This series took a break for a couple of days on account of me having to look for a job. But I haven't forgotten my promise to save journalism in Seattle. Actually, some other people in town have beaten me to that. More on them in a moment. If you're just joining me, here are parts 1, 2, and 3.
If suddenly this year there were no daily newspapers in Seattle, and unemployed journalists got together to start something from scratch, how would we cover the news? It would be a civic crisis of sorts, especially during a local election year. But without the resources of the old model of a monolithic, beat-dominated newsroom, and because the media landscape has so radically changed in recent years, the whole thing would need to be rethought. Mostly in terms of doing less with less.
With limited resources and a moral imperative of sorts, a news crisis would necessitate having professionals providing coverage that no one else can. Perhaps they are focused at first only on the governments of Seattle (population 563,374), King County (population 1.8 million), the Port of Seattle (2009 operating revenue: $486.4 million), and the state of Washington (population 6.4 million). Especially with municipal and county elections this year, you'd want journalists with no axes to grind writing about the campaigns. The left and right political blogs have an important role to play, and the Stranger Election Control Board is correct at least twice a day. But there needs to be a grownup in the room. Let's assign one reporter each to City Hall, the county, the port, and state government, ideally in Olympia.
I would want to see a reporter cover metro Seattle transportation, too. Tri-county Sound Transit opens the initial light rail line this summer, and after the 2008 vote, the agency will begin spending billions to expand north and east. Need a dedicated watchdog on that one, supplemented by citizens journalists.
So that's five full-time reporters, and they will be stretched pretty thin. What about all the other stuff going on?
Time to tap and organize the neighborhood bloggers, a number of whom are already dominant voices in their own right. Several neighborhoods are served increasingly well by blogs, but the textbook example is what's being done by Tracy Record and friends at the West Seattle Blog. (And check out the stack of ads in their right column!) They're a national model for micro-news coverage. Check out their coverage of the announcement this week for the deep-bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
There are other citizen journalists out there, too, or potential citizen journalists. They could be helped by a little encouragement, advice, and exposure. And let's not forget the niche publications in town. The Puget Sound Business Journal is going to play an increasingly important role in the business community. Too bad most of the content is behind a premium wall. But they have free spinoff TechFlash, and rival Xconomy is becoming a must-read.
My recent former employer, Crosscut, aspires to play a role in providing news coverage by professional and amateur journalists. It's rebuilding itself as a nonprofit. Crosscut might be a good organization to provide training and an outlet for non-professionals. ColorsNW is no longer in print, but they're still plugging away online. There are a bunch of sports sites relatively few people know about. The USS Mariner and Lookout Landing are two I happen to follow. And former Seattle P-I sports staffer Todd Dybas last fall launched Seattle Sports Online. I'm sure you know of locally focused niche Web sites in areas that interest you which I've never heard of. All of these sites could thrive with a little more visibility.
So that's a start. Paid professional journalists concentrate on essential news that is complicated and important. The equivalent of municipal essential services. And bloggers and citizen journalists, with a little leadership, fill in the gaps. It wouldn't be perfect. But it's the beginning of a new journalism ecosystem.
In a recent blog comment, Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman revealed that the Times Web site reaches 592,400 people a month in the Seattle market and the P-I reaches 347,000. That's a lot of online local news readers. But the news they seek is spread all over hell's half acre. Readers could use some help in finding all this. Who's going to organize it?
These folks are working on that. No News Is Bad News was formed this week by mainstream and not-so-mainstream journalists who are concerned about the demise of the P-I. They are organizing a conference to tackle some of these issues. It could be that all this news doesn't need to be organized at all. But I think it would be good to have a central place to go to find all this. And I'll talk about that next. Good tools are essential, and few news organizations have a complete set.
To be continued ...