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Thursday, March 9, 2006

A P-I Editor Responds

Posted by on March 9 at 17:36 PM

Lots of very interesting comments have attached themselves to my post from earlier today about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s future. They’re definitely worth a read. And below is an email I received from P-I assigning editor Scott Sunde, who’s given me permission to post his defense of the P-I on the Slog.

(For those just tuning in, this all relates to a piece I wrote for this week’s Stranger asking whether the death of the printed P-I would really be such a bad thing in the Internet age. You can read the piece here.)

And here’s Sunde’s email:

Man, am I glad that the price of The Stranger is the same as the cost of reading your opinions.

Who, my friend, would write about misconduct in the Sheriff’s Office? Who would have revealed domestic spying on local peace groups? Who would have told the world the real costs of the monorail? Who would have revealed that the water school kids drink is tained with heavy metals? Would we know about asbestos dangers? Warming of Lake Washington? Declining health of Puget Sound? The injustice of the Wenatchee convictions? Your logic — and it’s a leap to call it that — is that no one gets hurt if a news-gathering operation with substantial resources dies because other outlets are flourishing. One-man bloggers who are often substituting opinion for fact?

Narrowly focused publications such are yours that avoid myriad subjects — health care, Seattle schools and so on and so on? And here’s a thought, what about the people who don’t or rarely use computers? It’s okay, I guess, that they are not informed?

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Eli. Scott's an editor at the P-I, not, as you wrongly contend, a reporter. He has been for years. Try to keep up, will you?

Thanks, Regina. Fixed it. See how easy that is in the Internet age?

That was a pretty speech, Mr.Sunde, however it does little to describe why the Pig's Eye's daily circulation has fallen to 130,000+ in a metropolitan market with well over 1+ million people. Certainly, the news stories you cite should contribute a greater following and readership, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Circulation has been decreasing, and product quality has been suffering.

We could try to place blame on the JOA situation, but really Mr. Sunde, don't you agree that if Hearst saw the PI as an important asset it would risk spending more money to improve the product and increase circulation?

Lastly, Hearst has deep pockets. They could bury the Seattle Times in a heart beat. The question we should be asking and you should be reporting is "Why isn't Hearst doing it?"

Here's another thought...perhaps Hearst is attempting to purchase the Seattle Times.


Knight-Ridder doesn't have deep pockets?

Patty Hearst had corduroy pockets.

I'm a liberal and I used to read only the PI because of the strike at the Times. Now I wouln't use the PI to wipe my ass. Sunde brags as if the PI is the only publication that keeps us informed of important local issues. When will they realize that we don't need every damned story to be jacked up to a code red scandal just so they act like they are getting the scoop. It is like reading the Inquirer.

Horsey v. Devericks. Nuff said.

Nice theorizing, Jensen, but you're shortsighted in your analysis.

Listen, with the current situation being what it is between the Times and PI, it has nothing to do with "product," and which paper is better, translating to circulation.

Think about it. Have you ever had one of those telemarketing calls trying to sell you the paper? Or, have you ever been at a pro sports game where they're doing give-aways of papers to get you to subscribe. Or, have you ever been to any supermarket or grocery store in the Seattle area and bought a newspaper?

My question is, which paper are they trying to sell you? WHich paper do they favor in pushing on you in those phone calls? WHich paper do they give to you for free? Which paper is ALWAYS on top in the store news rack?

IT's the Seattle Times, and that's not unintentional. The Times runs the sales, circulation and advertising for both papers under the current structure of the JOA. It gets to call the shots. It gets to decide which paper gets the promotional deals, which paper gets promoted more often, which paper is marketed better, which paper is on top in the news stand. It's no coincidence. The Times gets to market the hell out of its product, and try to bury the PI into extinction.

Likewise, there's been a lot of talk about how the PI has tried to change its product as a way to atrtract more subscribers. Ever notice when it changes its look, the Times changes its look, as well? Kind of like trying to look as similar as it can to the PI? Again, it's no coincidence. It's because The TImes wants to look like the PI. Less of a noticeable difference between the two papers always will favor the Times, because of its stronger position in the market. Lets say the PI were to fold tomorrow, the Times would want to take as many of its readers as possible. The way to do that is to offer as close a product as possible so that readers don't notice a big difference.

Lastly, seriously ask yourself, what's the difference between the day to day "product" of the PI and Times. Its op-ed pages show substantial differences (ie PI more liberal, Times more conservative). Yet despite the Times' larger staff, there's not much difference in local news content. The Times is not an impressive paper, given its market position, larger staff and the fact that it owns the Sunday paper that garners most subscribtions. It is a very weak paper when you compare it to other urban papers nationally.

My point is, the subscription or reader rate differences between the Times and PI isn't due to the "product" of the two papers. It's due to the way the JOA is structured. The Times has all the advantages, and yet it still has difficulty "ownging" Seattle news. That's poor manaagement and editorship.

Also, at the end of the day, the Times and PI throw all their money into one pot, then any profits left over are split 60 to 40 in favor of the Times.

Lets say you were the minority partner in such a business relationship, and your goal was to somehow eventually take over the market. How would you do it under the way the contract is structured? Would you do it by trying to improve your product, pumping money into it, to pay for more staffing? If you did, your increased "profits" woudl only help your competitor -- in this case the TImes. Then, they'd get a 60 percent cut of your investments. It doesn't make sense for Hearst to beef up its staffing to help the Times coffers under this business plan -- particularly since the staff they have now seems equal to, if not better tahn, the larger Times staff in terms of producing original local news content.

Lets face it, despite its position in the market place, the Times is a poorly run, weak newspaper that leans to the right in a town that leans left. Having the underdog PI offering different viewpoints with as good if not better urban coverage only benefits this community.

A long time fan - reading the P I waiting for the school bus.

Love it, as well as the current nd departed members of my family. Our Pee- Eye.

Sorry buy logic isn't always the motive for stuff in the Stranger. Instigation passes for journalism --- and it is part of the dumbing down of America in that its readers don't really understand a need for information in all the fields they don't cover.

Lots of minor / obscure clelebrity stuff - 70 per cent ads - little copy between ads.

Truth is - we could do better without either the Stranger or the Weekly - rather than loose the PI.

It is a grouchy bunch of true believers as well.

if the stranger died, would Seattle really give a shit?

Outside of maybe a few parts of capital hill and the u-district, i mean.

Really, would we?

Sure, we'd miss out on some fuck ads. Crap -- no more "last days" -- a knock off of "news of the strange" you can get anywhere these days.

Oh yeah, we'd lose Savage Love -- oh wait, you can get that in a lot of other papers, too, now.

What about "I anonymous?" Oh yeah, we've got bathroom stalls.

How bout their "news"? I guess not. Art criticism? Not really.
Movie listsings? Nope.

All that shit isn't necessary, to tell you the truth. We can get any of it elsewhere.

I mean really, how long has the Stranger been around? Ten, mabye 15 years? What, that's like how long Fraser was on the air? Shit, grunge has been dead longer.

And what't the stranger's "circulation" again? 80. maybe 90,000? And that's for a FREE paper? How do you really "guage" circulation then? Cuz that's how many they print? Hmmm.

And how long has the PI been around for? 120 years? Really? Huh.

Would Seattle miss the Stranger? Really?



Weren't you once a temporary Times employee?

Didn't you really want them to hire you on? Weren't you hoping they'd like you more than they actually did when they let you go?

Didn't you have an emotional crisis when you lost your job there? WEren't you experiencing what some call a "nervous breakdown"? Didn't you leave Seattle altoghter? Weren't you seeking to "find yourself?"

Didn't you finally realize you were gay? Aren't you finally deciding to accept yourself? Are you really starting to grow up now? Have you realized your shitty pay at a laughingstalk paper really isn't getting you anwyhere?

Aren't you still friends with a lot fo Times workers? Don't you regularly inquire about openings? Aren't you still hoping to eventually land that job that can pay your rent?

DOn't you want a job at the Seattle Times again? Don't you really just want to work at the Times?

Don't you really just want a job?

Don't you?

U SMITH: you posted the last three comments. What is striking is this: you are clearly intelligent. The proof is in the many, many posts you have made at Slog. You should keep making them.

But are you drunk? Or on acid? I'm not being antagonistic, I'm actually hoping you find me useful. Your posts are rash, full of grammar errors, and too long. I actually only know you're smart because after ignoring your posts for many weeks due to their adolescent grammar and spelling errors, you snagged me with something smart recently, and it made me revisit many of your recent posts.

Totally surprised! You are not an idiot at all, but you need an editor! In lieu of that, talk straight, keep it short, and use spellcheck.

Lester - thanks for the comments. I do not see blogging as a test in Sunday School or grammar school.

Quick thoughts, one day flights.

I only posted one item above- Perhaps my amateur style enboldens others who then feel less vulnerable to attack from sophisticates.

I did used to read he P I while waiting for the bus. And loved the polliwogs in the drain ponds along the road. I grew up in the NW woods.

I like it as a publication. What is to say.

If it folds it wil be sorely missed.

I use an old Mac online - I have never given any thought to spell check for blog posting. And I do not type well.
From friends, family and associates, idiot would be the last word used to describe me.

From blog tough guy style posters, who cares?

I do not remember seeing many posts from you - and again, thanks.

Sunde's right. As is If the Stranger Died. And though the tone of 20 Questions is nasty, and strikes me as having homophobic overtones, the point that the Stranger didn't even bother disclosing Eli's former employment at the Times or state one way or another whether he has ongoing ties to employees there is pretty indefensible and would suggest the need for a pretty humbling mea culpa (not to be saved for the regrets issue).

Anyway, blogging is not reporting. And some media expert about circulation numbers will not provide you with a critical analysis of PI content over the years-- not only whether it will be missed, but also should it be saved. It was a trivializing piece, not an evenhanded assesment that simply came to an unpopular or partisan conclusion. Perhaps, ironically, it was a demonstration of why not all media count as journalism.

U Smith, If The Stranger Died, 20 Questions: I am with you, my brothers. This forum is obviously beneath civic consideration. But since a mysterious and crushing purgatory -- continuously, and to my dazed wonderment -- must have somehow placed me here at the present moment, allow me to register this one, roundly-considered point: SEATTLE, I, TOO, AM ONE TOP-SHELF RAPSCALLION!

Albeit unwillingly and additionally, I must concede that this bogus forum supercedes my preveious manner of fist-shaking: scandalizing this city by scribing my condemnations, weekly, on the cover of a single hard copy of the Stranger and then non-chalantly returning it to a Stranger newspaper box.

I was at a KUOW Conversation Circle, and one of the PI editors was there. . . I dearly wished I had more time to talk with him. They. Don't. Get. It.

Investigative journalism is CRUCIAL, and doing that kind of work requires full-time staff and resources. It requires a budget. It requires more than Google ad revenue.

That said, the P-I refuses to learn what all old-media is going to HAVE to learn if it wants to evolve/exist: data isn't that hard to come by. We need ANALYSIS. We need informed opinions, presented AS opinions, not objective facts. That's why blogs are popular. That's why people love the Stranger, and for that matter, The Daily Show. I have a ton of information flying at my face every day. If I'm going to pay you to shove more of it at me, it's going to have to be valuable to me in some special way. Hire people like the Stranger staff, allow them to keep their opinions, and send them out to uncover the shit that the rest of us are too busy to notice. Give me arguments --all sides-- that I can consider. That is SO much more valuable than giving me "the unbiased facts" (HA!).

If you stick to old-school journalism, you will perish, because we don't have TIME for media like that.

I guess the fact that there are 16 comments to this post answers Eli's question. Some people, at least, would come to the funeral.

Oh, and whoever posted that shit about Eli's personal life is a total asshole.

Blogs are "popular" (begging the question) because people want to read confirmations of their own opinions. Take maybe the two biggest right and left examples -- FreeRepublic and DailyKos. Why would anyone want to read a continual stream of off-the-cuff "me too" comments?

The most remarkable thing about blog commentary is that it's a forum for all the newbies who missed out on the heyday of Usenet. Usenet's still there, but all the press attention is on blogs. Fortunately not even Usenet partisans ever seriously pretended that it merited the tag "new media".

Remember when all the press attention was on "home pages"? How many half-constructed, long-since-abandoned home pages are there lingering around? How many of the 27 million blogs have three pointless entries about toothbrushing, with zero comments and zero hits?

Yes, there are interesting news blogs out there--not so much for the user comments but for the reporting. When looked at from that angle, blogs like Salon or Talking Points are actually pretty traditional in what they do.

I'm old enough to have seen at least five or six different waves of "new media" hype, and it's always the same. It's exciting if you're seeing it for the first time, or if you're still in journalism school, but it's not actually that groovy. Blog impact is still relatively small potatoes.

To the poster above, isn't that the double edge sword that blogs provide? The ability for wing nuts and wackos to weigh in with their opinions and personal vendettas?

The Stranger seems to have this odd chip on its shoulder in relation to other local papers. Savage dances on the grave of The Tablet, Sanders gleefully anticipates the demise of the P-I and every week the Stranger trash talks a Kruschevian 'we will bury you' to the Weekly. The Stranger can be a very entertaining and sometimes informative publication, but its adolescent insecurity gets a bit tiresome.

Hey Fuckwad "20 Questions"—making a non sequitur red hearing anonymous personal attack in a public forum is about as low as you can get. You’re a fucking coward.

i happen to be a huge fan of eli's. the times did him wrong and i can only hope that the stranger is treating him better. his recent piece, though cracks me up. bloggers are no match for newspapers and won't be any time soon. does anyone think the stranger would survive without its print ad revenue? that it's slog is considered valuable journalism? hell no. the other thing that's hysterical is that many of the stranger's staffers have applied for jobs at the p-i in (very) recent years...even months. so if the p-i dies, at least a few stranger staffers would care because it seems that at least some were hoping to suck on hearst's teat.

A person who uses the handle "Sigourney Beaver" is calling The Stranger "adolescent"?

I like to think of myself as more of a flange bolt than a wing nut.

And in closing: Nobody is less qualified to report on the media than the media. Sanders took an educated leap at the possibility the P-I could fold, and could have just as justifiably reported that the Times would fold (the little paper buying out the bigger paper, as Hearst did in SF). Journalists are both romantics and Romans at heart about thier business; they write about it more passionately than any other topic. That also will likely lead them wide of the truth. When someone tells me what end the two sides are truly pursing in their secret talks, then we might get some actual news from the news industry.

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