We have known for a long time that the newspaper industry is in decline.  Newspapers, large and small, have been cutting their staffs and the size of their print publications for several years now.  Despite the fact that the presence of competing media is good for the quality of journalism, it is looking like Seattle is next in line to become a one-newspaper town.

Just what is a newspaper?  Traditionally, we have defined it as that two pounds of newsprint with ink on it that is delivered to your door every morning.  But in this age of electronic media and the Internet, many of the documents of our everyday life have turned into electronic files.  We read e-books.  We receive letters and pay our bills online.  Most people file their tax returns electronically rather than on paper.  As an accountant, the updates for my tax law books now come online and on CD disks instead of in bound books that look impressive on the shelf.  Besides, the e-version of my research materials are much easier to search through and use.  As a book reader, Amazon and others will sell you a book by download as well as in a bound book.  So is it really a surprise that we might one day read out newspapers online?

My hopes were raised slightly by a speculative blog entry at Crosscut.com that suggests that perhaps Hearst might be not closing the Seattle P-I, but simply changing it’s form.  Most every newspaper has a website now.  The usefulness of these websites varies widely among newspapers.  Certainly, the future of the newspaper is in some electronic form.  The only problems are to find a way to make the online versions profitable, and to make them as useful as the current print version.  Perhaps Hearst and the P-I can pull this off.

I believe that someday, all newspapers will be online.  However, it will be a long time before newspaper websites, including the P-I’s relatively excellent example will ever be profitable.  There is still work that needs to be done in making the form of these websites just right.  I would really like to be pleasantly surprised and find that Hearst has the right formula ready to go to turn the Seattle P-I into the newspaper of the future.  From the standpoint of quality journalism, the P-I is the finest of the Seattle newspapers.  It deserves to live on.

I hope that this speculation of the P-I going on in electronic form is more than just a dream.  And if it is true, I wish them all the luck they will need to make the brave new venture a success.  I just hope they can make this work.  If anyone can do it, the crew at the Seattle P-I would make a fine choice.