Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle - I don't THINK so

Yesterday, I wrote a post about my sadness to see the last print edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I received the following comment on that post from business consultant Adam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption," who writes The Phoenix Principle blog.

The change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle, and for Hearst. Developing a viable news model for on-line reporting is important to future readers and society.

I had a look at Mr. Hartung's blog and then I clicked over to the new PI site to see how it was going on the first day of their new venture. The site looked approximately the same, and it appeared to have been updated with local stories, but when I clicked into the headline story, it was just a two sentence blog-type post by someone I wasn't familiar with. And so, I clicked over to the PI's former newspaper rival, the Seattle Times to get the *real* local news for the Seattle area.

There, in addition to the local news, I found an interesting column by Danny Westneat who had written about a goodbye rally a Seattle Times reporter had organized for the PI reporters, editors, and photographers on Monday. He wrote:

Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton organized it as a memorial of sorts, to say thanks to the P-I's reporters for helping tell the city's stories. He said he wanted it to be like when a firefighter dies and all the other firefighters come to the funeral.

It was. We gathered in a little park near the P-I offices. Some spoke wistfully, others ruefully. When it was my turn I said that while everyone is focused, understandably, on the corporate side of newspapering — on the making of profits — it's worth remembering that that's not why anyone goes into journalism. Reporting is what matters. Asking questions, prying things open, telling stories.

And this:

So Seattle wakes up today a one-newspaper town for the first time. But The Seattle Times is hardly alone. It's also a multiple-Web-site-town. And a dozens- or hundreds-of-blogs town.

Someone at the rally compared today to the frontier days — an unruly but inventive era when some of today's news businesses first formed.

Loggers or fishermen will tell you living through sea change like that isn't easy.

I take comfort that they also say this: We're still here.

I think it's fascinating at how views like Mr. Hartung's diverge from those of Mr. Westneat. Mr. Hartung thinks in terms of business model and how the PI's model and, the newspaper industry's model in general, is flawed and must be changed or it will completely die. I agree with him; this is patently obvious.

And yet, Mr. Hartung doesn't see, or doesn't acknowledge what is also patently obvious -- that if the newspaper industry dies, we, as a culture, will suffer a tremendous loss. Because this is not just about making money for Hearst of Sam Zell or anyone else. Mr. Hartung wrote his own blog post about the death of the PI and in that post, apparently, without realizing it, he alludes to the problem:

The on-line paper already achieves about 4million hits/month, and it hasn't really started trying to be competitive on-line. The site (www.seattlepi.com) already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go from the old newsroom. And it has made agreements to pick up content from Hearst Magazines, xconomy and TV Guide amongst other partners.

Right.

The size already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go...

Um, no. That is a problem.

Why?

Well, it isn't because the bloggers are inferior as writers (although they may be; there's no way of knowing). It's because, at least on this first day of the new PI, these bloggers are not writing articles, they are writing two sentence blog posts! I clicked over to the Seattle Times because I wanted to read the local news, which means I wanted details; I wanted quotes; I wanted sources. In short, I wanted articles! Journalists know how to do this. I can get syndicated content anywhere, however, now that the *real* PI is gone, I apparently will need to go to the Seattle Times web site to get detailed news about Seattle.

Although Danny Westneat has a vested interest because he wants to keep his job, I think he is a smart guy because he understands what he, as a reporter, is supposed to be doing: telling stories.

A note to Mr. Hartung -- if you are going to advise the newspaper industry, you need to incorporate this aspect of it into your business model. There MUST be stories; they MUST be detailed; and they MUST be LOCAL. The Huffington Post is fine, but advising every paper to try to be just like them is silly.

As for the Seattle PI, well, hopefully, they're just having first day glitches and they'll improve as they go along.

1 comment:

tamsaunt said...

I agree with your comments. What I read the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for is the local stories, with the details that the talking heads on the 6:00 TV news don't give you. The source of the information, what it means to the people involved, etc. I also read the ads carefully, you never know when you might see something you are interested in and I doubt those ads will run in an online version only.

We have been a one daily newspaper town for quite a while, ever since the Democrat swallowed up the Arkansas Gazette. but we do have a weekly, the Arkansas Times, with a more liberal viewpoint, that makes a good counterpoint to the daily conservation view we get in the Dem-Gaz.