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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Theory V. Reality Pt. 2

Posted by on December 31 at 14:55 PM

Earlier this week, I pointed out that Geov Parrish’s list of “underreported stories” for 2005 was way off base.

In the comments thread to that post someone asked me what I thought about Parrish’s statement that if the Weekly’s new corporate owner (New Times) fires Parrish, it will spell the end of Seattle’s only “consistently progressive local political voice” at the four main papers in town.

Here’s the exchange:

At Eat The State, Geov claimed he’s “the only consistently progressive columnist in Seattle.”
You aren’t consistently progressive, Josh? Do you have views on the estate tax you’d like to share with everybody? :)
Posted by Belltowner - December 28, 2005 03:51 PM

“Consistently Progressive” ? Yuck. I’m lucky if I’m consistent.
Posted by Josh Feit - December 28, 2005 04:12 PM

I should add that, to me, “consistently progressive” means predictably orthodox, which is the last thing I want to be as a columnist. But I also wanted to address the larger misconception that I think is going on with Parrish’s spin on the New Times takeover.

The real point I think Parrish is trying to make is that New Times is an evil, out-of-town, corporate chain that is going to come in and quash the Weekly’s local voice. This is misleading. The Weekly is already owned by a NY-based media chain. In fact, one of the Weekly’s main corporate parents—Goldman Sachs— is George W. Bush’s 6th all-time top financial contributor. So, if Parrish’s point is that the corporate super state banishes lefty columnists, he’s flat out wrong. If he loses his job, it’s not because New Times is an evil corporation. As a financial model, New Times is not much different from the Weekly’s current out-of-town, chain parent VVM. Spinning this takeover/merger as some dramatic changeover/sell out is a misconception.

Second, contrary to the scripted story about this corporate takeover (cookie cutter, out-of-towners etc), I think New Times will actually make the Weekly a better paper. Take it for what it’s worth coming from me, but the Weekly seems like a pretty irrelevant paper these days. Some change—any change—is likely to give them a much-needed jolt. I actually look forward to a little actual competition from the New Times clones.

Finally, I want to dispel the idea that indie-owned media (the Stranger, for example, is super-majority locally-owned) de facto equals “progressive” columnists. I would never subscribe to that kind of label. I’m pro WTO. I think the war in Iraq has some merit. And I support mayor Nickels’s development agenda. (Although, it’s gonna flop unless he deals with the choke that single-family zoning has on this town and unless he does something about our lack of mass transit.)

Anyway, I just wanted to counter the scripted knee-jerk sense that the upcoming change at the Weekly is robbing our city. I think, most people will find that the Weekly will be better after the takeover. Especially, if they stop being “consistently progressive.”

CommentsRSS icon

"super-majority locally-owned"? that's some creative math, given that the chicago reader owns 49% of the stranger.

"Consistently progressive": I thought that meant "the most liberal, or orthodox" of columnists. Now I understand why that's a bad thing. I actually like Geov when he wrote for the Stranger, but since the move to the Weekly, he's just dull and predictable.

I lived in both Phoenix and SF where New Times owns newspapers. They both sucked. I haven't read the Seattle Weekly a ton (been here only 6 weeks) but it seems better than either of those dry, white-toast papers.

Where you getting your figures, C.? The Stranger is 75% locally owned—and I should know, since I'm one of those local owners.

C. Jackson,
1) Super majority typically means 60%; e.g., the U.S. Senate requires a Supermajority or 60% to end a filibuster.
2) As Dan said, the Stranger is 75% locally owned.
3) The Chicago Reader doesn't own 49% of the Stranger.

Also, I have always thought that being a "liberal" always challenges orthodoxy.

Maybe so Belltowner.
But with Parrish's column, it just seems to mean predictable analysis from the orthodox anti-corporate left. I spent the late '80s and early 90s there, and it got stultifying.'

Anyway, Just got from playing some basketball where I figured out my new year's resolution: Keep cool under pressure. Happy New Year.

Mostly I've found Parrish, and SW in general, to be condescending not "consistently progressive." The monorail debate was a classic example. Rather than make really cogent arguments, column after column histerically pointed out distorted "facts" and dismissed anyone who disagreed as "drinking the koolaid." The general format of a SW editorial is: 1. Its obvious everyone should think as we do. 2. Smug, vapid and petty insults to those who disagree. 3. If you morons listened to us, the clock would be turned back to 1970, and the city would be perfect again.

In reality, progressive and liberal causes are not helped by a bunch of condescending columns devoid of much support for their stances. A good, conservative weekly paper would probably be more supportive of liberal causes in Seattle. It would at least get people thinking.

The Stranger might have a (well earned) reputation for being mean, but it at least always gives some reasoned heft to its positions.

For what little it's worth:

1) I maae no apologies for having a consistent worldview. Within that, however, in the last year I've written SW columns that (for example): opposed the anti-smoking initiative; supported Tim Eyman's initiative; advocated for more roads (twice); advocated for passenger flights at Boeing Field; criticized anti-war protests (twice); criticized the anti-John Roberts campaigns; defended Karl Rove's role in Plamegate; and sympathetically interviewed Patrick Guerriero. I doubt Josh would have predicted any of these. For that matter, the only time I've written about WTO in SW over the last five years was to critique the post-1999 U.S. fair trade movement as a "failure."

2) Beyond that, what's wrong with a consistent worldview? When I read Molly Ivins or Charles Krauthammer, Ellen Goodman or George Will, or for that matter Stefan Sharkansky, I know pretty much what to expect ideologically. They're good because they're entertaining, informative, and thoughtful -- not because they keep readers guessing.

My point was that among paid political commentators in Seattle media, there's almost no regular advocacy for the politics of a sizable portion of the city. Why is that?

3) No, Josh, my "real point" was not that New Times is an evil out-of-town corporation. My point was that Village Voice Media has allowed SW, for better or worse, to make its editorial decisions locally. That may well continue under the new ownership, but historically New Times has exercised more editorial influence over its papers (quite successfully, too). And, as I noted, they have in the past had a quite different political approach from VVM. NT's Michael Lacey will be Executive Editor of all 17 newspapers in the new chain. We'll see what that means, and readers can decide for themselves whether it's an improvement.

You are the one who originally described yourself as the the only "consistently progressive" voice, not me.

If you're now trying to dispel that notion with your examples, it's pretty laughable. Yes, in fact, I would have predicted your Eyman stance. His initiative was for more audits. That's a predictable position for liberals and journalists—Eyman initiative or not. Just about every liberal paper in the region was for it. (We were against it.) And yes, I would have predicted your stance on I-901. The 25' rule was weird (we broke the story on that months before you wrote about that). Plus there's plenty of liberals who take a libertarian angle on that.
So: Not too surprising.

The problem with your "consistent world view" is that your readers already share that world view, and so you're not challenging anyone's way of thinking. That's a boring equation.

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