Strange Profits | Teen Ink

Strange Profits

July 19, 2009
By Chaitanya Chandrashkehar BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
Chaitanya Chandrashkehar BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
1 article 3 photos 0 comments

While the rest of Seattle’s newspaper industry is facing massive budget cuts and possible closures, two newspapers, The Stranger and Seattle Weekly, are doing surprisingly well. The P-I announced that it was up for sale several months ago. They said that if no one was going to buy them, they would close. Many people fear a day in which all of the country’s newspapers, the engines of investigative reporting in our nation, fail. But while the mainstream media has focused all of its attention on this horrible possibility, a different story has shown that this death may not actually happen. While many of the country’s dailies are failing, weeklies, The Stranger and Seattle Weekly in particular, have no fears of closing at all.

On Seattle Channel’s City Inside/Out, Tim Keck, publisher of the Stranger, said that “2007 was The Stranger’s best year, while this year was down a little bit, mostly because of the economy.” While the reason for their success is not fully understood, three structural differences between these newspapers and larger failing newspapers could play a key role.

Around fifty years ago, when The Seattle P-I’s office was on Sixth Avenue, an editor by the name or Nerd Jones decided to have some fun. After finishing his editorial on a very serious local issue, he opened the window and pushed an entire three-foot stack of paper out into the air above Sixth Avenue. After this, he ran through the office proclaiming, “It’s snowing!” As Seattle Weekly pointed out, “this was the newspaper who’s social and moral codes regularly required newsroom artists to doctor photographs.”

In other words, the P-I wasn’t boring. Today, the P-I is a large daily newspaper that gives out less unique material. Instead, the P-I relies heavily on hard news, something that television and the Internet can deliver. One simple way to understand how the weeklies are more unique than these dailies is to look at the headlines of the two newspapers’ websites at the same time. While the P-I’s cover stories were titled “Seattle police chief to be Obama’s ‘drug czar’” and “Lawmakers wrangle with Death With Dignity rules,” Seattle Weekly’s cover stories were titled “Don’t let bedbugs bite,” “School’s out,” and “Jailbreak.” Regardless of whether these titles were more informative or not, they certainly are more unique.

It is not just the opinion of the two weekly newspapers that has created this phenomenon. The fact that the Stranger and Seattle Weekly are weekly newspapers gives them some benefits that daily newspapers would not have. The first is that weekly newspapers don’t have to spend nearly as much money on printing. Instead, many of their articles can go on the Internet. As Tim Keck later pointed out in the same interview, “It’s all about relevance. Sometimes a calendar item is more relevant when they get it at work, and sometimes they may read a longer story when it’s relevant to them when they’re sitting at the coffee table.” The Stranger and Seattle Weekly are relevant n both markets at a lower cost than the dailies. This has proven to be quite successful.

Many of the dailies are considering becoming weeklies as well. As David Boardman, Executive Editor of the Seattle Times, said, “What you may see in many daily newspapers is a shift from daily print to online for the whole week and print on Sunday. Sunday is about 50% of the revenue in a typical metropolitan newspaper.” The third thing that has contributedto these weeklies successis that their newspapers are actually free. This means that this giant barrier against prnit media, subscription cost, is not there when it comes to the weeklies. The tranger’s print readership has not gone down since 2007, despite the financial crises. The Seattle Times’ print readership has gone down. As the editors of the Seattle Times, The P-I, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger all agree, advertisement agencies are willing to pay far more for ad space in newspapers than ad space online because people spend more time reading newspapers. For advertisers, the lack of reduction in readership of the Stranger and Seattle Weekly means more readerships in the print newspaper. This means that advertising
agencies will be willing to pay more money for ads.

We don’t entirely know why the weeklies are growing when they are not supposed to, but one thing is for sure: The Stranger
and Seattle Weekly have stumbled upon something that seems to be working. These news agencies have shown that, contrary
to popular belief, the Internet is not killing off print media, it is simply forcing it to evolve. While old companies like the Seattle
Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may close, print media will not go with them. Sometimes, being smaller, local, and
out of the limelight is not that bad, especially when your competitors are struggling to stay afloat.

The author's comments:
I originally wrote this article for my high school newspaper. After hearing horror stories about a post Seattle P-I world from almost everyone in the local city media, I wanted to figure out how my city's weekly newspapers and blogs were actually growing, and whether they really were as bad as those in the large media organizations always claimed. I found that the state of local media organizations in Seattle, and all over the country, was far more nuanced than any one organization was willing to admit. My findings eventually seemed to raise more questions than answers.

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