How's seattlepi.com Doing, One Year Later? Pretty Damn Well, So Long As You Don't Expect a Newspaper

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The site celebrates tonight at the Croc.
It was hard to imagine a year ago that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer could ditch nearly all its employees and still produce a useful, credible news site. But the fact is, they have.

Staff for the online-only venture may be skeletal by daily-newspaper standards, but there's meat on the bones. They've got a handful of high producers who hit hard on the basics--sports, politics, crime, and general hot-button street news, such as today's feature by Vanessa Ho on the undeveloped holes blighting neighborhoods all over town. Just as the P-I always felt more like a city paper than the suburban-conservative Seattle Times, so too its site feels more city-focused than its larger competitor.

But to say that seattlepi.com is valuable to Seattle isn't to say that it provides any kind of model for how to make daily newspapers work in a post-print world. Because it sure as hell doesn't.

The P-I is trumpeting the fact that its readership has remained steady, at about 4 million visitors a month--comparable to what it was back when the print paper was still around. On the one hand, this is an accomplishment of sorts: There's less content on the site than there used to be, and yet the same number of readers are showing up. On the other hand, if Seattle Weekly were to suddenly stop distributing all 90,000 copies of the paper to coffee shops and news boxes all over the city, I'd be pretty alarmed if that didn't cause a serious jump in visitors to our Web site. That would be a lot of readers to just see disappear.

The P-I isn't making any claims about profitability either. So while the site has proven that talented, driven journalists can still deliver valuable coverage of the city, it hasn't proven anything about how this works as a sustainable business. In that sense, seattlepi.com is indistinguishable from all the other online news startups around town.

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of reinventing of journalism going on either. Reporter Chris Grygiel occasionally makes an unannounced foray into editorial-writing, rather than his usual highly capable reporting. But most of the innovations on seattlepi.com seem to be of the content-sharing variety, such as an alliance with Seattle magazine whereby some of the glossy's big, guide-y stories will get homepage placement.

So is seattlepi.com some kind of model for how today's daily papers can survive in a post-print world? Well, if by survival we mean firing almost everyone; eliminating coverage of food, music, the arts, education, and countless other topics; and endlessly pimping slideshows of Milan swimwear and college basketball cheerleaders--then yes. But I'm guessing that's not what most media watchers have in mind.

 
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