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PubliCola writers Josh Feit, Erica Barnett join Crosscut

Erica Barnett, a Seattle-based website specializing in reporting on government and public affairs, is suspending publication. Its two major writers, Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett, have found a temporary home at Crosscut, continuing to work their respective beats of state politics and Seattle and local politics. Their reporting will begin to appear on Crosscut on Monday. Efforts are being made to secure funding for making their positions permanent.

PubliCola began three and a half years ago. It was conceived by two former Stranger political writers and editors, Feit and Sandeep Kaushik, now a political-campaign consultant. Funding for the venture came largely from Greg Smith, the prominent Seattle developer and owner of Urban Visions, and Rajeev Singh, a software entrepreneur and founder of the hugely successful Concur Technologies. Its mission was to provide detailed coverage of Olympia and Seattle City Hall, often with a progressive orientation. Barnett, also a former Stranger political and news writer, joined PubliCola shortly after it began. It quickly developed a dedicated following and broke many stories. Before joining the Stranger, Feit had been a reporter for Portland's Willamette Week and Barnett had worked for papers in Texas and for Seattle Weekly.

PubliCola's advertising-based revenue model proved to be unstable, and several months ago the funders withdrew further support. About that time I approached Feit to talk about possible mutual goals, such as sharing advertising sales and swapping some content. The conversations ripened into a kind of lifeboat strategy for the two reporters. Here's Feit's account of the decision to shutter PubliCola.

Feit and Barnett now have moved into Crosscut's newsroom in Pioneer Square. Starting next week, each will work half time for Crosscut, filing stories and keeping many of the popular features, such as the Morning Fizz, going on the Crosscut site. Since Crosscut does not have budgeted funds for these two new positions for the current year, we will be easing into a more robust relationship, assuming funding is raised. A bunch of us are working on that effort, and Crosscut has plans to add more beat reporters as funding is raised in certain topic areas, from individuals, foundations, and sponsors.

Crosscut also began as a for-profit, advertising-based model, but shifted in 2009 to a nonprofit model, which has the advantage of additional revenue streams (memberships, grants, sponsorships) just as public broadcast does. Generous grant support in the past two years has given Crosscut some essential infrastructure in technology, revenue generation, editing, and archives that might be of use to other sites in the current period of consolidation. Such synergies could be most helpful as some of the smaller startups in media that sprang up in the wake of the closing of the print Post-Intelligencer and the dramatic downsizing of local journalism explore sharing services as a way to gain greater efficiency and staying power.

It was in that spirit that the conversations began with PubliCola. I hope it proves a long-term fix, a way for Barnett and Feit to reach a wider audience, and for Crosscut readers to have more news and a wider range of  interpretive commentary. 

Still, it is sad to lose a feisty and independent publication like PubliCola. As Feit wrote in announcing the shift, it's "a big loss right now. And a hard one for us personally. PubliCola, an idea I hatched back in 2008, has been a wonderful obsession."

This state and community owe a lot of gratitude to the founders and reporters who have kept it going at considerable expense and generated a trove of solid reporting and scoops. The region can ill afford to lose reporters with this much energy, so well sourced, and so well versed in local issues. I'm glad we could row our little lifeboat out to them. And I tip my hat to Greg Smith and Rajeev Singh for their major contribution to our civic life and civic understanding. May what they started long live on!

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