Pay cuts, staff cuts, fewer stories, reduced production - it sounds a lot like the daily newspaper business, what's left of it. But those are the sad words of David Brewster, publisher of the five-year-old electronic newspaper, Crosscut.com. Despite recent downsizing and fundraising, his respected news and commentary website is struggling to survive.
"For the next few months," writes Brewster, former editor of Seattle Weekly, "Crosscut will be on summer hours, publishing as usual each day but with temporarily reduced staff and hours. We need the period to refuel the venture and to develop a new plan and new leadership for Crosscut."
It's a marked turnaround from the upbeat news of just a month ago, when Brewster was reported to be looking for a likely high-priced editor/publisher to replace him (ex-P-I managing editor David McCumber) and had brought on two new reporters, albeit at half-time-pay, from the shuttered PubliCola political news website.
As he told us, there's "Nothing I can say about the hiring process to find a new editor/publisher for Crosscut, replacing me, except that we have narrowed our search to a leading candidate and are busy raising the funding to consummate the hiring and add other desired new aspects to Crosscut."
But the recent fundraising effort apparently didn't push things over the top as hoped. And as Brewster also adds today, "Three major grants to Crosscut all expire this year, producing our own kind of 'fiscal cliff.'"
That helps explain the sudden departure of the ex-PubliCola writers, Josh Feit and Erica Barnett, up and leaving last week almost as mysteriously as they appeared.
"We're grateful for Brewster's amazing support at Crosscut," they wrote in a parting column last Tuesday, just a month into their Crosscut stint, "but PubliCola is our thing. And it will live on. More details to come, but the Cola will be back in full force later this month."
More details came this morning, in fact, when Feit announced that PubliCola has been purchased by SagaCity Media, owner of Seattle Met magazine, and will be rechristened PubliCola@SeattleMet. He and Barnett will run the site and contribute to Seattle Met, edited by Katherine Koberg, a former Seattle Weekly managing editor.
Crosscut had seemed on the rise, having spent the past two years, as Brewster puts it, "buoyed by foundation support in building the infrastructure to fulfill this mission. In recent months we have redesigned the site, shifted to a leading-edge content-management system, doubled our advertising and underwriting support, boosted annual membership significantly, held Member events such as 'Meet the Writers' parties, and added dozens of new and more diverse writers to the Crosscut family."
So what happened? The waning money flow and the effort to turn the site over to a new publisher have conspired, he said, to bog things down.
We concluded that it makes sense to spend more time on forging this new plan right now, diverting some time and effort from just putting out each day's edition. I am very involved in helping this transition and expect to continue to be involved in the organization going forward.
It's difficult to read between the lines, but it is clearly a pullback from the earlier grand plan. Brewster prefers to characterize it, for now, as "a rough patch." Be patient, he tells readers and supporters, "as we get through this period, work on some new approaches, and rebuild the House of Crosscut."