Let's imagine that it's July 1, 2009. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer went out of business in March. Hearst is preparing to relaunch the paper in the fall, but it's not clear what they have planned, or if it will even be called the P-I, or whom they will hire for a news staff. It's all being planned in Houston.
The Seattle Times has been unable to close the sale of its Maine newspapers or sell its South Lake Union real estate. It stopped publishing a print edition in May because it can't pay bills. The paper continued Web-only news coverage into June but had to file for bankruptcy. Seattle has no daily newspaper.
If we knew we had until July to plan and launch an online news service to replace the dailies, what would we unemployed journalists come up with?
For the moment, let's not worry about how much it would cost. (I know, that's the hard part, but easy things first.) Let's imagine what it can and should be, given this would be somewhat of a crisis for local democracy:
- News no one else can provide, focused at first only on the governments of Seattle, King County, the Port of Seattle, and the state of Washington. In other words, no crime or weather — TV's got that covered. Paid professional journalists concentrate on essential news that is complicated and important. The equivalent of municipal essential services.
- A Web platform like no other, designed from the bottom up to accommodate the special needs of professional news editing and vetting, serving all the usual forms of content — articles, blogs, images, video, audio, commenting — as well as the complicated interactivity of social networking, sharing, rating, and wiki collaboration.
- Color-coded content to indicate who provided it, with four main categories: staff professionals; freelancers; skilled or knowledgeable experts; and unproven contributing amateurs. Yes, anyone can be a journalist, and that's a good thing as long as readers can clearly see who the authors are and what they know. All of this content should be co-mingled to a point, so color-coding it is an easy way to create a subliminal hierarchy.
Newspapers grew to be full-service, self-contained information vehicles. The Web has shattered that model. But the Internet is unwieldy. There's still a need to impose order and standards on the news. The cool thing is we can also have the anarchic, organic, raggedly rhetorical stuff, too. All of this stuff can co-exist on a single Web site with a little planning.
I'll elaborate on each of these points in coming days. And yes, I will address the revenue issue.
To be continued ...