The Times and P.I. are once again reporting declining circulation - especially the P.I. , which is down 5%. There is more than a handful


The Broader Implications of Sinking Circulations

An argument for the perseverence of the dead tree edition, with an eye on Walla Walla.

The Times and P.I. are once again reporting declining circulation - especially the P.I., which is down 5%. There is more than a handful of people within the industry who feel that, in 10 years, print newspapers -- all print newspapers -- will be available exclusively online. I'm not one of those people. I think alt-weeklies have an airtight niche when it comes to attracting spur-of-the-moment readers on the town who want to know -- right then and there -- where to go at night. Dailies, in my opinion, missed the boat here (hence, a big reason for the Weekly's existence). Whatever advantages they have in covering hard news and beats, weekilies tend to return serve with equal vigor by providing much smarter, wittier coverage of music, culture and the arts.

But there are two other reasons why I don't think newspapers are doomed to a web-only fate. First and foremost, you go to any small town or rural community -- heck, even a mid-sized one with a prestigious college, like Walla Walla -- and the pace and modernization of everyday life is progressing more slowly than in uber-wired metropolises like Seattle. This may sound like a condescending statement of the obvious, so let the record show that I happen to love cities like Walla Walla, do not consider their citizenry to be undereducated rubes (quite the opposite, in fact), and actually prefer their pace of life and progress to what's occurring here, handy as I think the web is. The Walla Walla tempo still fosters face-to-face interaction and community, while providing just enough of the high-tech stuff to keep people apace with the times at large (Walla Walla, awash in wine money and a newfound rep as a great place to retire to, is fascinating to observe, in my opinion). In Seattle, I've noticed, people can't often peer up from their BlackBerries long enough to have a free-ranging lunch-counter conversation, picking through the daily wash and discussing current events at length. If papers are relegated to the web, that sort of exchange goes the way of the Yugo, I fear.

Secondly, there's always the option of a paper like the P.I. offering itself for free -- every day or perhaps on a twice-weekly basis, as the Portland Tribune does. I'll plead ignorance as to whether that's a better economic or ethical concession than going web-only immediately. Guess it'll depend on how much the powers-that-be value the type of interaction that's still on display at the diner or lunch counter. Or at least it is in Walla Walla.

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