by Dan Savage and Sandeep Kaushik

Judge Greg Canova's ruling last week that the Seattle Times' strike-driven financial losses in 2000 could not be used as a justification for shutting down the rival Seattle Post-Intelligencer has given the P-I a renewed lease on life. Barring a reversal on appeal, Canova's decision will potentially give the ailing P-I a two-year legal reprieve.

But the P-I is still in trouble. With circulation plummeting, now is the time for bold moves to stabilize Seattle's second daily. The Stranger, always ready to help out a friend in need, has a few ideas for P-I publisher and editor Roger Oglesby:

Dear Roger,

How would you like to go down in publishing history as the man who single-handedly saved daily newspapers from their slide into bankruptcy and irrelevance? Interested, Roger? Just follow my three-step plan.

Step 1: Put "fuck" in a headline. "Fuck" isn't a cure-all for the P-I's problems, but it will symbolize a willingness to take risks, grow up, and stop patronizing your readers. (Remember the embarrassing knots all you daily papers got into after Bush called a reporter from the New York Times an "asshole"?)

Without a doubt your longtime subscribers (average age 48.5) will tell you the P-I is supposed to be a "family newspaper." They'll tell you they're outraged that you would consider putting "fuck" in a headline--or anywhere else in your paper--and they'll threaten to cancel their subscriptions.

And that's exactly why you should do it. You should want these people to cancel their subscriptions. The "family newspaper" thing is an albatross. A daily newspaper is for adults, Rog, and adults use the word "fuck" all the time. You find it in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, the Nation, and the New York Review of Books--just about anywhere adults are writing for adult readers.

I'm not being cute here, Roger: I'm deadly serious. I realize "fuck" is a word we sometimes overuse at The Stranger--definitely the case with this recent headline: "Kollin Fucking Min: Fucking Clueless Fuck-for-Brains? Or Motherfucking Fan of the Fucking Drug War?" But if you use it, in one fell swoop not only will the P-I be rid of all the readers who think there shouldn't be anything in a daily newspaper that isn't fit reading material for a five-year-old, but you'll let adult readers in Seattle know that your newspaper is for them.

The day after you put "fuck" in a headline you'll be able to drop the bridge column and the gardening section and Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois, Drabble, and Blondie. Then you can get busy attracting new readers and subscribers. How? By letting your writers and editors off the "family newspaper" leash--which brings us to our next step....

Step 2: Fuck objectivity, Roger. Look at weekly papers: We're not objective, and we're doing great out here, snapping up young readers, holding on to them as they age. Basically weeklies all over the country have been eating your lunch for 25 years. Why? Well, there's the word "fuck," of course, but there's also a refreshing approach to opinions--basically, we have some. Daily papers, on the other hand, play ping-pong: One side says this, the other side says that, and since dailies are "objective," they're not going to tell you who's right--even when reporters know someone is lying through his teeth.

Step 3: Distribute your paper free in downtown Seattle. Like most daily papers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is read by more people in the 'burbs than in the city. If your paper is going to survive, Rog, you need to pick up readers inside the city. People in the city like reading papers with fucking opinions. Oh, and one more thing--your op-ed section? That place you allow opinions to creep into your paper? It sucks--it's all two-day-old op-eds from East Coast papers (the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post). Hire some local writers--again, under 80, if you know what's good for you. And let 'em say "fuck."



To: Roger Oglesby

From: Sandeep Kaushik

Roger, baby, ignore Savage. He's high. Savage has been so baked he didn't vote in the primary (and you know what a stickler he is about voting.) If Dan wasn't so spaced right now, even he would admit that no sane, upstanding person would ever read a shitty newspaper filled with gratuitous goddamn obscenity.

No, a little potty mouth is not the cure for what ails the P-I. Admittedly, you have to make changes. You can't realistically compete with the Times at its own game--not when it carries almost twice the editorial staff--and its game is being the upscale, ultra-serious, extra-proper voice of the we-are-not-amused, stiff-collared suburbs.

Even after your ballyhooed redesign, code-named Tornado (by the way, thumbs down on the pointless little "Update" boxes), people still think the P-I is too much like the Times, because your stories read like Times stories. The real issue in differentiating yourself is not the look, it's the tone. In that sense, Dan's right. In other words, P-I stories read like they could have been written in 1963. But it's 2003, Bwana.

You don't have to say "fuck," but get a little postmodern, Roger. A little flipper in tone, less ponderous in style. Wittier in the writing, and much less self-important. Shoot the journalism professors on your staff. Don't shy away from emotion, emphasize personality, embrace conflict. In your political coverage, make fun of politicians--everyone under 30 knows they lie for a living; when you pan a movie, really rip it--everyone loves a bilious, biting review; when you write about social problems, make the stories three-hanky tearjerkers. Entertain and inform, in that order. Give the people what they want, Roger, not what they need, and they'll pay you for the privilege.

Now, you can take this too far, à la Savage. Putting "fuck" on page one is too far. Putting topless babes on page three is (unfortunately) too far.

Still, it's time the P-I got off Walton's Mountain. Ramp up the attitude, rather than dirty down the language. And if that doesn't work, put girls in bikinis on page three.