Print Media: Death Knell or Phoenix Moment?

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Writer's Note: Riley Sweeney here, dropping in to share my thoughts on the future of media. You can find the rest of my blog posts over at The Political Junkie

Two big stories flashed across my digital desk in the last couple of days and got me thinking about print media and its struggle to survive.

First came the news that the Seattle Times, now Seattle's only daily print newspaper, is going to give free advertising space away to the Rob McKenna campaign (and the Approve R-74 campaign). This is equivalent to an $80,000 donation to each campaign. Setting aside the fact that the Times donations seem to be aimed at opposing goals (Rob McKenna is staunchly anti-marriage equality, yet they are also giving to the equality campaign?) why, you ask, is a supposedly non-partisan newspaper giving away advertising during campaign season?

They claim it is to “provide a powerful demonstration” of the influence of the Seattle Times. (Note to self, if your business plan has you sounding like a comic book super-villain, maybe you need to rethink your plan.) The answer behind the answer is that advertising revenue continues to fall each year for the Seattle Times. They are pulling this large publicity stunt, and yes, it is a stunt, to convince businesses and campaigns of the importance of purchasing ads in their paper. The fact that it helps the first Republican to have a shot at the governor's mansion in decades is surely a footnote. Today, over 100 employees of the Seattle Times signed a letter of protest to the owner criticizing the decision.

The other thing that caught my eye was the story that Newsweek is going to cease its print version. After 80 years in the print business, they are going all digital on the first of the year. They claim it is a transition, not a goodbye, but the news also came with reports of layoffs nationwide for newspapers and periodicals.

My father, a proud newspaper enthusiast, used to scoff at the notion that print is dead. He would point to reports of print's demise with the advent of television, then cable news, then internet, saying that it survived those changes. I agree, but I feel there might be another challenging transition ahead.

One of the advantages of a newspaper, is you pay for the bundle. You don't just purchase your front page bylines, you also get the local news, the comics, the business page and the letters to the editor. You get everything all at once. Now, with the internet, consumers are able to pick and choose. The bundle no longer is our only option, we can consume our news ala-carte. With the business model of subscriptions on its deathbed, how do you fund full-time journalists?

What will the future of journalism look like? I can tell you from personal experience that the local news market needs a tentpole. While I truly enjoy reading the Cascadia Weekly, this lovely site, Get Whatcom Planning, and Latte Republic, we still need the Herald to function. If they went out of business, the rest of us would be hard-pressed to fill in the gaps.

I deeply appreciate everyone who tosses me a few dollars to keep this blog afloat, but it is not a professional business model for a media organization. We need print media - functional newspapers with full-time reporters who know their areas of expertise and have the contacts to provide context to their reporting.

I only hope there is a solution out there, because I'm fresh out of ideas and print media is rapidly running out of time.

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the [...]