The Ink-stained Future

The mainstream newspaper of tomorrow sounds a lot like the alternative weekly of today. "One of the models we might see," says Seattle Times executive editor Dave Boardman, "is a printed Sunday newspaper and online during the week." Adds P-I managing editor David McCumber: "You could put out a print product that is much more, say, of a news magazine, more investigative work, more in-depth work, less attempt at breaking news..."

They weren't exactly saying Seattle Weekly was their role model. But during an interview this week on the Seattle Channel's City Inside/Out, discussing the ever-downsizing newspaper industry, they seemed to agree with biz journalist Bill Richards' view that the old newspaper model is "a dead man walking." They also tried to answer UW journalism prof Doug Underwood's question of "What's your long-term plan? I haven't seen that plan emerging."

Neither editor thinks much of Seattle's joint operating agreement, which financially ties the P-I and Times, and both think it's as doomed as newspaper classifieds. (The Times once drew 50 percent of its revenues from classifieds, says Boardman, and has lost 80 percent of that income, mostly to the web. "You take 40 percent out of any business, that's a lot of revenue.")

Likewise doomed is one of the two Seattle dailies in today's form. Similar newspapers with similar coverage and distribution footprints? "It just can't go on," says Boardman. If two are to survive, one would have to become very different from the other, "Like [becoming] a free distribution tabloid for younger people." Ahem.

On the show hosted by C.R. Douglas, ex-SW and now publisher David Brewster says the future is online only, especially if you can - as Crosscut is trying to do - succeed with a non-profit model, such as public radio's, he says. Member viewers give $50 a year and get the chance to tell you what you should be writing about, Brewster says. The web is more fluid than print, open to experimenting, giving upstarts a chance. That makes it "pretty easy to get into this game."

Tim Keck, The Stranger publisher, says the secret is to print once a week, and "skate on the web the rest," noting The Stranger's online readership is three times its print edition's. "Newspapers haven't had to innovate for 100 years," and that's what making change for them difficult, he says. The survivors will be those who think, "Whatever platform [print, online, video, podcast] we can make money on, we'll do it."

Douglas ran a man-on-the-street clip of one young non-reader who proudly confessed "I get my news through The Daily Show, Colbert Report. I try to keep it funny, 'cause I can't just listen to, like, regular news, it's just boring, kinda." Conversely, Doug Campbell, the owner of the Bulldog News stand on The Ave - who himself had to diversify by selling calendars, notebooks and coffee to make up for lost sales in out-of-town papers - says nothing beats the smell of newsprint in the morning. "The process of going through a newspaper page by page and seeing the same paper that all the other citizens of the community are seeing," he says, "gives us a link I don't think we get from the web."

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