We have had some time to get used to the fact that Seattle is now a one newspaper town.  We have found that so far,  the world has not yet ended as we know it, nor has the level of journalism in the city’s other newspaper changed radically.  Of course, change has been happening all along, so there will be no immediate, obvious effects.

We have now had the opportunity to see the Post-Intelligencer’s insight into the paperless newspaper of the future.  I can say that, so far, I am much less than impressed by the results.  It is obvious that the amount of original content emanating from the P-I Newsroom is a shadow of its former self.  That is obvious and just as we expected.  Sadly, the website has become not much more than a fancy news aggregator site.  That doesn’t sound like much of a vision to me.  Of course, I will continue to hold my breath waiting for the great new medium to appear.

A few critical points I would like to make:

  • If the P-I example is the future of newspaper reporting, then the system will come crashing down upon itself in due time.  The paper has a fraction of it’s previous original content, reflecting the professional staffing levels that are a fraction of their former selves.  The remainder of the publication’s news content is an aggregation of stories from other news sources.  Certainly we expect to see national stories from the wire services.  That has become business as usual.  The P-I also regularly includes stories taken from the online sites of many of the area’s newspapers, from the Seattle Times to the Kitsap Sun and the Everett Herald.  There is also representation from the Seattle television stations.  My main concern here is that every newspaper went this route, there would soon be no other news sources to quote from.  Frankly, since I follow the news of Snohomish County, the Herald is on my reading list anyway.
  • The P-I has increased the number of personal blogs that they host on their site ,and they call that news reporting.  Even though I have a blog, I still somehow equate the stories written by professional journalists to be somehow a step above the writings of most bloggers. I am of the opinion that some blogs do a fine job, in some cases better than newspapers themselves, at breaking investigative stories.  The consistency of some of these blogs is still being developed.  However, I expect the P-I to be producing at a level higher than some of my blog news sources.
  • The opinion pages are also lacking in the new P-I.  While Joel Connelly and David Horsey are fine writers, we seem to be limited to these two opinions for now.  Yes, there are quite a number of celebrity guest columnists, but that was a feature of the old paper P-I also.
  • On the subject of opinion, we need to look at letters to the editor.  The Letters section was always useful as a way to expose amny different opinions to the reader.  They are an important read, in that we can see what the feelings of others are.  It helps us to understand what “the other side” is thinking, and helps us to develop our own opinions.  In the current medium online, there is the opportunity to publish all of the letters.  In doing this, it forces us to wade through all of the pablum to get to the best comments and the most representative comments.  The letters section is the voice of the readers.  The act of editing this section helps the readers as much as editing the news sections.  (I am not suggesting that we keep people from voicing their opinions.  But back in the printed paper, it was not uncommon to print a few letters stating both sides of a story, then mentioning that they had received some number of similar letters for or against an issue.)

My pet peeve in the new format, however, is the lack of control in the “Comments” section that appears after most articles.  While often there are some fine opinions stated in these comments, and sometimes some clarifications or isdeas that I had not considered, these discussions quickly go off topic.  These comments might be a valuable resource — opinion right there after the article discussing the issue.  But all too often they go off in directions that have nothing to do with the article.

Does it really do any good to suggest that we throw any politician out of office because they made a decision we didn’t agree with today?  Does it really make sense to argue that we need more roads and transit should be cut every time we discuss any issue related to transit?  Is it really necessary to discuss the race of a participant in a story and question the immigration status of anyone with a Hispanic surname?  We all see that these are the common themes in the comments sections of our online newspapers, but we are not demanding that our editors actually do their job and edit them.

Would it have really been appropriate to print the comments “Just throw them out of office then” and “Just send them back to where they belong” after every story in the printed paper.  Would it have been appropriate to discuss the types of cruel and unusual punishment that criminals or the merely accused “deserve” after every crime report in the printed paper?  No.  And this nonsense has no place in the online publication, either.

The online format offers a unique and wonderful opportunity to explore and discuss the issues of the day among the citizens of the city, region, state, and nation.  If a news outlet can present this information in an informative and appropriate manner, this would be a valued (and valuable) asset to the community.  But the free-for-alls that most papers publish now on their websites do not represent the quality that we need from the city’s premier publication.  that is the case whether that publication is printed on paper or presented in electronic form.