Just got reading this story on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer going web-only starting today.
It makes me sad to see any newspaper go under, but it is clear that the P-I was already on life support. It had nearly 170 employees, almost all in the newsroom, because the Seattle Times put out its paper and handled its production.
What’s scary is the new web site promises residents full coverage, but doesn’t mention, as the Times story does, that the number of employees is dropping from 170 to about 25. The rest of the content will be produced by bloggers and stuff produced by other Hearst Corporation products — in other words, other publications that still have full time news gathering employees.
The idea is to have costs that match revenue, and I get that, but if this trend continues to its logical conclusion, one has to ask “who will produce that content that everyone else wants to use?” If everyone gets it from somewhere else, nobody will have anything to give.
There are several blogs in Top of Utah that rely now on bloggers for commentary, but what they usually comment on is the content of the Standard-Examiner and other papers around here.
If we go away, will Weber Forum have someone who goes to every City Council meeting and then spends all of the next day chasing down leads? Oh, sure, they can find someone to go to a meeting or two, and that someone may get angry enough about a particular subject to make a few calls and chase stuff down, but for sustained time spent someone has to be paid because, otherwise, they have to have a job somewhere else. Volunteer efforts like that peter out quickly, I know from sad experience.
The fate of the P-I reminds me of the first paper I worked at, while still in college. In 1970 I did an internship at the Palm Beach Times, an afternoon paper that was published in conjunction with the Palm Beach Post in a joint operating arrangement very similar to the Seattle papers. We even shared a newsroom, divided by a row of filing cabinets or a small wall, or something, I forget. They did their thing, we did ours.
I’m not sure what happened to the Times, and I sadly say that even after spending 20 minutes pondering the web site of something called the Palm Beach Times but published by someone with a land address in Tallahassee, Florida, way the heck on the other end of the state.
There is no local news, just some national and a lot of celebrety stuff, and the paper seems pretty strongly linked to advertising, mentioning its hotel search service along with its news coverage. So I’m guessing the Times went the way of all flesh and its name got taken over by what now calls itself the Times Media Group.
The Palm Beach Post is still up and running. It was always the big guy anyway, just as the Seattle Times is in Seattle. With luck the P-I’s demise will give the Seattle Times a better shot at survival.
I do not like to think of the alternative. Without newspapers to cover the news, how will people find out what’s going on? Solid investigative reporting, the sort of thing that takes weeks or months, already seems to be a dying art, and the abuses of government are growing as a result. This does not bode well for the future.
So, what should you do? Everyone give your kids a gift subscription to the Standard-Examiner, of course. And tell the kids to read it.