Image by dantc via Flickr
Now that some of us have dismissed the new, online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer as an utter failure 24 hours into the experiment (yes, day two was much better, and, truly, I wish them well), it's time to anticipate the longer-term future of Seattle journalism.
Some context: Before Hearst on Monday announced that the P-I would, indeed, cease the use of ink, people at the paper were twisting in the wind. For weeks, no one knew what would happen. Then a few weeks ago a magic wand tapped some two dozen of the 170 news employees on the shoulder to join a possible new online-only venture — the SeattlePI.com effort now under way "to break a lot of rules that newspaper Web sites stick to." This bifurcation of the staff upped the levels of anxiety and insecurity in the final days and hours, naturally, which helped inspire another handful of P-I journalists to consider striking out on their own once the severance checks are safely deposited.
These folks, who wish to remain nameless until the Hearst checks clear, asked me to advise them. (Now between jobs, I worked for a long time at The Seattle Times, organized and ran the Seattle Union Record during the 2000-01 newspaper strike, was managing editor of Seattle Weekly, and was the launch editor of Crosscut.) So far the relationship with these now-former P-I staffers is informal and free, but it's possible I could get more involved at some point. Anyhow, through this connection I've been privy to discussions with others in Seattle — including non-journalists — who are concerned about the future of local news. After all, The Seattle Times is in a precarious way, too.
So with that background out of the way, here's what I know about overlapping discussions about the future of news in Seattle, in light of historic disruption:
Seattle Post Globe: This is the code name of an effort by former P-I writers and editors to launch their own Web site. (There's a similar effort under way in Denver, involving former Rocky Mountain News staffers.) The hope of the disenfranchised P-I journalists is to quickly capitalize on the absence of the print edition — to garner community support (financially and otherwise — e-mail your good karma here) to publish journalism that no longer appears on SeattlePI.com. All of them have severance packages and the plan is to work for free for a time. It's not yet clear how many former P-I staffers are truly enthusiastic about getting involved in Seattle Post Globe, but this site could go live within a couple of weeks.
I think the more voices in town, the better, but I've warned the P-I staffers that they need to differentiate their work from routine news coverage in The Seattle Times and, to a lesser extent, on SeattlePI.com and other news Web sites in town. They can't simply continue to write beat reports and feature stories as they did at the print P-I. They need to make a compelling case for people to visit yet another Web site.
Public broadcasters: In the process of turning over every stone in town, the P-I staffers have had conversations with executives at public KCTS-TV (9) and KPLU-FM (88.5). Seattle's other NPR station, KUOW-FM (94.9), is not yet involved but was to be invited to future discussions.
At a meeting earlier this week, KCTS and KPLU reached an informal agreement to explore the need for a future local news outlet in Seattle, perhaps a consortium. The KCTS staff is exploring the possibility of getting a grant to hire a consultant to assess the situation and possibilities.
This is a long-term process — months, not weeks — so for now the P-I staffers are doing their own thing, with moral support and perhaps Web linkage from the broadcasters. But a now-lean KCTS has office space, so on Friday the Seattle Post Globe project will be moving into the station on the Seattle Center grounds. The view ain't what it was on Elliott Bay, but it beats most office space in town.
This exploration of a future news outlet, presumably combining textual, audio, and video expertise on one platform, will be gingerly. For one thing, who's going to pay for it? Also, public broadcasters are very careful with their brands. They have separate boards of directors and contributors to answer to. But it would make a lot of sense for Seattle to have one non-profit news operation instead of three. Or four, if you count Crosscut, the site I helped launch. Crosscut recently became a nonprofit, but its future is uncertain.
University as incubator: David Domke, the chair of the University of Washington Department of Communication, and Hanson Hosein, director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program, have been talking up an idea that comes from Boston: a university-sponsored investigative journalism entity that is comprised of educational and commercial news outlets. Boston University recently launched the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a joint venture of the school and The Boston Globe, New England Cable News, public WBUR-FM, and New England Ethnic News. It's billed as "the first non-profit, university-based investigative reporting collaborative in the country focused on local and regional issues."
The primary goals of NECIR-BU are: to produce high-quality, high-impact investigative reports that will be published and aired by multiple media partners on multiple platforms, to train the next generation of investigative reporters including students at Boston University and inner-city high schools, to serve as a platform for experimenting with how to effectively deliver long-form investigative content to a digital audience and to be a model for non-profit, multi-media, investigative journalism that could be duplicated nationwide.
Domke and Hosein think Seattle would be a great place to try something like this, too. Like the public broadcasters' idea, it's a notion that, given UW's involvement, would take months to explore and organize. And the state budget being what it is, some serious outside money would need to be tapped. But the educational component is exciting and that could be very attractive to foundations.
Those are the active efforts I know of. There might be others. Please add them to the comments below.