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Can The Internet Save Local News?


This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. Today, the Seattle's Post-Intelligencer appears in print for the very last time. From now on, the newspaper will be a news Web site. Like papers throughout the country, the PI, as it's known, has been suffering serious financial problems. For more on the future of newspapers we turn now to Allan Mutter; he is a former newspaper editor. He now writes a blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur. He joins us from San Francisco. And Allan, we've seen, throughout the country, newspapers slashing their staff, there is talk that the San Francisco Chronicle might not be around much longer. What do you think newspapers need to do to survive in this day and age?

Mr. ALLAN MUTTER (Blogger): Newspapers today, unfortunately, do have to cut their costs quite a bit because their advertising has fallen by somewhere between 25 percent and 35 percent in the last three or four years. Partly as a result of the economy lately but even before that, newspaper advertisers were moving in other directions because it was cheaper to advertise online - anywhere from Craigslist to Autotrader, Monster and so forth. So, the situation we have today is that newspapers do have to try to cut their costs at the same time they find new sources of advertising revenue to replace those that they have lost, and that's going to be very difficult given the state of the economy at the moment.

COHEN: You recently wrote a memo on your blog to the Seattle PI, giving them some advice as they move forward online. What did you suggest?

Mr. MUTTER: Well, what I suggested is they can't be the same sort of news organization in the future as they are today. The Seattle PI had a staff of about 160 people. They now have a budget for 20 people. So they will not be able to go to all the meetings, cover all the beats, be at the police station 24/7 to watch what's going on in town. Rather, they're going to have to stylize their coverage. They're going to have to pick their shots, and they're going to have to use content from other sources. And in fact, they've announced this morning that they're going to be getting content from many of the magazines published by their parent, Hearst Corporation, as well as linking to what they say is going to be 150 local bloggers. So, they will be aggregating content, organizing content, stylizing content, and then they'll have some of their own signature coverage from their own people. I think that's going to be the future, certainly for online coverage for newspapers. It will be different than the type of coverage that newspapers have done in the past because in the past, newspapers have tried to put their own touch on every story and to provide deep and authoritative coverage across a broad range of matters in a community. So, it's going to be different going forward into the future.

COHEN: Well, here is one of the concerns I know that I have - and a lot of fellow journalists have - is, OK, it all sounds well and good to get a bunch of free content from bloggers, but how do journalists, quality journalists survive if we're not getting paid for a work?

Mr. MUTTER: A journalist - a good journalist is certainly worth as much as a good neurologist, as far as I'm concerned. Quality journalism, where people are deeply and objectively reporting, providing a balanced analysis of what they find and presenting it in a compelling way - I think those things are awfully important, now more than ever, because in this world, anybody anywhere can create content, anybody can put up a video, put up a blog. Anybody can jump into Wikipedia and change facts. Now more than ever, we need people who are operating from a professional standpoint in front of the professional values that journalists have. And when a newspaper goes away, these other types of media - blogs, newspaper, even NPR - don't quite fill the gap that's left when a newspaper and its large staff goes out of business.

COHEN: Allan, one last, quick question. There's a picture on your blog of those very distinctive, bright-orange delivery boxes for the Seattle PI. Where do you think all those will go?

Mr. MUTTER: I hope they're properly recycled.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: It's a sad, sad day. Allan Mutter, his blog is called Reflections of a Newsosaur. Thank you very much.

Mr. MUTTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.