To me, journalism is a profession with exacting standards, requiring the same level of experience, education, and training that many other professions require. You need deep curiosity, the intellectual bandwidth to range across a broad spectrum of issues, analyze documents, research, interview, interrogate, relate to people, gain their trust, behave appropriately for whatever situation confronts you (interviewing a trauma victim versus covering a politician, for example), keep your sense of humor, help colleagues, and info-share, follow your gut instincts, be tough and compassionate—sometimes simultaneously—and then weave all this material into a layered, intelligent, multi-faceted, unbiased, truthful piece that holds people’s attention. They must capture and bridge increasing loads of information, while being increasingly manipulated and spun, in a public-service capacity that demands far more than it gives back. It all takes a high IQ and a high EQ and we do it for love, passion, a chance to touch people’s lives and a sense of democratic mission—not the money.
Will Web sites do this? The P-I’s cannot, because they have neither the expertise, the personnel, the brain trust, nor the numbers. They traded all that in for what the Hearst Company acknowledges is an “an experiment.” Their heavy bet is that 150 professional journalists, graphic artists, photographers, and editors can be replaced by inexperienced twenty-something sociology majors who blog, a couple young reporters, and 150 “citizen journalists.” Hearst, knowing it can pay them far less, has chosen to agree.
The majority of people in what is no longer a newsroom think this is lunacy, that the public is being robbed blind. And have no doubt; the deep sense of mourning is for the public, our profession, and our own vanished careers. Many of our subscribers agree. They, too, are in mourning, judging from the outpouring of e-mails and phone calls.
I think of all the corporate rip-offs of taxpayers, this may be the worst. Newspapers - or the lack thereof - have a direct bearing on democracy. You cannot kill a newsroom and still cover news; we didn’t have enough people to cover everything that deserved coverage as it was!
In an era where Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie’s breastfeeding earn the most hits off our website, maybe real journalists are not needed.
But the public will be far poorer for it — and I worry about the citizenship, educational and democratic implications of it all.
Marsha Milroy, news researcher
I’m currently the longest-tenured P-I employee with thirty-nine-and-a-half years. When I began my career there were, I believe, two women in the newsroom - and one was the receptionist. Even as a naive eighteen-year-old I knew I was there to see the end of that era, and it was pretty damned exciting. And it never stopped being exciting. Working for a newspaper is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and all I ever have done.
Susan Paynter, reporter and columnist
For 146 years—thirty-nine of them while I worked there—The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran faster, jumped higher, and kicked more crooked and complacent butt than anyone in our now diminishing journalism realm had a right to expect. That given the fact that the P-I was routinely bled by Hearst, undermined by its supposed Joint Operating Agreement partner, and both blessed and challenged by a staff remarkably leaner than that of our fatter, comfier and, yes, grayer competition. The P-I has always been a “writer’s paper” which has benefited its loyal readers with sprightlier and more probing reportage. The region will be a duller place without us as ethically-challenged pols, developers and power-wielders in the state feel the backs of their necks cooling even as we speak.
Don Smith, interactivity editor
The P-I has faced both the difficulties of two-newspaper town with a joint operating agreement and our current punishing economic climate. The demise of the P-I as a print publication is certainly another sad moment for journalism and likely not the last. This is a brutal time for many of the journalists who have poured their lives into this profession, especially so today at the P-I. But this also may be a seminal moment for our profession.
We must find a way to fund quality journalism or face the perils of an attempted democracy without it. The transition from a newspaper company to an online-only publication at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may teach us a great deal of what it takes to survive and thrive. I hope an online only P-I can succeed, grow and help us learn what we will need to know to take us forward. A future where journalism continues to falter as it is doing across America right now is downright perilous to our democracy.
Ruth Teichroeb, investigative reporter