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January 13, 2009

Another Newspaper Biting the Dust

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The decline of the American newspaper is coming close to home. My home, at least: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been put up for sale by Hearst, its long-time owner.

Actually, the paper might well have been folded (if you'll pardon the expression) immediately if it weren't for rules governing its joint operating agreement with the Seattle Times. Those rules call for a 60-day period for prospective buyers to step in and save the situation. Probably there will be no such buyers.

The P-I has been hanging around Seattle since the 1860s, and that longevity alone can be enough to bring a tear to one's eye. The P-I was the area's morning paper for many decades and did reasonably well. Seattle was a three-paper town for many years, but dropped to two papers in 1947 when the labor-friendly Seattle Star was sold to the Times, which immediately shut it down, cherry-picking a few comic strips and perhaps some other assets. But in 2000, the Times (for many years Seattle largest paper) switched from afternoon to morning delivery, removing an important marketing advantage of the P-I which was virtually never profitable since then.

Both Seattle papers lean left politically, the P-I more solidly so than the Times. Even though the central Puget Sound area has a strong liberal political tinge, this apparently did little to help the P-I retain readership.

Matters are still in flux and one possibility is that the P-I will continue as an on-line entity. I hope this proves to be the case, mostly because it would make for an interesting experiment. With drastically reduced production/distribution costs, far fewer employees would need to be supported by advertising revenue, therefore opening the possibility of profitability. On the other hand, once the P-I disappears from newspaper boxes, news stands and residential doorsteps, it will have little visibility unless it is promoted by TV or poster advertising.

In conclusion, let me add that I only regularly read the P-I for a couple of periods. The first was when I was in college and my frat house got a copy every morning; a big fight for the sports section would follow. Then for a few years around 1990 my son delivered P-Is in our neighborhood, so we got a free copy each day as a result. I grew up with the Times, and my wife is a subscriber; otherwise I wouldn't read the incredibly shrinking thing. When I buy a paper, I get The Wall Street Journal.



posted by Donald at January 13, 2009


When I was growing up my father took four newspapers every day. Now we take two on Saturday and one on Sunday. My daughter buys none.

Posted by: dearieme on January 13, 2009 11:22 AM

Here in Orange County (Southern CA), the local paper, the OC Register, has shrunk by more than 50% in the past two years and raised its price by 50% in the past month (from 50 cents to 75 cents). The Los Angeles Times has shrunk, not quite as much, but just raised its price to match the Register.

Charge more for less product when there are plenty of alternatives. What a terrific business model!

I subscribe to the WSJ. The first year, it cost me $99, and I though it was worth it. This year it's $268, roughly 85 cents per day, and it's marginal.

Daily newspapers are simply not a viable business anymore. Local free arts-oriented or business-oriented weekly papers -- essentially, printed blogs -- may continue, however.

Posted by: Art on January 13, 2009 12:02 PM

Great article on how the NYT online has innovated and thrived even while the paper version is in financial trouble:

I agree that the NYT online is the best journalism site on the internet, and one of the best sites, period. If newspapers want to survive, they should look to it.

Posted by: JV on January 13, 2009 1:07 PM

Many middle of the road and righty websites argue that the demise of newspapers has been hastened by their left wing slant. I doubt it. I think that people are just reluctant to pay for what they can get for free. Also, it's great not having a pile of old newspapers around the house.

I routinely read articles in the online editions of The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Peoria Journal-Star, New York Times and Woodstock Times. I know exactly what I want to read at each of these sites. The Illinois stuff is for news from the home town, and stories about the home town sports teams. Although I'm pretty hostile to the editorial slant of the NY Times and Woodstock Times, I read certain articles just to know what's going on locally.

Since I've known and worked with so many newspaper writers, I have a jaundiced view of what they do. They are overwhelmingly lefty. They often make stuff up, because as a breed they aren't fond of hard work. They feel entitled to earn a good living lecturing the rest of the world, which in a way makes them assholes, no matter how hard they try otherwise.

I almost never buy a newspaper. Exception: when I'm alone in a client's cafeteria and I want to bury my head in something.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 13, 2009 9:15 PM

Classified ads have long been a major revenue source for newspapers. Needless to say, Craigslist has taken much of that away.

Posted by: Peter on January 13, 2009 9:52 PM

I'm on a limited satellite connection, but I can still get more daily info than I can digest without buying a paper. For most Aussies, the daily purchase of a Sydney Morning Herald (without subscription) costs more than a fast internet plan with good download allowances. I imagine there'd be even better deals going in the USA and parts of Asia.

The point is: even when it's given away, I don't bother reading the slanted, juvenile, over-wrought drivel published by the NYT, The Guardian, or The Sydney Morning Herald.

Some years back, I used to read every rugby article by a minor Herald writer called Spiro Zavos. I discussed this with a Herald-hating friend, who agreed with me that Zavos always had something to say, knew how to elaborate and illustrate, but kept his text clear of the smart-assery infesting the rest of that journal.

For years the Herald relied on its "rivers of gold", its huge classified section, which had no near-rivals. The owners and editors thought they could afford to fill its journalistic ranks with impudent teenie-boppers and sour old drunks. In fact, they actually could afford it.

Now that times are changed, things are looking grim for the big-name papers. Yet there is one thing that the NYT, Guardian and SMH could still try....

Kick the kids out of the kitchen!

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 13, 2009 11:30 PM

I'm waiting for the Oregonian to go down. For years it and the local whatever, The Willamette Week, have been pretty teenage in outlook. Which, I suppose reflects the outlook of their writers.

I'm a mild conservative (have a gay brother and don't get upset on the topic of abortions, etc.) But, these rags hate people like me. Rural roots, military service, and all the rest. The columnists are crazy in their expressions of contempt for anyone they deem conservative.

The extraordinary hate for Palin really brought it out in high relief. Whatever is to be said about her, she certainly didn't deserve the hate she got in the local press.

But, papers have changed. I saw a film of a New York Times reporter engage in bizarre passive-aggressive tactics w/McCain during the campaign. It wasn't adult, it was bad girl behavior. It was juvenile.

I've read papers all of my life (53)but am glad to see them bleed out now. Locally, they are simply the tool of the Democratic Party, in a one party state.

Posted by: Larry on January 14, 2009 9:47 PM

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