R.I.P. Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Seattle Intelligencer Building (1874)
Seattle Intelligencer Building (1874)

The Seattle P-I announced today that it will publish it’s last print edition tomorrow, March 17th. After that it will go online only. What the online version will look like, how Hearst will staff it, and what kinds of news they will cover in the online incarnation have not been announced.

On one hand, I am sad to see the newspaper disappear. The P-I has been a part of Seattle for years, longer than the surviving Seattle Times in fact. I delivered the P-I for approximately three years in the 1980s, spanning the standalone time and the beginning of the Joint Operating Agreement with the Times, when their biggest rival took over all aspects of the paper except editorial. My grandparents to this day only pick up the P-I on their morning walks. I always considered it the better newspaper of the two Seattle dailies.

That written, I think the city news is in dire need of a shake-up and this might be the needed catalyst. Both dailies are as bland and mediocre as local TV news. They appeared to be in a fight for the most milquetoast middle of Seattle’s culture. When I moved back to Seattle after a decade in Idaho, I did not subscribe to either paper. I continued my subscription to the New York Times. In Idaho it was necessity because the Idaho papers and the Spokane papers are so provincial that the only way to get any kind of non-wire-service coverage of the world was to get newspapers from outside the confines of the Palouse.

On returning I found my sanity still necessitated a New York Times subscription. Too many puff pieces. Too often getting the story wrong. What comes to mind is how the P-I blithely cast aspersions on a crane operator after his crane fell over in Bellevue several years ago. He’s a former drug addict! That must be a factor in the accident! Then when his drug tests turned up clean, nary a word from the P-I in apology. They didn’t even give the clean bill of health the same prominence that they did the drug accusations. Those got page 1 for several days. The exoneration got buried. That is typical television news style. Lurid tales of murder, sex, drugs, and anything that might shock and scare middle-brow Ballard. And lots of boring, bland stories about snow, or rain, and fawning Microsoft coverage. Bleah. I couldn’t pay for that.

Instead, I subscribed to the P-I’s local news coverage via feed syndication. If the headline indicated something of interest, I’d read the excerpt. If that indicated something worthwhile, then I’d click through to the story. In the last 30 days, I only read 13% of the excerpts. And almost never about local politics, which should be a local paper’s forté.

Where did this news junkie get his news? The Stranger. The sad fact is that the local free alt weekly Stranger has hands-down the best news in Seattle. That’s partially because they are willing to have a point of view in their news pages, where the dailies have tried to be objective (maybe I’ll write about objectivity another time). But it’s partially also because they have dedicated reporters who really dig into our urban politics. The Stranger more often covers stories I care about than our other papers.

In it’s current form, the Stranger isn’t a substitute for a good daily. For one, they are too focused on politics and arts from a hipster perspective (despite the fact that they denigrate hipsters at every step, they are tied at the hip to them). They are also only once a week. They don’t have the numbers of staff to cover breaking news. They can’t do investigative journalism properly either because of their staffing levels.

The word I am hearing is that the online P-I will have greatly reduced staffing levels and will become something like Huffington Post, partially an aggregator. If that’s the case, I won’t bother paying much attention.

There are some experiments in news in Seattle. I am hoping one of them takes off. Perhaps The Seattle Courant, Publicola (awful name), or Crosscut (although anyone who publishes Knute Berger needs to have a CAT scan). Maybe something else.

With two bland dailies sucking up 90% of the news space in Seattle, I don’t think their was much room for these experiments. But over the last year as it became increasingly apparent that one or both would shut down, these online sources germinated (and the Stranger increasingly began using Slog as the vehicle for stories that later appeared in the print edition). Now that the P-I will be really emasculated, these perhaps can really thrive. It’s going to be scary, and ugly, and it’s sad that the P-I went. But something needed to die in order for something new to live.