“Come writers and critics. Who prophesize with your pen. And keep your eyes wide. The chance won’t come again …” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has dropped its print edition and become an Internet-only entity. The “P-I” is the largest American paper to do so.
OK, OK. This year it’s the “The Pee Eyes, They Are A Changin’.” It won’t be until next year that The Times gets to changin’. Sorry, Mr. Dylan.
There is good news and bad news in this story.
The bad news is quite simple.
P-I owner Hearst Newspapers has dumped about 145 employees (they all did get some kind of severance but they are out of work). The new P-I site won’t need them. See, they are out of the news business and into the opinion business.
Oh, they won’t fess up to that but let’s take a look at how the opinion pages work in a newspaper. Big national papers like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal invite major government officials, A-list actors, and Nobel Laureates to write op-ed columns for their pages. Medium sized regional papers like the Detroit Free Press or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have to go to the second team for opinion writers. They get mayors and dog catchers and writers like me to opine.
The new P I dot com has recruited some current and former government officials, including a former mayor, a former police chief, and the (not-yet) former Seattle school superintendent, to write columns (we call them blogs in the trade). It will create pages for some of the print edition’s more popular columnists and bloggers. And it will also update its pages for the legion of (unpaid) local bloggers who already work for them for free.
Oops. Sorry. Former mayors and dog catchers and writers like me.
Nowhere in that list are any actual reporters. Nowhere in that list are any editors. Nowhere in that list are any fact checkers.
The bad news is this: American readers have a belief that “if it’s in the paper, it must be true.” Newspapers have polished that belief with staffs of reporters, editors, and fact checkers.
The “demise of the great American newspaper” isn’t looming as we lose advertising and move onto the Internet. That’s just a problem for the wood pulp industry. The demise of the great American newspaper came when newspaper management decided opinion was interchangeable with fact.
I said at the beginning that there would be good news and bad news in this story. Let me know when you find the good news.