On January 8, KING TV in Seattle broke a story that The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was up for sale, and in that few-minute story, the Seattle media scene erupted. Was it true? What would this mean?
The following day, the P-I confirmed what the day before it had denied, and in a message to its newsroom and the community, it said it would put the paper up for sale for the next 60 days, and if no buyer were found, it would either close the paper entirely or, at best, have an online only version of the publication.
While this may have seemed like good news for The Seattle Times, it was an emotional moment for everyone in the Washington journalism community. The media world is fairly small, and many of those who had worked at the Times had also worked at the P-I, or had friends at the P-I, and it was by no means a victory for the journalism business.
Unfortunately, these types of announcements are being made in many parts of the country. The media are not immune to a shrinking economy, and most newspapers — dailies in particular — are having to compete with the Internet and are coming up short. The P-I stated it had been losing money since 2000, and in the past year alone it had lost $14 million.
Of course, it had also been in a well-publicized legal battle with the Times over their joint operating agreement, in which the two newspapers share printing and sales costs, and this will no doubt help the Times get stronger.
But it will also weaken the ability for news to get out to the community and for businesses to advertise in a competitive market.
There is constant conversation in the media world about the future of newspapers, and I have talked in this column before about the ability of smaller, niche papers like ours to fare better because of our 100 percent local focus. But even small papers must adapt, and the BBJ is no exception. We are looking at revamping our Web site and adding more dynamic media, such as slide shows and possibly even (gasp!) video. Of course, our reporters have the good looks for TV and the smarts for print, so we should do fine with adding more online content.
The idea of a newspaper completely converting to online, however, as the P-I is considering, is still a tricky business. Television networks, radio stations, newspapers and magazines have all been trying to figure out how to make the Internet profitable, and so far it seems a combination of online and print/broadcast content seems to be the best bet.
Online content does serve the public interest in that it makes more sources available to more people, which is good for democracy. But there is still a need for trained journalists on the Web, and those who come from traditional media sources are best positioned to fit the bill.
It’s my hope that in the wake of the demise of the P-I, more media outlets will sprout up, either online or in the smaller cities and neighborhoods. The health of a democracy is greatly dependent on the ability of the populace to get information, and that information is better with competition. It makes us all work harder, which is better for everyone.