Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 18, 2012

Print Media: Death Knell or Phoenix Moment?

Two big stories flashed across my digital desk in the last couple of days and got me thinking about print media and its struggle to survive.

First came the news that the Seattle Times, now Seattle’s only daily print newspaper, is going to give free advertising space away to the Rob McKenna campaign (and the Approve R-74 campaign). This is equivalent to an $80,000 donation to each campaign. Setting aside the fact that the Times donations seem to be aimed at opposing goals (Rob McKenna is staunchly anti-marriage equality, yet they are also giving to the equality campaign?) why, you ask, is a supposedly non-partisan newspaper giving away advertising during campaign season?

The future of newspapers

They claim it is to “provide a powerful demonstration” of the influence of the Seattle Times. (Note to self, if your business plan has you sounding like a comic book super-villain, maybe you need to rethink your plan.) The answer behind the answer is that advertising revenue continues to fall each year for the Seattle Times. They are pulling this large publicity stunt, and yes, it is a stunt, to convince businesses and campaigns of the importance of purchasing ads in their paper. The fact that it helps the first Republican to have a shot at the governor’s mansion in decades is surely a footnote. Today, over 100 employees of the Seattle Times signed a letter of protest to the owner, criticizing the decision.

The other thing that caught my eye was the story that Newsweek is going to cease its print version. After 80 years in the print business, they are going all digital on the first of the year. They claim it is a transition, not a goodbye, but the news also came with reports of layoffs nationwide for newspapers and periodicals.

My father, a proud newspaper enthusiast, used to scoff at the notion that print is dead. He would point to reports of print’s demise with the advent of television, then cable news, then internet, saying that it survived those changes. I agree, but I feel there might be another challenging transition ahead.

One of the advantages of a newspaper, is you pay for the bundle. You don’t just purchase your front page bylines, you also get the local news, the comics, the business page and the letters to the editor. You get everything all at once. Now, with the internet, consumers are able to pick and choose. The bundle no longer is our only option, we can consume our news ala-carte. With the business model of subscriptions on its deathbed, how do you fund full-time journalists?

What will the future of journalism look like? I can tell you from personal experience that the local news market needs a tentpole. While I truly enjoy reading the Cascadia Weekly, NWCitizen, Get Whatcom Planning, and Latte Republic, we still need the Herald to function. If they went out of business, the rest of us would be hard-pressed to fill in the gaps.

Citizen Journalism: A supplement, not a cure

I deeply appreciate everyone who tosses me a few dollars to keep this blog afloat, but it is not a professional business model for a media organization. We need print media – functional newspapers with full-time reporters who know their areas of expertise and have the contacts to provide context to their reporting.

I only hope there is a solution out there, because I’m fresh out of ideas and print media is rapidly running out of time.



  1. Seattle Times crosses a line and funds campaigns for Republican gubernatorial candidate and Referendum 74 (marriage equality), thus becoming the Fox “News” of the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Times will soon lose the writers, journalists, and editors who have a backbone, character, and believe in ethics and journalistic integrity. The ones who stay, sadly won’t have those qualities.

  2. Could our ala-carte consumption of the news be one of the reasons for the decline in voter turnout in Whatcom County?

    At the primary election in five presidential years from 1956 through 1972 when 95 percent of the voters went to the polls the turnout average was 51.0 percent. From 1996 and 2012 when voting by mail went from 48 percent to 100 percent the average turnout was 40.3 percent. The primary election for 2008 and 2012 when 100 percent of the registered voters received their ballot at home the average turnout was 43.3 percent.

    I would have thought that ballots delivered to registered voters home would have increased voter participation.

  3. Bill – It’s a sad thing but the corruption at the federal level makes voting for Obamney or Rombama a pointless exercise, and this turns off people from voting at all. The so-called “debates” are a pathetic sideshow, a reality teevee distraction designed to entertain the already brainwashed. The real government, which acts in secret and with such disdain for the Constitution and the people that it cannot stand the light of day, operates in the shadows.

    Which is why print media is dying – it will not cast light on this travesty because it offends its corporatist paymasters.

    I’m an immigrant to this country and I can’t believe how delusional and duplicitous the permitted public political discussion is. No real issues are discussed – such as – how are we going to cut military and detention spending that are bankrupting this country and destroying its yeomen? Why are the wealthy (like Brother Romney) able to (legally, but fraudulently) characterise their income as “carry interest” and pay income tax at 15% when the self-employed pay 15.2% “self-employment tax” off the top and then pay income tax at rates starting at 15%?

    The corruption that has permitted monopoly and dynastic capitalist interests to take over the entire federal government apparatus only increases. WHy vote when your vote counts for nothing in this Democracy show on teevee?

  4. […] and write the editorials, while the reporters stick to just reporting the facts. I realize the Seattle Times has been setting a bad example, but the Herald still runs by that model. So I was quite delighted […]

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