Am I the only one who no longer gives a shit about the survival of the P-I? Pulling this blog post together I noticed that the website TwoNewspaperTown.org is defunct. (I didn’t open the P-I until last night when I read a copy at Fuel while my kid ate a cookie. So I apologize for the untimely nature of this post.)
Goo-goo types and news junkies scream and yell about wanting Seattle to remain a two-newspaper town. The Seattle Times has been trying to pull out of its Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for years (a story that the Stranger broke). If the Seattle Times does kill the JOA, Hearst, which owns the P-I, will most likely close the paper. Keeping the P-I in business would mean getting its own printing presses, business staff, circulation department, etc.—basically all the P-I is today is an editorial department. The Seattle Times handles every other aspect of putting out both papers.
Anyhoo, two newspaper towns—TNTs?—I’m all for ‘em. I always read both dailies when I go home to Chicago—the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune—and enjoy them in large part for their pronounced differences. (The Trib is a conservative paper that takes itself way too seriously; the Sun-Times is a tabloid that’s crowded with terrifically opinionated columnists.) But I find it hard to get worked up about the prospect of the P-I shutting down—except, of course, for the number of writers who would lose their jobs; and I would miss reading Susan Paynter (who likes the Stranger) and Joel Connelly (who hates the Stranger). Even so, odds are good both would wind up at the Seattle Times.
But Seattle’s two daily papers are too similar, despite the half-hearted, inexplicably timid efforts of the P-I’s editors to shake things up, for me to lose sleep over one going out of business.
But as I read the paper last night I was reminded of the other reason why I won’t be too sorry to see the P-I go: its op-ed pages. There were five op-ed columns in the paper: Helen Thomas (syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C.); Bob Herbert (syndicated columnist based in New York City); Rich Lowry (syndicated columnist and D.C.-based editor of the National Review); Marianne Means (syndicated columnist based in D.C.); and the only op-ed writer in the paper yesterday who wasn’t writing from the East Coast—Larry David, star of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. David lives in Los Angeles.
Not only are four of the five based on the East Coast, but three of the five columns published in the P-I’s op-ed pages yesterday were already days old. Larry David’s column was originally published in last Sunday’s New York Times; Herbert’s column was originally published in Monday’s New York Times; Thomas’s column appeared in many papers on Tuesday. Perhaps the P-I’s slogan should be, “It’s in the P-I… days after it was in the New York Times.â€ť
There are tons of writers in Seattle with tons to say about national and local politics. The P-I should tap some, and not just barf up whatever King Features Syndicate sends ‘em. (Lowry, Thomas, and Means are all distributed by King Features.) And while it might have made sense a decade ago to reprint prominent columnists from the NYT, today people who don’t already subscribe to the NYT read it online. Do we need to read days-old Dowd, Krugman, and Brooks in the P-I? (Yes, the NYT hides their op-ed columnists behind a firewall, but their columns are easy to find online regardless. And the firewall won’t last.) Some locals you might consider: bloggers Stefan Sharkansky, David Goldstein, Dan Gonsiorowski, and Gomezticator (you can find him in our forums). Stranger writers sometimes do a little freelance work: Charles Mudede, Eli Sanders, Erica C. Barnett. Want something safe? Geov Parrish is “consistently progressive.” And I hear Casey Corr is looking for work.
So I tell you what, P-I: I’ll get more upset about the prospect of losing you if you stop filling your op-ed pages—the most important real estate in any newspaper, at least as far as us news junkies are concerned—with leftovers. No more slop-ed pages. Some syndicated stuff is fine—I am, after all, a syndicated columnist myself—but swear to me that you will never again fill an entire day’s op-ed pages exclusively with syndicated material. With a minimum of effort you can find a half-dozen or more interesting local writers with a column or two in ‘em each week.
P.S. Yes, Virginia, you will have to pay local writers to write for your op-ed pages. When I write an op-ed for the New York Times, I get a check in the mail the next week. Once when I wrote an op-ed for the P-I or the Seattle Times—don’t remember which—I asked about payment and was told that it was an “honorâ€ť to write for their op-ed pages. No doubt it is—it’s a bigger honor, though, to write for the NYT op-ed pages, and they pay. If you’re not going to pay writers to write, your local op-eds are going to consist of self-serving, staff-generated garbage signed by local pols. (Op-ed columns written for Ron Sims by Sandeep Kaushik, former Stranger staffer, are excluded from that characterization, of course.)