t is with deep regret that today, March 17 2009, the Seattle Post-Intellingencer has written its own obituary and ceased production of its paper version. In business from 1863-2009, the 146-year old Seattle newspaper served more than 117,600 weekday readers. While the online version will continue, the PI has layed off 90% of its reporters, whittling its staff down to 20 reporters, a shadow if its former self. The PI will certainly be missed.
___Just to disclose that I have no affiliation to the Seattle PI. In fact, I do not recall reading any of their articles, nor referencing the newspaper in online posts or research. Still, one must regret the passing of such an old newspaper that has stood the test of time. Until today.
___My regret is also brought on by my a worry that many other newspapers are also on the brink of collapse, particularly here in Canada. I note that while Canada’s Toronto Star and Globe and Mail circulation numbers are higher than the Seattle PI, looking at circulation by population, they are very much the same. With a population of 528,000 people, the Seattle PI was delivered to 33.6% of Seattle residents. With a population of 2.6m, the Toronto Star weekend edition is delivered to 24% of Torontonians. While you can argue the statistics, suffice it to say that circulation numbers between the newspapers are comparable.
The most widely read paper in the country is the Toronto Star, which, as of the six-month period ending on March 31, 2007, averaged 634,886 copies sold on Saturday, 436,694 Monday to Friday, and 442,265 on Sunday. The second most widely read paper is Toronto-based national newspaper The Globe and Mail, which averaged 410,285 copies on Saturdays, and 322,807 Monday to Friday.
___Perhaps they were simply an organization that lost touch with their readership and deserved to die, dinosaurs in an era of the electronic word. Maybe Seattleites simply do not read news as much as they used to, though I do doubt that. It seems the transition to electronic format somehow went awry for the Seattle PI.
___I can only comment about my own reading habits. I acknowledge that my reading habits are different between online and print newspapers. I use and enjoy both, but they serve me in different ways. Internet news is quick, succinct, efficient, global and targeted to knowledge acquisition. Print newspapers are leisurely, curious, playful, local and mind expanding. One cannot supplant the other.
___I read the vast majority of my news on the internet, though I rarely hit the front page of any newspaper site. I also read widely and internationally. Using the internet I am no longer restricted to regional news. Worthy news is international. When reading with such breadth one can easily get a low signal to noise ratio, or more crudely put, you need to wade through too much crap out there in order to find the news jewels worthy of your time.
___In reading internationally I depend on internet tools to help me find my daily fix of news. I take my top 50 world-wide newspaper sites, filter by keyword, aggregate, sort by reverse date, categorize and serve up my news du jour. With my reading list I can scan the article title and summary. Most articles I leave unread. My browser automatically removes advertising, though global advertising is pretty much useless to me anyway.
___In reading print newspapers I am much more leisurely. Glancing at each page I let my mind wander. Whatever tickles my fancy I read. I entertain divergent opinions and scan topics I would never think about filtering online. You could say that I’m a news window shopper.
___On top of reading from 50 global newspapers I also read over 100 global blogs. Blogs can be entertaining but their signal to noise ratio is much lower than that of global newspapers. While blogs can be entertaining, one quickly realizes that quality writing is a rare skill. The number of blogs I read on a regular basis amounts to a grand total of 5. You really need some pretty sharp internet tools to whittle down the noise out there in the blogosphere, for their sheer weight can literally bury you. To stay on top and search for quality blogs is a constant battle. The ones you find are true gems.
___With the demise of the Seattle PI I worry about the overall content quality of news on the internet. Investigative reporting is so valuable to quality news. Though many blogs try to follow suit, the vast majority simply do not have the talent, resources, connections nor infrastructure to do a good job; not even a good enough job. Good bloggers cite newspapers to bolster their arguments, leaning on them as a reliable news source as well as the inspiration for their blog posting. Real investigative reporting needs real professionals, journalists, like the journalists that just got laid off at the Seattle PI.
___Without journalists internet news would be of much lower quality than it is today. There must evolve a way to reward journalists for their work while evolving news dissemination in electronic format. How this will work remains to be discovered.