Seattle Courant

The Three Stages of Grief

By Keith Vance
February 27, 2009 03:02PM

Art Thiel, Seattle P-I sports columnists, suggested using the Green Bay Packers model of public ownership. He figures that if they can sell 600,000 shares at $25 each they could pull in $15 million and pay for 150 reporters. Don't get bogged down in the math here, Thiel was thinking out loud, there are other costs associated with running a newspaper besides paying reporters, but let's play along here for a minute. The problem with this plan is that the $15 million would be a one-time shot, somehow the newspaper would have to bring in $15 million every year to maintain its staff, which gets us back to the original problem, which is how to make money in today's new media landscape.

I don't think public ownership will happen because nothing we do will save the printed newspaper, it's over. The digital age is upon us and no matter how hard we click our heels we aren't going back.

Newspapers will never be what they once were. Gone are the days of selling ads for thousands and thousands of dollars. Gone are the days when people eagerly wait for the newspaper on their front stoop. Gone are the days when one or two corporations controlled the local news.

Yes, those days are behind us, and for some of us, that's a good thing.

I'm new to journalism, I just completed my degree at UW, but I'm also old enough to remember when there wasn't a World Wide Web. I bought my first computer when I was 20 years old - that was 1992. After a five year stint as an offset printing press operator, I spent the bulk of my adult life working as a technologist. I still miss the smell of a print shop though. But as a technologist, my expertise rests in developing Web applications using open source technology. If you're not aware of open source software, it's free, yet I made thousands and thousands of dollars with it.

I did see this technology train coming a long ago. When I first took a serious look at technology and the Web, I knew that this would level the playing field. The Web, I thought back in 1996, will bring back the mom and pop businesses, it will allow people who have traditionally been marginalized politically to more effectively speak truth to power (the only real tool available to a minority faction) and it will shatter the role of traditional news gatekeepers (i.e. those that own the presses).

It wasn't hard to see this coming, because one just needs to look at history. Never has there been an advancement in technology, at least in terms of communication, that has not resulted in a fragmentation of the market. Just look at the printing press. Before the printing press, most people were illiterate because there was no need to learn to read because there was nothing to read. Once the printing press began mass producing books and newspapers, literacy increased dramatically. And as the printing press, and the printing process, became more efficient and less costly, more and more people started printing more and more books and newspapers. Milton's marketplace of ideas expanded.

The same process happened with magazines, radio and television. How many magazines existed 20 or 30 years ago? There are now thousands of niche magazines. When I was a kid growing up in St. Paul, MN, we had three TV channels: ABC, NBC and CBS. And now with digital radio and iTunes, the number of radio broadcasters is in the thousands.

What happens is that technological advancements reduce the cost of production which increases the number of producers and the number of consumers. The result is that the old institutions that could afford the older and more expensive technology will crumble, fragment and perhaps die.

So rather than looking for ways to prop up the old newspapers, we need to look at how we as journalists can utilize the new tools available to us to not do what we did 20 years ago, but to do something even better. We need to get past the stage of denial, move through the stage of anger as quickly as possible and accept the reality of the world we now live in. Because when it's all said and done, I believe people do want news. They want to know what's happening in City Hall, who's playing at Qwest Field and what's up with light rail or the Alaska Way Viaduct.

I understand that the transition from analog to digital is difficult for many veteran journalists out there, but we can do this. It's not going to be easy, but most things in life worth doing are rarely easy.

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To learn more about last night's event visit No News is Bad News

For another take on this important topic, read this article by Steve Rhodes at the Beachwood Reporter in Chicago.

Yes, Kubler-Ross has five stages, not three, this story isn't meant to be a literal psychological analysis of grieving, or Kubler-Ross, it's my take on what's happening in the newspaper business.