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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Selling the SeattlePI.com

Posted by on Thu, May 21, 2009 at 11:27 AM

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No sooner had I mentioned on Slog that I was somehow left off the invite list for last night's SeattlePI.com launch party at the Seattle Art Museum than an e-mail appeared in my in-box, subject line:

Want to be my man-date to the SeattlePI.com party?

It was from one Jacob Metcalf, who happens to write the most popular reader blog—"by a factor of 10"—on SeattlePI.com. It's called Digital Joystick. It's about video games. It gets hundreds of thousands of hits a month. I'd never been on a man-date with a gamer before, but of course the answer was yes. Yes I want to be your man-date, Jacob Metcalf.

We met at the Hammering Man statue at 6:45 p.m. sharp and proceeded inside, where a young man dressed like the P-I globe was greeting the new web site's partners and friends. That's Jacob on the right:

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I filled out a name-tag identifying myself as "Jacob Metcalf's Man-Date" and proceeded inside the museum lobby, where waiters were offering trays of razor clam fritters with aoli sauce, Beecher's cheese melted on toasted baguette slices with small sour cherries on top, and mini-burgers. It was nice enough there in a museum lobby: Hearst executives milling about, executive producer Michelle Nicolosi making introductions, SeattlePI.com writers making small talk with the invitees. Aside from Jacob, whose day-job involves doing software installation for a military contractor, I met a woman from a local charity, an investment manager who aspires to be a blogger, and a couple of people from a local public relations firm. I wondered: How does a two-month-old web site pay for a swank venue, free wine, and fancy hors d'ouvres? Someone on the SeattlePI.com marketing staff told me that a lot of it was offered in trade (for advertising, I assumed). Then the DJ, who'd been playing something clubbish at a low volume, announced that we should all head downstairs to the auditorium for a presentation.

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It began with David Horsey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, announcing: "We want to welcome you to the revolution." He continued:

It's no secret that the media world is being turned upside-down, and as in any revolution there is some pain and discomfort in all the changes. But there are also incredible opportunities. Something new is being born, and I think we're giving birth to it right here.

He talked about how the new media world had allowed him to move beyond ink-and-paper and into a more exciting digital realm where he can create more dynamic cartoons and reach larger audiences. The lesson, he said, is that advertisers now have the same opportunity.

Our message tonight is simply: We are different. You should not think of SeattlePI.com as just a remnant of a venerable newspaper that lasted 146 years, although there's something pretty invaluable in carrying on the name of such a well-established brand. Neither should you think of SeattlePI.com as just another online publication trying to get by on a prayer and little else... We have only begun to grow what I think will be the most dynamic media enterprise in the city.

Next up was Steve Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers and senior vice president of the Hearst Coroporation, who gave Horsey a compliment that a few years ago, before the newspaper universe started to collapse and morph, probably wouldn't have been a compliment.

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You know, we're here to talk about transformations tonight but I think we just saw the most amazing transformation we're going to see all night. We just turned a cartoonist into an ad salesman.

The audience laughed and applauded loudly.

Swartz described SeattlePI.com a couple of times as a "local digital media services organization"—not a local online newspaper—that is being run by a new entity, Hearst Seattle Media. He said the company wants SeattlePI.com to be "Seattle's homepage" and plans to make that happen by offering breaking news that "crackles with newness and excitement," familiar voices like Art Thiel and Joel Connelly, popular blogs, hyper-local information, and links to outside blogs and news sources.

Because in these modern times, it's not all about, you know, 'It's gotta be created here, we gotta do the same story that they did an hour earlier but we'll do, and we do it, it's better.' It's about helping the readers of Seattle find what they need, and when you do that you drive the page views and the unique visitors that help our advertising clients and our advertising agency partners. We at Hearst believe that the future of local media and of local media sales is not simply about our web site, it's about truly a local media digital services organization.

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Next up was Nicolosi, who began to make clear what exactly this "local digital media services organization" business is going to be about. But first she shed a little more light on what's driving traffic to SeattlePI.com. "We're very psyched and feeling very strong about the start that we've had," she said. "Our numbers do tell us that the readers like what we're doing." The site had 4.3 million unique users in April, an increase of 1.6 percent over the previous April. What are those users coming for? MySeattlePets, from which the above slide comes, is apparently one of the big draws—and pulls in "a very highly female audience."

The photo galleries of celebrities and fashion shows are also big with online readers. "They're there for the news, of course," Nicolosi said of the site's readers. "But everybody likes a little time-waster in the afternoon, maybe around lunch... I know some people have commented, 'How can you have 100 photos of that fashion show?' Well, we tracked the usership in these galleries and found that most of the people who start on page one are still there on page 100. So why not?'" Coming soon: more and better opportunities to buy ads on those galleries.

There were more slides as the presentations went on. Here is a slide that packs in a lot of buzz-words. Here is a slide from a Hearst Seattle Media advertising salesman about the company's proposed Total Solution. And here is a slide from a Google representative that looks a bit like an upside-down illustration of the female reproductive system.

Here is the thing that struck me, and that was repeated many times—by someone from Hearst, by someone from Google, and by a very excited, audience-wandering, traveling-salesperson-shtick-loving woman from Yahoo! By 2012 the amount spent on local online advertising is projected to be $22 billion. Hearst wants the largest share of that spend it can get in the Seattle market, hence SeattlePI.com. Yahoo! and Google want the same—but they want to get it without having to spend a lot of money on staffing every city in the country with ad sales reps—hence their "partnerships" with SeattlePI.com that essentially turn this new "local media digital services organization" into a Seattle subcontractor for their online ad sales businesses. Everybody positions themselves for the coming wave of cash. Everybody gets a cut.

That's the plan.

When all of the presentations were over, the mic went back to Horsey, who spoke about climbing into the P-I globe the night the print edition was shut down.

I looked out over the darkness that was Puget Sound and it suddenly struck me that in the morning the sun is going to come up, Puget Sound is going to be there, the Olympics Mountains, and it will be a new day. And all of a suddent I felt good about what was happening next. And what we showed you tonight is what's happening next. So we invite you to join us in that new day, because it's going to be pretty exciting and we're all going to go some great places together. So thank you, there's some dessert out there waiting for you, and welcome to the new day of SeattlePI.com.

The audience, once again, applauded loudly.

 

Comments (27) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
That was one fabulous report. Thank you, sir.

P.S. The manchild in the globe costume could use a little more eyebrow.
Posted by gloomy gus on May 21, 2009 at 11:40 AM · Report this
2
Second. This is fabulous. It's like I was there. That slide does look like a uterus.

So what do you think? Will it work? Is the Times watching? Are they all drinking the KoolAid?
Posted by slogger on May 21, 2009 at 11:48 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 3
Was it necessary to make this post 8 or 9 page-clicks long?
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 21, 2009 at 11:49 AM · Report this
4
Dave Horsey has so sold out. He's a non-union scab at the union-busting seattle-pi. I use to click on the pi from time to time NEVER AGAIN.
Posted by ruthw on May 21, 2009 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Vince 5
I miss Susan Paynter!
Posted by Vince on May 21, 2009 at 11:51 AM · Report this
w7ngman 6
MySeattlePets really needs a new font. Ew.
Posted by w7ngman http://userscripts.org/users/89370 on May 21, 2009 at 11:52 AM · Report this
StillNon 7
Somehow left off of the invite list? You're a journalist joke and don't deserve to be at the big kids table.

Get over yourself.
Posted by StillNon on May 21, 2009 at 11:54 AM · Report this
PedestrianMe 8
How many onlinePI salaries could have been paid with the money that went into this event?
Posted by PedestrianMe http://carfreeusa.blogspot.com on May 21, 2009 at 11:56 AM · Report this
DOUG. 9
Nice report, Eli.
Posted by DOUG. http://www.dougsvotersguide.com on May 21, 2009 at 12:14 PM · Report this
zeebleoop 10
it would have been better i think had they had this event for, i don't know, the advertisers and not partners and wanna-be bloggers. it strikes me that those people are already sold otherwise they wouldn't be partners.

@PedestrianMe

i agree completely. nothing more than a lot of self-congratulatory pats on the back. if this kind of event is any example of how they spend their budgets it's no wonder their print business wasn't profitable.
Posted by zeebleoop on May 21, 2009 at 12:18 PM · Report this
COMTE 11
Soooo, if I'm reading what's between the lines here correctly, all SeattlePI.com really needs to do to get massive page-hit counts, and thus generate swimming pools full of advertising revenue for Hearst Corp. is to throw up thousands of images of anorexic runway models and adorable pets and - problem solved!
Posted by COMTE http://www.chriscomte.com on May 21, 2009 at 12:37 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 12


User-generated? So 89% of it will be crap.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on May 21, 2009 at 12:38 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 13
Amazing report.

Too bad someone forgot how to use spill pages to put all but the first image and text below the fold, though ...

(rubs his wrist from hitting page down so many times)
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on May 21, 2009 at 12:52 PM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 14
Ah, corporate America. Pretty fucking nauseating, isn't it?
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty http://www.nra.org on May 21, 2009 at 12:55 PM · Report this
Greg 15
It's the bright shiny future of infotainment!
Posted by Greg on May 21, 2009 at 1:02 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 16
There is nothing new or innovative about the P-I's approach to the web. Forgive me if I'm lacking the appropriate tech or journalism lingo.

Why reinvent the wheel? Why duplicate work? I'm surprised that someone in local media isn't establishing revenue-sharing partnerships with the hyper-local blogs and creating a "local wire service" - aggregating and synthesizing news from those sites, reselling it, trading links, and then spending their cash on long-term coverage/investigations, arts coverage, sports, etc.

Maybe someone already tried it. Maybe it sucked. Or maybe everyone is too afraid of losing money or credit to try it and so they waste their resources on spinning their wheels.
Posted by Soupytwist http://twitter.com/katherinesmith on May 21, 2009 at 1:04 PM · Report this
17
The answer is simple. Gator Up!
Posted by lounews on May 21, 2009 at 2:51 PM · Report this
18
Good report, Eli. As the "cartoonist-turned-ad-salesman," let me just add a couple of thoughts. In the days of big newspaper profits, reporters could happily forget the fact that they were part of a business that depended on selling ads to pay for all the journalism. That was especially true at the P-I where all the commerce was conducted by the Times Company, far away from our newsroom

We see where that got us. Most of my P-I friends and colleagues are now unemployed and the newspaper to which I devoted my career is gone. Those few of us who remain at the print P-I's successor, seattlepi.com, are cheering for the new business model and hoping it works. Why? Because the old business model is dead and newspapers are expiring all over the country. Meanwhile, no one has figured out how to make money doing journalism online. Maybe Hearst has figured out something that will pay off. If so, good for them. That money will be what pays for the journalism of the future.

And it's not all cats and fashion shows. Remember, the presentation the other night was aimed at ad exec's who care about page views, not quality journalism. If all those people looking at pictures from beauty pageants motivate businesses to buy the ads that pay for our journalism, that's fine with me. There is nothing new about this. Newspapers have always run comics and gossip columns and crossword puzzles and celebrity photos to entertain readers. Investigative journalism has never made money; it's the ads that pay for the investigative journalism.

Yes, I'm sorry the old model died. I love newspapers. But if we can figure out a new way to pay for journalism online here at seattlepi.com, that's an exciting prospect. Maybe it can be a model for other cities. And maybe the journalists of the future will have a place to do good work and actually get paid for it.
More...
Posted by David Horsey http://www.davidhorsey.com on May 21, 2009 at 3:43 PM · Report this
19
I think David Horsey should stick to drawing cartoons and skip the writing part. Writing an opinion piece that actually means something requires a certain amount of intelligence, logic and ability to go beyond the trite. The latter, especially, has always been beyond David's capabilities.

Posted by Emmett Watson on May 22, 2009 at 6:08 AM · Report this
20
David Horsey rocks
Posted by no account on May 22, 2009 at 2:59 PM · Report this
21
ew. it's just that... ewww.
Posted by asdf on May 23, 2009 at 8:15 AM · Report this
hannie 22
As Jacob Metcalf's actual girlfriend, I'd like to just say that yes, the "man-date" moment was actually approve and endorsed by the ministry of hannie. I say this only to not raise speculation by others who like to assassinate character in our county. Good job on the article Eli, and I'm not saying that to "suck up" but actually to state that I thought it was well written. However, as a blogger myself, I do have to request a "more" tag in there because yea, let your readers decide if they want to read your full text or not. My other half may tend to disagree with me on that theory, but it's one I use often.

Last but not least, to "still non". If you can't say anything nice at all, don't bother submitting a comment. I'm 39 and have been reading the Stranger since I was little. Surely their staff deserves a seat to hear about Seattlepi.com rising from the ashes and to report on it.
Posted by hannie http://blog.hannie.org on May 24, 2009 at 9:07 AM · Report this
23
Am I the only one that just sees crappy dot com hype and no substance from this entire PI thing?
That and massive 'late to the party', Ric Romero style glib hype.

Web Sites Popular Due To Photos of Pets! And You Can Send Yours In Too! Full Report At 11
Posted by certaindoom on May 24, 2009 at 10:24 AM · Report this
24
Certaindoom: No, me too. This is rather eerily frightening if it's what the future is going to look like.
Posted by Lesath on May 24, 2009 at 1:13 PM · Report this
Seattle Karma 25
Mr. Horsey, with all due respect, you are kidding yourself. And I say this as a fan of yours.

Are you not disappointed by the utter lack of integrity in all of this? Do you ever fear for your own integrity because of this? Quality journalism exists for its own sake, and you can call me naive if you want to, but if the focus is on money and selling ad space to advertisers...whatever happened to the idea of keeping marketing and sales separate from the journalists? Now you're out there schilling for sales. It's not a pretty sight.

Again, I say all of that as a fan of yours, and with the utmost respect. I would just hate to see you (and quality journalists like yourself) lose their souls in the migration to a new media, which I agree is coming and hasn't been handled well by traditional print media. But I'm sorry, in just the last two months of SeattlePI going online only, quality has slipped dramatically, both in terms of editing and content. Infotainment seems to be the future at seattlepi.com.

Remember who you really are, and please don't become an infotainer, for your own sake and for ours.
Posted by Seattle Karma http://www.seattlekarma.com on May 24, 2009 at 1:39 PM · Report this
26
I've worked in the news industry as a web dev since 1998 and have watched as management, execs, newsrooms and ad depts. have gone from outright hostility toward the idea of "giving it away free" online to reluctantly accepting their fate. The PI has the right attitude... for 2002. Sadly, they're way behind things now and frankly, it's too little, too late. Nifty charts and misty-eyed analogies about a new day dawning doesn't change the fact that a majority of the news industry buried its head in the sand at the wrong time. Personally, I think few if any of the existing brands will still exist 10 years form now. Their power will be usurped, deserved so, by smaller, faster, smarter sites and new ideas.
Posted by Andre Richards on May 24, 2009 at 8:40 PM · Report this
27
"Quality journalism exists for its own sake, and you can call me naive if you want to, but if the focus is on money and selling ad space to advertisers...whatever happened to the idea of keeping marketing and sales separate from the journalists? Now you're out there schilling for sales. It's not a pretty sight."

---- That sort of arrogance is why newspaper journalism is dying. Journalism "for its own sake" is not sustainable. Call money evil all you want. But let's see you give up your paycheck and do something for its own sake before you throw stones. I'm glad that Horsey is proud of his work and wanting to sell it. This is capitalism. This is America. Lots of different voices with different reasons for existing is how our forefathers imagined it.

Hat's off to SeattlePI.com and all the other online sites trying to make it work.

And @26 -- you're clueless. People will not pay for news. They just won't. If the NYTimes starts charging for their "quality journalism," it will just make it easier for free sites to grow and compete.

The under-30 crowd has never known what it's like to pay for news. And they're not going to magically change their habits as they get older.

Slog: Now that I'd pay for.
Posted by newsjunkie on May 26, 2009 at 12:35 AM · Report this

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