Picking up on the story we broke yesterday about the upcoming changes at Seattle Weekly, the local blog Crosscut has reported further details about the dramatic reduction of staff and mission at the 41-year-old paper that has already begun.
According to the Crosscut post, as of this Wednesday, the Weekly will become what Editor Mark Baumgarten calls a "community news weekly" in the mode of more than 40 other nearly identical publications owned by the same chain—no longer in the tabloid/magazine format with a color cover, but laid out more like a miniature daily paper.
The Weekly will retain a staff of only three people, sharing resources with its sibling publications in a single office in Bellevue, with coverage focusing on county news.
Baumgarten acknowledged that "there is something lost here."
Though the Weekly and The Stranger used to have a combative relationship, the idea that the two publications were in any sort of competition ended long ago—right around the time of the calamitous economic downturn presided over by George W. Bush.
As the city has continued to expand, Seattle media has remained a small, ever-diminishing pond. Many excellent writers, editors, and designers have worked at both papers at one time or another. And given the amount of cultural activity available to cover here, it was interesting, comforting, and useful to see where the two Seattles reflected in the two papers overlapped and diverged.
All of which is intended to head off the expectation of schadenfreude.
As with their past layoffs, or the recurring sight of their shrinking print editions, news the Weekly's demise causes no one any joy—no one in this office, anyway.
When a paper goes under, as when institutional misfortune befalls any professional journalist, the prevailing sentiments among their colleagues are sympathy and dread.
There will be more to say about this, but two things remain hard to dispute: The first is that Baumgarten has presided over a renaissance in the quality and energy of the Weekly's arts coverage, especially of local music.
The second thing—and I'm sorry, but there's no delicate way to say it—but this is a fucked-up way for a newspaper to die. At least when a bar or movie theater or bookstore (or person, for that matter) expires, they receive the dignity of a public mourning period. This feels more like strip mining.
But it's unclear what the parent company, Sound Media (and its parent company, Black Press), are actually stripping of the Weekly—aside from its brand identity. But without its writers and its tone and its subject matter and its editorial identity, and its look, what is a newspaper, anyway?
I guess we'll find out Wednesday.
Maybe I'm a complete idiot and papers like the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber and the Sequim Gazette are beloved repositories of the kind of vital reporting that bloated corporate behemoths like The Stranger refuse to cover. But my sense of these publications is that they are ad insert delivery devices with high school sports and good-news-for-a-change coverage of local businesses making up the bulk of their editorial space.
I hope I'm wrong.
Say what you will about the highs and lows of Seattle Weekly's 41-year life span, but it deserves a more dignified ending. Even at its inception, in 1976, the paper's version of being "alternative media" (itself then a novel term) was to offer more thoughtful, intellectual, and classically liberal urbanity than was being published by the Times and P-I of that era. It was never especially rebellious, insurgent, or anarchic. Which makes the idea of it spending the rest of its days forcibly lobotomized, like R.P. McMurphy at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, all the more ironic—and makes the irony all the more tragic.