I don’t much care for the political direction of the Seattle Times editorial board under Frank Blethen, but I’m willing to give his son Ryan (his heir apparent) the benefit of the doubt.
Ryan recently joined the Times as an editorial columnist after a stint as a regional editor at the family-owned Press Herald and Sunday Telegram in Portland, Maine. While I’ll reserve judgement on Ryan’s skills as a writer, I’m at least relieved to find him coming across as thoughtful, curious and open-minded. For example, his column today on the newspaper industry’s circulation woes was somewhat self-critical.
There are many gloomy predictions about newspapers in the cyber world. Frequently, these predictions of the newspaper’s demise are sent in the form of nasty e-mails that ooze with joy at the irrelevance of the MSM. (MSM is not a news division at Microsoft, but the mainstream media.)
Those radical conservative and grass-roots liberal bloggers who trumpet their hatred for the press, on which they rely for vitriol, are wrong about the fall of newspapers. It has nothing to do with being too liberal or too conservative. It has to do with our treatment of readers, no matter their political stripe.
First of all, I’d like to assure Ryan that I’m not one of those bloggers who hates newspapers. On the contrary, I love newspapers. I don’t subscribe to any, but I read bits and pieces of dozens of papers a day… including the Seattle Times. I’ve had the privilege of meeting dozens of reporters and columnists, and I genuinely like almost every single one of them. (And I don’t mean to offend any of them, but I now kinda, sorta consider myself a journalist too.)
In fact, I love daily newspapers so much, that I desperately hope Seattle manages to support two of them… regardless of the physical medium on which they are published.
So I hope Ryan takes my comments in the constructive spirit in which they are offered, for I really do want our local papers to succeed and prosper and expand their newsrooms so that they can continue to fill the crucial role they play in a functioning democracy.
But in his analysis, I think Ryan got it only half right. He’s absolutely dead-on when he talks about building relationships with readers and reestablishing public trust. But he misses the point entirely if he thinks the problem lies with technological interlopers like Google News.
Essentially, Google News is hijacking news with no compensation to newspapers. The search engines then get credit for the entire news-gathering and presentation process. A lot of online news reader say they get their news from Google or Yahoo!