Seattle paper eyes Web-only future

Seattle P.I. logo


Bob Moon: If you live in Denver, San Francisco, or Seattle, the bad news may be right on your doorstep. Or perhaps, even worse, not showing up on your doorstep. The Rocky Mountain News is closed. The Chronicle is on the auction block. And now there's news the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will likely stop the presses and go online-only next week, the first big-city daily to do so.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports on what newspapers might look like in this brave, new, online world.

Mitchell Hartman: The Post-Intelligencer published the news on its own website late yesterday: The paper plans to go online-only as early as next Tuesday unless a buyer materializes. About 20 employees, out of 180, would reportedly remain.

Reporter Hector Castro was asked to stick around, but to forgo a severance package.

Hector Castro: You're also looking at a cut in pay, a decrease in your medical benefits, no pension plan. It just seems like all the risk is on the people who want to try to work with this online venture.

"Risk" is the keyword here, says media analyst Jeff Jarvis of the City University of New York -- the risk that newspapers will fail if they don't transform their business model.

Jeff Jarvis: It's time that we try to find ways to free news from the limitations and expense of paper.

Jarvis says a large portion of a traditional newspaper's budget is ink, newsprint, and the people and gas to truck it around.

Jarvis: Get rid of all of that. Do what you do best and link to the rest. It starts to be possible to imagine an online-only operation, of scale, that could cover a city and be sustainable.

Newspaper analyst John Morton says this won't happen right away. Most papers will keep adding links and blogs, but without stopping the presses.

John Morton: The internet advertising that's available isn't sufficient to fund very much journalism. Which is why they're doing this -- the ones that are doing it -- with greatly reduced staffs.

At the Seattle PI, that will not include veteran Hector Castro. He turned down the job offer and is now looking at a career change.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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The key for newspapers making the shift to online-only publishing is to reduce costs without losing sight of the things that build customer loyalty and strong brands - good reporting and relevant local content. Since the majority of media company costs have nothing to do with the creation of editorial content (I've heard reports that non-editorial costs can be as high as 75%) it should be entirely possible to build a profitable business model and retain your journalistic integrity. But in order for this to happen, media companies need to say goodbye to their legacy infrastructures and get out of the technology business. And they must be willing and able to experiment with technologies and such as social networking, rich media, user contributed content, etc. Software-as-a-Service content management systems, such as we offer at Clickability, offer a technically viable and economically beneficial way to publish web content, by keeping initial costs and time-to-implement lower than other models.

This web-only thing may be called the P-I, but with a skeleton crew that includes almost none of the reporting staff, columnists, etc., it won't be the P-I. My guess is that it will be just a generic news site with a lot of AP stories and little local news trying to capitalize on a venerable name.

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