19 Jun What is the future of print newspapers? Perspective from former staffers at the shuttered Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Four years ago the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shocked its readers with the announcement that it would be going all-digital after 146 years of print. After years of losing money, Hearst Corporation put the newspaper up for sale in March of 2009. There were no buyers. More than 100 people lost their jobs as the paper was forced to shut down. The struggles the P-I faced were not unique to that paper, so what can other print newspapers do to avoid a similar situation?
I reached out to several former P-I employees to see how they were able to bounce back, and how they think current newspapers can stay in print.
Christina Okeson, who worked as a P-I copy editor for nearly three years, was laid off 15 and a half months after the paper closed.
Having earned a masterâ€™s degree in journalism earlier in her career, Okeson went back to school hoping to get a certification in Web design. With one quarter left to go, Okeson was able to land a job at The Daily Herald in Everett.
â€œThe hardest part was not being able to find another job for such a long time,â€ Okeson wrote. â€œAll of my experience is in print, print, print newspapers.â€
As for print journalism, Okeson offered a somewhat bleak forecast.
â€œI donâ€™t think thereâ€™s anything that can be done, to be honest,â€ Okeson wrote. â€In reality, I don’t think there are enough of us die-hard romantics left.â€
She pointed to the recent Boston Marathon tragedy as a case in point: news needed immediately was shared instantly over the Internet.
â€œThe print product the next day…well, they make for great keepsakes if youâ€™re into that sort of thing,â€ Okeson wrote.
Lee Rozen, who held various positions at the P-I., was 60 when he was let go from the P.I., now works as managing editor at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho (not to be confused with the capital of Russia).
â€œIt was the first time – at 60 – that I had ever been unemployed. For one whose self worth was so deeply wrapped up in being a newspaper journalist that was extremely difficult,â€ Rozen wrote in an email. â€œBut it forced me to look at what I wanted to do and why. I wanted to be in newspapers.â€
According to Rozen, â€œthe business model is the most important thing. The technology and the software platforms are changing and evolving rapidly. Newspapers need people who are as conversant with that technology – and how to use it effectively to reach and retain customers – as their print specialists have been.â€
Janet Grimley worked at the P-I as assisting managing editor. She went on to earn a Web design certificate at Seattle Central Community College where she has worked as interim director of communications since summer 2012.
The shift was a difficult one, as she had been working in print for her entire 35-year professional career.
â€œIt was a loss of my identity,â€ Grimley wrote. â€œIt felt strange to introduce myself as a former P-I editor and then as a web design student. Second hardest thing was not having a room full of experts close by! I miss my co-workers.â€
According to Grimley, no easy solution exists. â€œIf I had the answer on how print newspapers can survive in this environment, I would become a newspaper owner!â€
The current model simply doesnâ€™t work, Grimley wrote.
â€œLoss of classified advertising, consolidation of companies that used to buy print ads, the bad economy, the rise of the internet…and so on.â€
Dan Raley had expected to retire from the P-I after working there for 29 years. He now works at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which he claims â€œhas the blueprint for newspaper survival.â€
According the Raley, newspapers must write â€œspecifically to the audience that buys the paper, surveying those people over and over as to what they want and expect. Only certain topics can go on the front page.â€
In short, newspapers must become experts of their audience, â€œlooking to create unique content that will hold up for morning delivery and not become irrelevant in a digital world.â€
The future of print journalism remains uncertain, yet undoubtedly challenged by new technology. Be it through online pay walls, such as the one recently put in place by The Seattle Times, or by other means, it will be up to savvy newspaper staffers to navigate todayâ€™s journalism climate.
Ola Wietecha is a University of Washington student and an intern with SPJâ€™s Western Washington chapter. Email her at email@example.com.