Save the media dinosaurs!

A Seattle City Council panel considers how to keep daily newspapers alive, as the ecosystem demands adaptation.
Crosscut archive image.

The Seattle P-I Globe, built for the defunct "Seattle Post-Intelligencer," will be preserved. (2007 photo)

A Seattle City Council panel considers how to keep daily newspapers alive, as the ecosystem demands adaptation.

When it comes to daily newspapers and big changes in Seattle's media ecosystem, the "D" word seems to come up. Are newspapers the new dinosaurs? In coverage of yesterday's panel on the future of the city's media in the wake of news about the almost certain death of the print version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, many are wondering about the future of the news. "American newspapers have been around for 220 years, but now the longtime linchpins of democracy may face an unprecedented challenge: how to avoid extinction," writes the P-I's Debera Carlton Harrell.

And no wonder. The P-I is on the brink and The Seattle Times is unprofitable and endangered. The news about the news is so bad that Seattle City Council member Nick Licata convened a special media panel to address these issues as chair of the council's Culture, Civil Rights, Health and Personnel committee. The question before the Jan. 28 confab was: "Is it curtains for daily newspapers in the culture of democracy and citizen discourse?" Of course, using the term "curtains" suggests rather old-school thinking on the subject, bringing to mind a silent film villain twirling his mustache with a media maiden lashed to the railroad tracks. In this case, the villain and savior might be one and the same: the Web.

I wasn't at the meeting, but got reports via the old school (The P-I's coverage) and the new (blogs). The best quick run-down I read is former Crosscut editor Chuck Taylor's Post Times blog post where he sequenced his Twittering into a chronological capsule of the meeting, called "47 tweets converted into a narrative." Chuck's an old-school reporter who uses new technology with ease, proof that some dinosaurs can adapt.

Blogging from the event was The Slog's Erica C. Barnett, who criticized the panel's make-up. Featured speakers were UW Professor of Communications Roger Simpson, former journalist and UW prof Doug Underwood, Ann Bremner, co-chair of Committee for a Two Newspaper Town, Liz Brown of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, Jennifer Towery, president of the Peoria Newspaper Guild, Beth Hester, programming director of the Seattle Channel, Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, and David Brewster of Crosscut.

Barnett bristled at the lack of bloggers on the panel. "[T]he panelists are mostly...the dinosaurs of yesteryear." Yes, there's the D word. She says they could have used input from blogs that aren't big-picture (like Crosscut) or focused on single nabes (like West Seattle). For instance, what about Slog, or Horsesass, Hugeasscity or Seattle Transit Blog (what, no Sound Politics?).

Another point is that saving the Post-Intelligencer isn't really the point, unless you're a P-I staffer, where it's a huge point. As I've been flogging my book around Pugetopolis, the questions about The P-I's troubles have come up every single time. People aren't worried about The P-I vanishing, despite affection for the paper, but they are wondering, "where will we get the news?" With newsprint struggling everywhere, from small weeklies to big dailies, the answer to that question lies in an emerging species — a new mammal to the newspaper dinosaur. Barnett writes that "What needs saving isn't newspapers — those that aren't already dead are dying — but journalism, and the journalists who do it."

Some might argue that journalists don't really need to be saved; they just have to get leaner and hungrier while they adapt to the new environment where big salaries and high profits are scarcer. New technology is putting printing presses (and TV and radio stations) in everyone's hand. It's breaking the mainstream media's mania for consolidation and in that chaos, there is hope.

Darwinian hope, perhaps, but hope nonetheless. Some daily newspapers will certainly survive, even if they become journalism's coelacanths, but almost everyone agrees that the new information ecosystem will be teeming with smaller, opportunistic species as the big guys go down.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.