An introduction to Crosscut.com

This new online venture seeks to reinvigorate local journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Here's how it came about and what we hope to accomplish.
Crosscut archive image.

David Brewster

This new online venture seeks to reinvigorate local journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Here's how it came about and what we hope to accomplish.

Editors note: To celebrate Crosscut's 10th anniversary as a local news organization, so we are featuring the stories from April 1, 2007 on our homepage.

My colleagues and I bid you welcome to this experiment in local journalism.

So what is this novel thing you see on your screen? The simplest definition of Crosscut: an online daily newspaper for the Pacific Northwest. Online only – and very open to the new ways of organizing information inherent in the remarkable power of the Web. Local only – local owners, local writers, local topics. A newspaper in the sense that it is run by experienced editors exercising journalistic (not ideological) judgment.

Our goal is to give you, readers across the Northwest, access to the best journalism about the region we can find and generate. We'll be there each day or whenever you've got a little spare time and want to stay current.

We've been working on this project for the past two years. It began with a few simple realizations. One was that readers and advertisers were flowing to Web products, so let's stop lamenting about declines in certain kinds of journalism and get with the sunrise part of the news industry. Second, we found that most readers report that they are getting good coverage of national and international news, thanks largely to the Web, home delivery of national papers, and National Public Radio.

The gap was in quality local news. We felt we could remagnetize local news by extending the scope to the full region, the "nation" of Cascadia, population 10 million, and also by inviting to the table new sources for news – blogs, citizen journalists, think tanks, advocacy research, specialists with deep knowledge in their area. Broader, richer, more diverse in viewpoints – "News of the Great Nearby."

With its globalized economies and workforces, this region is in some danger of losing connection with the nearby. Seattle, for instance, is the second-highest city in the country (after Austin, Texas) in the percentage of newcomers: 31 percent have lived in Seattle for five years or less. It's easy to stop reading local papers and treat the place you live as just a current address, and that's not good for our politics or our sense of being rooted somewhere and sharing destinies with fellow citizens. That's a formula for "apathy interrupted by initiatives," a well-known description of California politics.

The way to connect with all kinds of bright and curious people in the region is the Web, a force that is revolutionizing journalism. It's more democratic, because it has no limitations in page count. It thinks of stories as conversations, drawing in more experts and more perspectives as the story evolves, rather than as a kind of lecture from a reporter who has talked to all the sources and given you the results.

Web journalism has amazing abilities to search out new information, quirky bits, irreverent takes, great new ideas. It's highly interactive, tapping the wisdom of the many. And cities such as Seattle, with an economy based on this information revolution, are ideal places to practice these exciting new tools.

Many of us, myself and Editor Chuck Taylor included, come from traditional print journalism. Rather than disclaim that heritage, we want to marry the virtues of such professionalism with the creative turbulence of the Web. That means, for starters, that nearly all the stories Crosscut links to and generates have been selected by experienced editors, not by computer calculations or popularity contests. The hierarchy we impose is based on journalistic values, not partisanship or an ideological slant.

The stories we rank highly are those with good reporting – new information, clearly presented in a civil tone, based on evidence not fervor. Since we're not a marketing extension of a print or broadcast property, we'll link you to good reporting wherever we find it, embracing other media outlets as partners and amplifying their best work.

Crosscut will publish a lot of opinion and argument, but there is no editorial page. We like the Web's preference for giving readers information from many perspectives and leaving it to you to draw conclusions. As for a political stance, you might call it "transpartisan solutionist." We want to reflect the breadth of issues and politics across the whole Northwest – pulling the region together by cutting across divides of geography, age, big city and small, as the name Crosscut implies.

Crosscut has been a wonderful chance for me to reconnect with many inspiring colleagues and meet new ones. My first real discovery of the richness and tang of the region came in scouring the Northwest and British Columbia for restaurants to put into Northwest Best Places (first edition: 1975). Along the way, I've worked with some of the owners of Crosscut in previous ventures like Seattle Weekly and Town Hall Seattle. I hope Crosscut is both firmly rooted in the region's enduring values and fully alive to the new ways of doing things that the information revolution is creating almost daily.

The real joy will be in creating a great audience, one that is demanding and smart and open-minded and therefore brings out the best work of the writers. My formula for publishing is pretty simple: good owners who care about the mission over the long term and insist on a smart business that can sustain itself; good writers and staffers who work well together and respect the audience they are serving; a great group of readers; and a good deal for advertisers, particularly smaller ones that provide local texture. You have a key part to play in this joint venture by citizens of good will. I know you will help to keep us honest – Web journalism creates quick responses! I hope you will also wish us well, send in links to good stories so we can spread them farther, and tell us what we need to pay more attention to.

Now Crosscut is finally public, joined with all of you in our Great Nearby. We have rowed, together in our little boat, out into Columbia's mighty flow.

   

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