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And So It Goes…

So tomorrow is the big day. No, I don’t mean St. Patrick’s day. No, not the big iPhone 3.0 announcement, either. The Hearst Corporation announced today that tomorrow would bring the last print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, leaving Seattle with a single major daily newspaper, the Seattle Times. This announcement wasn’t really news, of course. Hearst announced back in January that it was putting the paper up for sale and that it would be shuttered if no buyer could be found. To absolutely no one’s surprise, no buyer materialized. Of course, the Times isn’t exactly doing so well, either. Maybe the boost they’ll get from the PI’s former subscribers and advertisers will tip the balance, but I doubt it.

The PI will continue online, at it’s new home: seattlepi.com. Until yesterday, the PI shared it’s web home with the Seattle Times at nwsource.com. Since 1983, the Times and PI have shared a lot of their infrastructure under a Joint Operating Agreement, which I always thought was a little bizarre. The PI’s printing, advertising, circulation, and marketing were handled by the Times. It seems to me that made the paper ideally suited to go online-only. Time will tell whether the online version will last.

Across the country, newspapers are dropping like flies. Naturally, the sad state of the newspaper business has fostered a lot of hand-wringing (and a lot of ink, both literal and digital). The best analysis I’ve read comes from one of the Internet’s great thinkers: Clay Shirky. His essay Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable perfectly captures the tumultuous world faced by by the newspaper business and gives some idea of what may be coming (hint: more tumult). Like Shirky, I don’t particularly mourn the demise of the current model, where, as he puts it, “Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau.”

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

What will the other ways be? Where will they come from? Who will pay for them? Shirky doesn’t know and neither does anyone else. “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.” And so it goes…