No sooner had I mentioned on Slog that I was somehow left off the invite list for last night's SeattlePI.com launch party at the Seattle Art Museum than an e-mail appeared in my in-box, subject line:
Want to be my man-date to the SeattlePI.com party?
It was from one Jacob Metcalf, who happens to write the most popular reader blog—"by a factor of 10"—on SeattlePI.com. It's called Digital Joystick. It's about video games. It gets hundreds of thousands of hits a month. I'd never been on a man-date with a gamer before, but of course the answer was yes. Yes I want to be your man-date, Jacob Metcalf.
We met at the Hammering Man statue at 6:45 p.m. sharp and proceeded inside, where a young man dressed like the P-I globe was greeting the new web site's partners and friends. That's Jacob on the right:
I filled out a name-tag identifying myself as "Jacob Metcalf's Man-Date" and proceeded inside the museum lobby, where waiters were offering trays of razor clam fritters with aoli sauce, Beecher's cheese melted on toasted baguette slices with small sour cherries on top, and mini-burgers. It was nice enough there in a museum lobby: Hearst executives milling about, executive producer Michelle Nicolosi making introductions, SeattlePI.com writers making small talk with the invitees. Aside from Jacob, whose day-job involves doing software installation for a military contractor, I met a woman from a local charity, an investment manager who aspires to be a blogger, and a couple of people from a local public relations firm. I wondered: How does a two-month-old web site pay for a swank venue, free wine, and fancy hors d'ouvres? Someone on the SeattlePI.com marketing staff told me that a lot of it was offered in trade (for advertising, I assumed). Then the DJ, who'd been playing something clubbish at a low volume, announced that we should all head downstairs to the auditorium for a presentation.
It began with David Horsey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, announcing: "We want to welcome you to the revolution." He continued:
It's no secret that the media world is being turned upside-down, and as in any revolution there is some pain and discomfort in all the changes. But there are also incredible opportunities. Something new is being born, and I think we're giving birth to it right here.
He talked about how the new media world had allowed him to move beyond ink-and-paper and into a more exciting digital realm where he can create more dynamic cartoons and reach larger audiences. The lesson, he said, is that advertisers now have the same opportunity.
Our message tonight is simply: We are different. You should not think of SeattlePI.com as just a remnant of a venerable newspaper that lasted 146 years, although there's something pretty invaluable in carrying on the name of such a well-established brand. Neither should you think of SeattlePI.com as just another online publication trying to get by on a prayer and little else... We have only begun to grow what I think will be the most dynamic media enterprise in the city.
Next up was Steve Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of the Hearst Coroporation, who gave Horsey a compliment that a few years ago, before the newspaper universe started to collapse and morph, probably wouldn't have been a compliment.
You know, we're here to talk about transformations tonight but I think we just saw the most amazing transformation we're going to see all night. We just turned a cartoonist into an ad salesman.
The audience laughed and applauded loudly.
Swartz described SeattlePI.com a couple of times as a "local digital media services organization"—not a local online newspaper—that is being run by a new entity, Hearst Seattle Media. He said the company wants SeattlePI.com to be "Seattle's homepage" and plans to make that happen by offering breaking news that "crackles with newness and excitement," familiar voices like Art Thiel and Joel Connelly, popular blogs, hyper-local information, and links to outside blogs and news sources.
Because in these modern times, it's not all about, you know, 'It's gotta be created here, we gotta do the same story that they did an hour earlier but we'll do, and we do it, it's better.' It's about helping the readers of Seattle find what they need, and when you do that you drive the page views and the unique visitors that help our advertising clients and our advertising agency partners. We at Hearst believe that the future of local media and of local media sales is not simply about our web site, it's about truly a local media digital services organization.
Next up was Nicolosi, who began to make clear what exactly this "local digital media services organization" business is going to be about. But first she shed a little more light on what's driving traffic to SeattlePI.com. "We're very psyched and feeling very strong about the start that we've had," she said. "Our numbers do tell us that the readers like what we're doing." The site had 4.3 million unique users in April, an increase of 1.6 percent over the previous April. What are those users coming for? MySeattlePets, from which the above slide comes, is apparently one of the big draws—and pulls in "a very highly female audience."
The photo galleries of celebrities and fashion shows are also big with online readers. "They're there for the news, of course," Nicolosi said of the site's readers. "But everybody likes a little time-waster in the afternoon, maybe around lunch... I know some people have commented, 'How can you have 100 photos of that fashion show?' Well, we tracked the usership in these galleries and found that most of the people who start on page one are still there on page 100. So why not?'" Coming soon: more and better opportunities to buy ads on those galleries.
There were more slides as the presentations went on. Here is a slide that packs in a lot of buzz-words. Here is a slide from a Hearst Seattle Media advertising salesman about the company's proposed Total Solution. And here is a slide from a Google representative that looks a bit like an upside-down illustration of the female reproductive system.
Here is the thing that struck me, and that was repeated many times—by someone from Hearst, by someone from Google, and by a very excited, audience-wandering, traveling-salesperson-shtick-loving woman from Yahoo! By 2012 the amount spent on local online advertising is projected to be $22 billion. Hearst wants the largest share of that spend it can get in the Seattle market, hence SeattlePI.com. Yahoo! and Google want the same—but they want to get it without having to spend a lot of money on staffing every city in the country with ad sales reps—hence their "partnerships" with SeattlePI.com that essentially turn this new "local media digital services organization" into a Seattle subcontractor for their online ad sales businesses. Everybody positions themselves for the coming wave of cash. Everybody gets a cut.
That's the plan.
When all of the presentations were over, the mic went back to Horsey, who spoke about climbing into the P-I globe the night the print edition was shut down.
I looked out over the darkness that was Puget Sound and it suddenly struck me that in the morning the sun is going to come up, Puget Sound is going to be there, the Olympics Mountains, and it will be a new day. And all of a suddent I felt good about what was happening next. And what we showed you tonight is what's happening next. So we invite you to join us in that new day, because it's going to be pretty exciting and we're all going to go some great places together. So thank you, there's some dessert out there waiting for you, and welcome to the new day of SeattlePI.com.
The audience, once again, applauded loudly.