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« Economic Sanity On The Hill, To A Point | Main | George Washington »

Saving Your Local Newspaper - III

A couple of more quick thoughts on the evident, imminent demise of the Rocky, and Mike Littwin's comments on an earlier post.

First, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may be looking at an online-only existence. So at least someone's taking the idea seriously.

Second, as to that claim about risk-taking. The PI employees may be examining a buyout. Still:

The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild is "trying to figure out if enough P-I employees are interested in a buyout that it would be worthwhile for us to bring out a consultant and to seek state money for a feasibility study," Guild Administrative Officer Liz Brown said. (emphasis mine.

State money? How about starting an "I Want My PI" site and asking for online contributions to that cause? (For that matter, how about using "I Want My Rocky" to ask for money to study alternatives?) How about seeking money from a local venture capitalist? I understand there are a few of those around the Seattle/Redmond area. How about the union ponying up the cash for its own study? It's commendable that they're considering buying out the paper, especially if they remain open to the online-only concept. But asking the taxpayers to fund a feasibility study?

Finally, Mike claims that a paid online version of the Rocky couldn't compete with a free version of the Post. Talk about assuming facts not in evidence. I said I thought it could, if it were better, and relentless pointed out its superiority to its customers. But there's another, more basic reason why this might work.

To claim that paid-for superior coverage can't compete with free schlock is saying that people won't pay for local and state news. At all. It's saying that what you do has no economic value And you don't believe that, or else you wouldn't continue writing, and couldn't continue drawing a paycheck for contributing nothing to anyone's well-being. And I don't believe that, or I wouldn't be willing to pay for an online Rocky, even one that included your columns. (We kid because we care.)

Which means that if the Rocky were able to charge - even a little - for its online product, the Post, which is laying off staff of its own, would immediately recognize another revenue stream and start charging for its own product.

Price competition isn't the issue here. The Rocky tried essentially giving away its product several years ago, and found it didn't help at all. It made, or was saddled with, some other handicaps as well. When I moved here 12 years ago, I made the mistake of assuming the Post was to be taken more seriously because 1) I knew the name, and 2) it was a broadsheet, and tabloid were, well, tabloid-ey. (They also kept Holger Jensen around in the same way the Mariners are bringing back Ken Griffey, Jr., but that's another story.)

It made these mistakes in a market that had been contracting for decades. This isn't about fighting that fact. It's about changing habits of mind that are saddling an important product with horrible, unsustainable costs.

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