Last week, rumors circulated that the national city-blogging company Gothamist LLC was going to shutter its Seattle branch. The shame of this is that about six months ago, local news and culture website Seattlest started getting really good. For years, the blog had been irrelevant and uninteresting, but when new editor in chief Hanna Brooks Olsen arrived, she brought on a talented new writing staff—including Sarah Lloyd, Dikla Tuchman, and Everett Rummage—who quickly established beats and started writing originally reported news stories. (On November 30, Olsen announced she was going on sabbatical, naming former Seattlest weekend editor José Amador the new editor in chief.)
Over the phone, Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin confirmed that Seattlest's future is in doubt. Dobkin says "no decision about the site's future has been made," but that Gothamist is considering putting the site on a hiatus that he predicted would last "a year or two." He says the issue is quality, not money—Seattlest, Dobkin says, "doesn't lose money for us."
A great deal has changed since Seattlest launched in 2005, when Slog, The Stranger's blog, was pretty much the only major competitor. Now a host of online news sources are battling for page views, and even large corporate media like KOMO are getting in on the neighborhood-blog act. As the media's focus narrows and specifies, there are very few well-written, originally reported blogs covering a wide range of Seattle's news and arts beats.
If Dobkin is telling the truth when he says Seattlest isn't losing money, and a solid young staff of reporters has turned the damaged brand into one of the only local news blogs worth checking on a regular basis, why doesn't Gothamist keep the site around, to see what the new staff can do with another six months? I couldn't get a satisfactory answer out of Dobkin.
Olsen believes the problem may be built into the inflexible structure of Gothamist's city blogging platform: "The expectations [to attain profitability] were very high, like unrealistically high." She adds, "It just became very clear that there was no amount of work that our volunteer staff could do to meet the goals that were set up for us." Will Seattlest as we know it cease to exist? "It's coming. It could be in the New Year; it could be far out yet. It's been imminent for a while," Olsen says. "When we know, everyone else will know."