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Friday, March 10, 2006

Speaking of Civic Discourse

Posted by on March 10 at 12:36 PM

Where can bloggers, cranks, passionate newspaper readers, techies, politicos, journalists, and editors all get together and debate the future of the Seattle media scene?

Based on all the comments (here and here) that have attached to my two recent Slog posts on the future of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the answer is: on a blog.

Which, in a way, helps prove a point I was trying to make in the article that led to all this discussion: Online discourse is the future of civic discourse.

As I’ve learned, it’s also the future of uncivil discourse. There’s someone in the comments called “20 Questions” who posted a late-night analysis of my motivations in writing the P-I piece. The analysis would be very juicy if it were true. But here’s the only thing that “20 Questions” gets right: Yes, I did work at The Seattle Times a while back. I was a summer intern, and then something they called a three-year resident. There was a big newspaper strike while I was at the Times, and my residency didn’t end the way most people (including me) thought it would.

But the result presented in the comment—”nervous breakdown,” etc.—is way more exciting than the reality. The reality is that I started freelancing and working on some non-journalism projects, and I now work full time at The Stranger. So readers of the comments, let it be known: I’m not broke. I’m not desperate for a job. I’m over all the stuff with the Times, which was years ago. If unconscious resentment lingers, I’m not sure how that would affect my thoughts about the P-I. And anyway, these days I’m far more interested in how technology is going to impact the future of the media.

Below is an email from a loyal P-I reader who’s interested in the same subject, and who makes a point that I think will probably keep this discussion going:

You’ve hit upon exactly what I’ve told the folks at the P-I again and again…go straight to the web and lose the presses. Your workforce can do most of their jobs via the web and video conferencing, so lose the big-ass building and all the overhead that goes with it, too. They’d be leaner and meaner and still better than the Times.

The P-I is head and shoulders above the Times in so many areas (most of all, timeliness…I can read an article in the P-I sometimes THREE days before the Times stumbles across it) that I would love to become an online subscriber. I read them 6 days a week that way already, so no big deal there. Their website could be beefed up if they switched to full virtual mode, and it ain’t such a skimpy thing right now.

I’d be thrilled, and it would be so appropriate for the P-I to lead the way into the next wave of news”papering”.

CommentsRSS icon

on strategy. if you want a job at the times, shouldn't you be doing everything possible to prop up the p-i so as to avoid the inevitable rush of free agent journalistic talent scrambling to land a job at the only daily in town? geez eli, you're clearly shooting yourself in the foot.

who farted?

Here's something interesting, 3D Sidewalk Art, and it's for a good cause even!

Dearest Annie,

Do you have anything interesting to say, or are you just here to recycle other people's unsubstantiated taunts?

If it's the former, please first remove the sand from your vagina, and then feel free to contribute.


Different media serve different purposes. By and large Blogs are mostly opinion forums. With few exceptions, very little original reportage is found in blogs. While I enjoy reading and participating in a number of blogs (including SLOG, of course), I don't really consider blogs "news". I see blogs as a way to filter and analyze the news, and a way to discuss the news with others, but very rarely as a source of original news.

The local TV news has devolved over the years into sensationalistic newstainment, mostly consisting of flashy visuals and soundbytes. Very little original reportage occurs there either. I've become so disgusted with TV news that I stopped watching it altogether about 3 years ago. This is significant in that when I was younger, that used to be my major news source, and I used to watch several hours of TV news every day.

So to me, the vast majority of in-depth journalism that occurs is still done by newspapers -- mostly by daily newspapers (sorry Stranger, you are great for what you are, but are not a substitute for the dailies for broad spectrum local reporting). But I mean newspapers in a generic sense. I'm not a fan of the Seattle Times, and while I like the P.I. better, it is far from perfect. I used to subscribe to the P.I., too, and I don't any more.

When I gave up TV news, that didn't make me any less of a news junkie. I just changed where I got my news from. I listen to NPR a lot when I'm working. I now read most of my news on the internet. I read stuff off the Times and P.I. websites, but don't subscribe to either paper. I read the Stranger on line, and only occasionally pick up an actual printed copy. Pretty much every major newspaper in the country is available online. Plus there's,,, etc, etc. I could read news online 24/7, and barely scratch the surface.

Given the easy availability of news on the internet, it seems likely that the current model of daily printed newspapers is doomed. I don't know how it will evolve, but if newspapers are to survive, they must learn to derive a significant percentage of their income from the internet, and not sales of their printed papers. The internet may not kill off newspapers entirely, but will certainly contribute to declines in subscriptions to the printed papers.

Eli, you're just now realizing that blogs can be uncivil??? The SLOG seems so civil most of the time that I assumed it must be moderated. If you want to see a truly uncivilized blog, check out (a Seattle blog). The main blog posts are occasionally worth reading, but the comments all devolve into rabid shouting and name calling by a few dedicated cranks, and are totally unreadable.

I agree with SDA, but just want to add two cents. One, just because you can operate a business on the internet doesn't mean you don't need a bricks and mortar operation behind it. There's a lot to be said for having a physical space where people interact with each other. Two, a newspaper is more than the sum of its parts. It's not just a collection of reporters but an institution that, if it has the capital and clout, can direct far greater resources towards the task of newsgathering than a sole freelancer can.

oh, and post-script. um, i was being sarcastic. eli is my friend and colleague, and as he used to work for the new york times, which is a fancy paper, i sincerely doubt he still harbors any resentment for not being hired at the seattle times, which is not a fancy paper. i was just pointing out (to readers) that if he were indeed pursuing a long-buried vendetta (which he is not), slamming the p-i would be a highly illogical tactic.

i don't have any sand in my pants. ew.

Where'd that "sand in the vagina" meme come from, anyways? I've seen it about six times in the past week around the net. "Knickers in a twist" ("panties in a bunch") isn't coarse enough for y'all any more, apparently.

I know a certain senator from south dakota that would like to help you out with your "sand in your vagina".

I hope you meant "governor", otherwise I don't want to know.

Can I point out, Eli, that you work for "old media"? The Stranger is primarily a newspaper, not a web site. How many unique-IP hits do you get, really?

Because it sounds to me like you're trying to compare 17 SLOG comments to the Seattle P-I.

You're correct on that, Eli. Online discourse isn't just the future of civic discourse... it's the present. People don't even need to arrange a meetup to discuss an issue; they can find a forum online for discussion, whether it's a message board, online chat or a blog, and do it right then and there.

Newspapers have become archaic and outdated. You could even say the same thing about TV news.

What you say about "online discourse" has been true for 25 years. Usenet's been around longer than that. Yet, newspapers are, amazingly, non-obsolete. A decline in readership hardly means NO readership. More people who matter read newspapers than read blogs.

Fnarf, while Usenet's been around for that long, only in the last five years has internet discourse, through blogs and message boards, really proliferated on a national scale. Before then, online forums were more of an underground thing, a minority. To cite newspapers' survival during that previous time frame is a misnomer, given the internet wasn't a credible threat to their readership until recently.

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