Page through the archives of Seattle Weekly and you will read a lot of dramatic stories. There are the stories of Ted Bundy and Mary Kay Letourneau, Kurt Cobain and the WTO protests. There are the tales of politicians come and gone. And there is another big story that is told in those pages—that of Seattle Weekly itself. Like the larger story of media at the turn of the millennium, it’s a messy one, filled with many highs and lows and at least a dozen major twists in the four decades that the paper has served this city. The edition of the Weekly that hit the streets today represents yet another one of those twists.
The simple fact is that what we have been doing hasn’t been working—or at least not working well enough. Whether that is my fault, or the fault of a rapidly changing information economy—likely a combination of both—it became clear this past summer that a change needed to be made to better secure the future of the publication. After some consideration, we made some decisive shifts.
The most obvious: We don’t look like an alternative weekly anymore. That’s because we aren’t one. Gone are the illustrative covers, the comics, the weekly long-form features. In their place is an editorial-forward cover, an extensive weekly arts calendar, and more news stories told more succinctly (with room for long-form work when a particular story merits it). We have become a kind of community news weekly, outfitted for the particular needs of our Seattle readership.
There are a few reasons we decided to make these changes.
The first is that we are adapting to the Seattle media market. When The Stranger, our longtime rival, shifted to a biweekly print publication schedule earlier this fall, it created an opportunity for us. Being the only free city-wide weekly print publication in town, we are now the most timely free source of city news and culture on the streets. Wanting to make the most of it, we felt we needed to be more responsive, both to the news of the moment and to the needs of readers looking for their next night out. The primary mission for our print product is now to tell you about the week that was and the week that will be. And so we stripped away the labor-intensive and resource-hungry trappings of the alt-weekly that kept us from being more nimble. It wasn’t easy. I loved those covers and comics; I will miss working with the staffers who helped create them. But I am excited at the ability to put the most important issues of the week on our covers—no matter how late-breaking—and to provide a fresh guide to the arts in this city every seven days. And I am excited about the talent we are bringing on board (or back on board) to make this happen. Melissa Hellmann will be starting next week as our city reporter, while Gavin Borchert has moved into a full-time role as our calendar producer and arts writer.
The second reason for the change has to do with our unique position in the region. Since 2013, Seattle Weekly has been owned by Sound Publishing, a media company that owns almost 50 publications throughout Western Washington. In King County alone, Sound runs 16 titles that cover just about every community in the region—titles that have largely operated in isolation of each other. Within this cluster of publications, though, there is another opportunity. To make the most of the concentration of newsrooms, we have moved resources into a new hub we are calling the King County News Desk, which will centralize the back-end print and digital production of all of the King County publications.
This News Desk will also be driving development of new editorial products, which will help us better serve our readers. The first of these will be a county-wide network of community and arts calendars. Next will be a series of podcasts produced by Sara Bernard, an erstwhile Weekly staff writer who is moving into the role of multimedia producer.
By taking all of this production and innovation work off the local desks, we will free our local reporters and editors to better focus on their primary tasks: connecting with their communities, developing stories, and reporting.
The King County News Desk will also encourage knowledge- and content-sharing. The intended result of this sharing will be more robust and diverse coverage of countywide issues in all the King County publications, an effort that will be aided by the hiring of a Seattle-based county reporter in the coming weeks. This is the part of our plan that I’m most intrigued by, for a couple of reasons. First, this region has a number of very active governmental bodies with wide jurisdictions—from the county council to the courts to Sound Transit—and they are not currently receiving a proper amount of journalistic scrutiny. Second, as the cost of living pushes more and more Seattleites into the suburbs, this region needs a media outlet that is conscious of the impacts that policy matters have on both ends of our readers’ commutes. Our community of journalists will provide this coverage and you will read it in these pages.
Finally, on a more personal note, I have never really been much of an “alternative” journalist. Despite starting my career at an alternative weekly, the irreverent posturing and combative tone—to say nothing of the snark—has never resonated with me. I know there is more to it than that, and I know, first-hand, that much good has come from the work of alternative weeklies, but when an author’s ego obscures the subject—as it so often does in many alternative weeklies—I find my mind wandering. I have, instead, always been drawn to journalism that aims to reflect its subjects, first and foremost. To me, this is the essence of community news: journalism with a primary focus of elevating voices that might otherwise be drowned out. That is not the only thing we will be doing here, but it is a big part of our mission.
This isn’t about us, after all. It’s about all of you. Thank you for continuing to read—and, please, let us know how we’re doing and how we can do better.