Conventional wisdom has maintained that, if the dominant Seattle Times this year prevails in its legal attempt to break away from the Joint Operating Agreement with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the circulation-bleeding P-I will die and, daily-wise, we'll be a one-newspaper town. Other scenarios include P-I owner Hearst - which has first option on buying the Blethen-owned Times - reacting the way Hearst did in San Francisco, where it sold its smaller paper, the Examiner, and bought the larger paper, the Chronicle.
But how about this increasingly more likely scenario: The P-I, which uses the Times presses to print its paper, breaks cleanly away from the JOA and not only survives, it becomes the newspaper of the future - pressless, Online. Many of us have been thinking of a Web-only P-I as a negative. But it already attracts 1.7 "unique visitors" Online monthly and as this column today in the Providence Journal notes (I spotted it on Romenesko's Poynteronline), odds are growing that a mostly virtual press is our destiny:
I saw an article the other day that said some big newspapers are planning to be almost exclusively online in seven or eight years. Even a decade ago, people in my business felt that paper on doorsteps would indefinitely remain the most popular source of news. But the last few years have proven you can't fight the Web any more than, say, radio people in the 1950s could have fought the coming dominance of television....
Only half the households in America get a newspaper, writer Mark Patinkin notes. And only a quarter of Americans under 30 read papers. "Changing over to the Web won't be easy for papers, because, with so much free news there, few folks are willing to pay for online subscriptions. But in one form or another, that's where newspapers will end up."
Already, former Seattle Weekly publisher David Brewster and ex-SW managing editor Chuck Taylor are putting together a Seattle newsroom in the sky that may launch as a daily Online news service early this year. Newspapers everywhere are developing new technologies to electronically deliver the news and increasingly turn profits. And if anyone doubts the venerable P-I won't live on, note that the other day the world's oldest newspaper, The Swedish Post,folded but didn't die. Born in 1645, it will now "print" Online. Perhaps no longer will old newspapers die, they'll just publish from heaven.