SEATTLE, WASHINGTON — David Brewster couldn’t have been the only Seattle citizen concerned about the potential demise of one of his local papers, but back in the mid-aughts, he was ahead of the curve. In 2006, Brewster, a thirty-five-year veteran of the local media landscape and the founder of alternative newspaper Seattle Weekly, was phasing out of his role as director of Town Hall Seattle, a community nonprofit, public forum, and public space, when he set his sights on what would become Crosscut.com.
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Fearing that coverage of the Pacific Northwest region was endangered by the faltering print media environment, Brewster established Crosscut—billed as an online magazine of sorts—in April 2007. The site began as a for-profit venture with the “naïve” hope that online advertising rates would rise, but when that model proved ineffective, Crosscut became a nonprofit, soon after receiving a $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a $360,000 matching grant put up in equal parts by the Knight Foundation and the Seattle Foundation. That was in January 2009; less than three months later, the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publication.
Seattle is a city with a healthy inflow of new residents and a major hub for the global economy (Amazon.com and Starbucks, among others, are both headquartered in Seattle). Brewster felt that it was particularly important that a city with those characteristics have access to local news, and also felt that Seattle was a logical place to start a site that was innovative and ambitious. As he says, “Our sense is that Seattle would be a good place for the next media venture…[we wanted to] get on the sunrise of journalism, not the sunset.” In the wake of the Post-Intelligencer’s closure in 2009, many neighborhood-based news sites sprung up, including a couple from former P-I staffers themselves. The resulting problem was thus the inability for the local news consumer to choose where to go to find the information they needed, but Brewster and company have tailored Crosscut to combat such “inefficiency.”
In addition to an aggregator of local news on the top right of the homepage, Crosscut is pioneering something called the Activation Engine in conjunction with the Seattle Foundation. The feature will link news stories on, say, the cleanup of the Puget Sound, to information on how readers can get involved in the effort. Brewster says that this sort of synergy is essential to addressing the modern-day “complete reader [who wants] more data, more points of view, more opportunities to get involved.”
Crosscut itself is mostly comprised of original narrative reporting by fifty or so freelancers who cover everything from politics to lifestyle to business in the form of a daily magazine. The site employs two editors and one columnist full-time, in addition to Brewster, who is also full-time but unpaid.
Significantly, Crosscut does not have an editorial page, and strives to be nonpartisan in its content. The concept of objectivity can be difficult to define, but, as Brewster navigates the next phase of funding for the site—likely a mix of renewing grants while expanding membership, fundraising, community events, and the pursuit of major donors—he gently reminds his writers that on any given issue, there will be steadfast opinions on the right and the left, but the “persuadable center,” he says, “are in the process of figuring it out. They don’t want shrill lectures or to be yelled at. Speak to them.”
Principal Staff: David Brewster, founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief; Michele Matassa Flores, managing editor; Joe Copeland, deputy editor and community editor; Knute Berger, staff columnist.
Affiliations: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; The Seattle Foundation.
CMS: Apache Lenya