UPDATE: Nick Licata's office informs me, apropos of my comment that he should've included folks like David Goldstein from Horse's Ass and other bloggers on his "future of newspapers" panel, that they did in fact invite Goldy, as well as this guy. They also asked a couple of other neighborhood bloggers (Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog did participate). While I get how hard it is to convince people to spend two hours of their day sitting on a City Hall panel for free, I still contend there are plenty of other blogs filling the space between Crosscut (essentially an online newspaper, aimed at older readers who are about the only folks left who read actual papers) and neighborhood microblogs. Blogs like this, this, this, and this, for example.
City council member Nick Licata is hosting a discussion on the future of newspapers. Unfortunately, the panelists are mostly—to steal a phrase from Dominic—the dinosaurs of yesteryear. Here's the panel:
Roger Simpson, Prof. UW Communications
Doug Underwood, Prof. UW Communications
Ann Bremner, Co-Chair of the Committee for a Two Newspaper Town
Liz Brown, PacNW Newspaper Guild
Jennifer Towery, President Peoria Newspapers Guild, Ilinois
David Brewster, Crosscut Publisher
Tracy Record of West Seattle Blog
Licata opened the discussion by reading a letter from Congressman Jim McDermott bemoaning the death of journalism, noting that the average age of a newspaper reader is 55 and rising, and saying that he enjoys the "serendipity" of paging through a physical paper, which he said is an experience you can't replicate with "Internet newspapers."
Roger Simpson, professor of communications at the UW, is saying that the challenge for Seattle is to preserve institutions that provide information and serve community needs. He predicts this will continue to include newspapers, but also "other media." I'm not so sure newspapers are as necessary as Simpson—who said he "gets three newspapers a day, which means I should live in 1900"— seems to believe.
Doug Underwood, another UW communications professor, is talking now. "What's essentially happening... is we're turning to a different era. ... [In the 1800s] newspapers... gained audience because they were brilliantly written, witty, people wanted to watch them." He notes that people read the Huffington Post, not the web sites of the Seattle Times and P-I, because they include "personalities" and entertainment. "The problem is that over time [websites like The Huffington Post] aren't going to be able to do what they do, because in essence, they depend on already existing companies to produce the product that they essentially rip off and provide at a lower cost for everybody else." Basically, he's arguing that only newspapers can produce news—can do what newspapers do.
Ann Bremner and Kathy George from the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town are talking about the future of the P-I. George is expressing the hope that the city council will provide leadership in finding a buyer for the P-I, which Hearst is technically offering for sale. Another possibility, she says, is creating an endowment to fund local government reporting by a nonprofit news organization. Or the council could help employees set up their own employee-owned newspaper or a public authority along the lines of the Pike Place Market to run a paper. She says "an online only P-I is better than no P-I"—the first acknowledgment that newspapers' future may be online.
And now they're talking about Norway.
Liz Brown from the Newspaper Guild is talking now. "Certainly the impact on our members is very great. ... In 1993 we had about 820 members at the Seattle Times... and now we're down to about half that, 420 people. ... I mean no disrespect to our brothers and sisters in the broadcast business but the fat is newspapers have traditionally had bigger staff than radio and TV networks... the newspapers set the agenda for the broadcast networks. So the loss for newspapers goes far beyond those people who don't get their morning read... I too would like to know what Hearst's intentions are. .. I think it's fair to say Hearst is looking at continuing the PI as a website only. It will have dramatically fewer employees, and the working conditions of those employees will be much different than they are today... I think it's fair to say that people are a bit shell shocked.
Jennifer Towery from the Peoria Newspapers is talking about a bunch of potential models for the P-I. They include co-ops, government-subsidized nonprofits, and community-owned. None seem especially likely solutions for the demise of the P-I. Aaaaaaand... She's still going, despite the fact that council members are getting visibly fidgety.
Licata's introducing Brewster and Record, and he seems unsure what to call them.... "editors, writers, producers, what do you call yourselves?"
"Journalists," Record responded.
And she just had the first interesting line of the panel: "When we talk about saving newspapers, we're really talking about saving journalism." Not a "delivery model" that consists of dead trees delivered to front doors by delivery trucks, but the news.
Tom Rasmussen asked how readers can know that a blogger isn't just "saying they heard a bomb, but it's really just a trash can getting kicked over"—that is, how do you know bloggers aren't just making shit up?
I imagine they'll get more into that later. Right now, Crosscut founder David Brewster is talking about what young people want. (!) The web, he says, is "clearly is the future. It clearly is where young people want to be.. .. Young people are very adept at navigating this landscape and it doesn't take the kind of mediation and paternalism that these older models have provided."
Liveblog conclusion: What frustrates me about conversations like the one today is that the same people are always invited to the table. If it isn't David Brewster, it's David Boardman; if it isn't a journalism professor who was in the newspaper industry for 36 years, it's a newspaper guild representative who has been in the industry for 26. Including Tracy Record was a good start, but the rest of today's panel was the same-old, same-old: People convinced that saving newspapers as newspapers is of paramount importance, with a token former newspaper publisher whose blog is aimed at capturing newspapers' traditional, 55-and-up audience. It isn't all just dead trees and microblogs out there; although Record's blog does an awesome job of covering the minutiae (and bigger stories) that go down in West Seattle, her reach doesn't extend beyond West Seattle.
Increasingly, news will increasingly be produced somewhere between those two extremes—by online writers who are actually journalists, not the hacks Rasmussen and Licata seem to fear they are, and who cover everything from City Hall to Olympia to local arts and restaurants. Obviously, someone from Slog would have been an obvious choice to ask, but there are plenty of others: David Goldstein of Horse's Ass, a writer for the failed politics blog PolitickerWA, someone from one of the many local transportation and environmental blogs, Dan Bertolet of Hugeasscity. If those folks had been asked to participate, I imagine they would have bolstered Record's point: What needs saving isn't newspaper—those that aren't already dead are dying—but journalism, and the journalists who do it.