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Northwest Newspapers Struggling To Survive The Economy And The Web

 Tri-City Herald
The Tri-City Herald, in Kennewick, WA is one of many Northwest newspapers trying to survive the web and a sinking economy.

You’ve been hearing a lot about the Wall Street financial crisis lately, but the news organizations that bring you those stories are having trouble themselves. That’s especially true in the Northwest.

The Oregonian newspaper is buying out reporters. Management is offering two years of pay and health benefits to those who will leave.

The Seattle Times has gone through one round of staff cuts and employees are worried another is in the works.

The Idaho Statesman has slashed its fulltime newsroom workers to about 37 hours a week. Many there have taken second jobs.

The Spokesman Review in Spokane is cutting its Associated Press service to try and save local reporters.

McClatchy — one of the nation’s most successful and largest news companies — just announced its second 10-percent cutback this year. That company owns newspapers in Tacoma, Olympia, Gig Harbor, Puyallup, the Tri-Cities and Boise, Idaho.

Our correspondent — and former print journalist — Anna King explains what’s going wrong with newspapers in the Northwest.

Sara Schilling, has reported for the Tri-City Herald for four years. The Herald, in Kennewick, Wash., has lost about 20 percent of its newsroom staff in two years.

We’re at the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Washington.

Reporters are crunching on deadline, typing furiously and making last minute calls. Inside a conference room the editors are haggling over what tomorrow’s news is going to be.

This is where editors distill the breaking news and features that come in from their reporters, the Associated Press, web sites and other media sources.

The stories have to go through rigorous vetting, or testing, before they go out to the public. And many stories never make it to print or the Web.

Ken Robertson, is executive editor at the Tri-City Herald. He’s been working for papers for 40 years. He says many blogs, news sites or newsletters don’t have the same rigorous and ethical standards as newspapers.

Ken Robertson: "Do you want Bob down at the corner store making all the decisions about information? Or do you want someone that has spent several years or maybe several decades in the media trying to make intelligent decisions about the information you need and what’s important."

The Herald has lost nearly 20 percent of it’s newsroom in the last two years. One of the most experienced Herald reporters is longtime Olympia correspondent Chris Mulick.

He lives news. He even looks like a newspaper guy: Sporting neatly combed hair, dress shirts and spectacles. On his blog this week, Mulick announced he’s taking a political PR job.

With a young family to support he couldn’t chance being laid off.

Chris Mulick: "For anyone in this industry if you are not worried about your job then you are not paying attention."

Tri-City Herald editors Paul Erickson, Laurie Williams and Rick Larson decide what the news will be for the next day.

Northwest newspapers have been cutting back expenses, travel and in-depth investigations for years. But lately, their financial trouble has been accelerating.

Advertising and profits from classified have been sapped away by web sites like Craig’s List and E-Bay. Meanwhile, the costs of newsprint and delivery fuel have gone up.

At the same time, newspapers are having to invest in translating their product to the web.

Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith, says it’s now clear that the printed product on dead trees can’t support a newsroom anymore. So, Smith is planning to unveil the Spokesman’s brand new web site in the next week or two.

Steve Smith: "We’re in print, were online, were mobile, we’re in radio now, we are going to start doing some work with television. All of these platforms have the potential to add a little bit of revenue here a little bit of revenue there and collectively I think it will support our newsroom."

Some newspapers are even trying to break into the social networking arena to mimic the success of MySpace and Facebook. But some say the industry is still not innovating fast enough.

That pressure to get online savvy is all the greater with fewer people in newsroom to do it. Fewer reporters means there aren’t as many watchdogs going through documents, attending laborious public meetings and holding politicians accountable.

Rick Larson is another editor at the Herald. He says the public might not miss newspapers until it’s too late. Like when there’s another Watergate or 9-11.

Rick Larson: "Certainly we wouldn’t wish another 9-11 on there. But I think it’s at times like that when people realize that they want to have information, that they need the information. That’s when they’ll come to us. And we just hope we can still be there when that happens. I think we will be, it’s just a question of what kind of resources we’re going to have to throw at it and how we do it."

All the editors and reporters I spoke to for this story say they are disheartened. Younger readers aren’t turning to newspapers for their information.

Few editors are willing to speculate on where the industry is headed. Some think newspapers will become intensely local as consumers increasingly go to the web for national and international news. But how many reporters, photographers and editors will be left in the industry in 10 more years is anyone’s guess.


Tri-City Herald web page

Chris Mulick’s blog

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