be an aggregate coverage.

    “Why are people acting so shocked by the end of newspapers?”

    Two things.

    First, the end has come quicker than many (though not me, a long-noted “pessimist” among my friends in the industry) expected. They thought they had a decade or so, and instead it is all collapsing within the next year or two.

    Second, it’s not the end of newspapers that worries us. It’s the expected loss of 50-80% of the professional reporting in this country.

  24. “Agreed. But this will combine to be an aggregate coverage inferior to what we have now.”

    Is what I intended to type. Apologies.

  25. RE: “Professional Journalism”(insert uncontrollable laughter here)…

    Since Operation MOCKINGBIRD, twas never thus…

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