Monday, January 19, 2009

What I'll Do With All That Money

Image credit Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

For what I think should be obvious reasons, I don't make a habit of illustrating this blog with images that are copyright protected. I'm making an exception here to talk about it.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is is up for sale:

Hearst Corp. put Seattle's oldest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, up for sale on Friday and said that if it can't find a buyer in the next 60 days the paper would likely close or continue to exist only online.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Is Put Up For Sale

I'm not sure what the price would be, but it's bound to be rather high, considering the sums of money that this P-I article mentions:

The Times gave notice in 2003 that it was seeking to end the JOA, saying the agreement was no longer financially viable. Hearst sued to block The Times from doing so, and the matter was settled in April 2007, with Hearst paying The Times $25 million not to end the agreement before 2016.

As part of that settlement, The Times paid $49 million to settle Hearst's legal claims and to erase a provision of the JOA that called for Hearst to collect 32 percent of The Times' profits through 2083 should the P-I go out of business and leave The Times with a monopoly.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Is Put Up For Sale

I understand the difference between revenue, which is what the court cases were about, and assets, but the assets are bound to be a significant sum relative to those revenues, anyway.

While the idea of the P-I existing as an online-only paper is an interesting one, I suspect it won't be what they try, at least not as the P-I. That would require some real innovation on the part of Hearst Publications, who aren't known for such things. They're far better at flogging Republican Party candidates than they are at running businesses. It seems remotely possible that the journalists from the P-I will form their own online publication, but that's only speculation on my part. It costs far less to publish online than it does to publish in print, but it's not free, and you have to pay journalists somehow. I don't know too many bloggers, even those who do real journalism, who can make money at this game. Josh Marshall is one of the few exceptions. Whether the P-I journalists could collectively deliver quality local journalism to match Talking Points Memo's coverage of DC politics is open to question.

There's already one online newspaper in town, Crosscut. While it produces some original journalism, I'd have to say that it's mostly commentary and a compendium of other news sources at this point.

Which brings up another point. It used to be that a newspaper was a great way of finding all sorts of news from different news organizations and places. It was worth the fifty cents (or the equivalent in those days gone by) to have all that in one place. Nowadays, Google News and Yahoo News perform that function for me. I don't have to pay them fifty cents, either. So what kind of service, if any, would readers be willing to pay for? That's an important question, because the people who contribute the money that pays the journalists are the ones who will have the most say in what those journalists produce.

They do much better than their competition, though. The Seattle Times is a paper I've written about recently, and not in the most glowing of terms:

Apparently, The Seattle Times have taken it upon themselves to do a hatchet job on Darcy:

Bellevue (October 22) – With a new King 5 poll released this evening showing Democrat Darcy Burner leading incumbent Republican Dave Reichert 50 percent to 46 percent – the third consecutive poll to show her leading – a desperate Reichert campaign has begun to fling false accusations in a desperate attempt to stop Burner’s growing momentum. Unfortunately, this afternoon the Seattle Times, in a poorly contextualized story, bought their latest spin.

Burner Campaign Statement on Seattle Times Story

The Seattle Times ran a story saying that Darcy had "exaggerated" her degree in a debate two weeks earlier. This was, as the "reporter" admitted in a paragraph buried deep in the story, based on a release from the National Republican Campaign Committee, with little real fact checking. The Harvard professor who was the Dean of Harvard College at the time Darcy graduated (1996) confirmed that she wasn't misstating her qualifications.

Some Good News For Darcy Burner

The Times has a reputation for supporting its favored candidates rather too well, and this is just another example. Their letters to the editor policy, which limits submissions to 200 words, is another example of their "take it or leave it" attitude toward their customers. Sometimes, as in the case of their sliming of Darcy Burner, the reasons they are wrong can take up more than 200 words. The P-I has no such limit, although they clearly aren't going to publish tremendously long letters.

Apparently, though, this has been a successful strategy for the Times. Perhaps that's the real lesson here, which is what newspapers really need are smarter consumers.

For what little good it does, the willful ignorance of the public, along with the complicity of the press with the excesses and foolishness of the Bush years have been a continuing theme here. So has the press's general irresponsibility toward its readers or viewers. With rare exceptions, they make whether they're telling the truth a puzzle for the rest of us to solve. They hide behind a mask of neutrality to publish arrant nonsense and then wonder why we don't play along.

Yet the press, even in its current state, performs an important function. It pays people to find out what's going on in our society and prints what they learn. It also, when it chooses, enforces rigorous journalistic and grammatical standards for publishing those stories. This is something that most blogs, and many organizations interested in presenting a point of view, are incapable of doing. As newspapers go away, we lose more of those resources. Online publication isn't yet a viable option, it would seem. Newspapers are generally doing badly. It's not just the P-I, or even the Hearst chain that are solely responsible for this predicament. Only TV news, easily the most facile of our news media, are doing at all well. Even when the economy was not so bad, newspapers were losing readership. Now, that trend will probably accelerate.

And that's why Horsey's cartoon is gracing this post - it explains the pickle we seem to be in these days. Jefferson was right, as the press goes, so go we as a democracy. Until we can learn to have journalism without newsprint, we risk being even less well informed than we are already.

I suspect that if all those checks were finally arriving I'd be buying a newspaper right now. As it is, I'll have to hope that others can pick up the slack.

UPDATE: Yes, speaking of editing, there were several little grammatical errors that needed attending to here. Normally, I don't mention corrections like that, but under the circumstances, the irony is pretty rich.


shoephone said...

I wonder where Kristin Millares Young, the P.I.'s exemplary reporter on Port of Seattle issues, is going end up. She's just one example of the P.I.'s journalistic dominance over the Times (although Bob Young, who covers the Port for the Times -- and may or may not be related? -- is one of the few shining spots at the surviving paper.)

There are people of real quality about to step into the unemployment line.

I wouldn't mind at all if the P.I. continues only on the web, since that's how I generally read it anyway. Their website has always been better looking and easier to navigate than the stodgy, stiff-looking one at the rival's digs.

You may be right about Hearst's agenda and that it could prevent an online version from happening. On the other hand, if some creative, risk-taking billionaire (we have a few of those in the NW, don't we?) wanted to buy it and put it up on the web, it would be a first.

I'm liking the idea more and more.

Cujo359 said...

I like the idea, but I don't think Hearst is capable of it. I'm hoping someone will buy out the P-I, and maybe just have an online version. That would require some thinking about what to do with any print-related resources, though. It's probably a lot to write off.

Cujo359 said...

Speaking of which, shoephone, have you ended up anywhere yet?

shoephone said...

Hey, my captcha verification was "unite"!

No, Cujo, I haven't landed anywhere new yet. (Thanks for asking.) I was graciously invited to hop on one of the smaller nat'l blogs, but I'm declining things for the near future. I just have too much on my plate at the moment -- trying to improve my computer skills for employment, taking other classes as well, and volunteering with a kids' program. Blogging regularly takes more time and energy than I have to give right now.

When things settle down in a few months I may start up again, either on someone else's site or creating a new one for myself. It's all wide open...

Cujo359 said...

Well, good for you. The only invite I've gotten so far is from some site that thinks I'm Indian. Meanwhile, if you ever want to guest blog here, just e-mail me.

shoephone said...

Thanks for your generosity, Cujo. I'll keep it in mind.

shoephone said...

Wait a minute... you're NOT Indian?