Friday, March 06, 2009

The future of newspapers

is almost here, and it doesn't involve paper.

Staffers chosen to participate in an online-only version of the Seattle P-I were notified of their selection Wednesday and Thursday. The selections indicate The Hearst Corp.'s plan for such a Web site is advancing. Two reporters said they received "provisional offers" from P-I New Media head Michelle Nicolosi or Hearst executive Ken Riddick. They said they were told they will be given formal offers if the Web site gets the go-ahead from Hearst's senior management.

The reporters wouldn't give details, saying they had been asked during their interviews not to comment. Nicolosi also declined to comment. Riddick, who has been at the P-I over the past two days, didn't return a call seeking comment.

One metro reporter, Hector Castro, said Riddick didn't ask him not to speak. The general assignment reporter, at the P-I for nine years, said he turned down Riddick's offer. He said the offer increased his health insurance cost, cut his salary by an unspecified amount, offered to match his 401(k) contributions, required him to forgo his P-I severance pay, reduced his vacation accrual to zero and required him to give up overtime.

According to Castro, Riddick said Hearst plans to start the site the day after the paper quits publishing, which Hearst has said will occur on a date not yet specified if no buyer has emerged by March 10.
I guess the savings from cutting jobs and losing the print product weren't enough, so management is using this opportunity to squeeze a little more money out of the staff. Hard to say whether that's based on necessity because the paper is in such bad financial shape, or if it's just garden-variety corporate greed.

Either way, the print product is probably finished, and other papers are likely to follow suit. So I guess Art Sulzberger wasn't kidding in 2007 when he said, "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years," regardless of what he subsequently said in that speech to NYT employees.

I wonder if this will affect students' decisions to go into what soon may no longer be called print journalism. The thrill that we all used to get from seeing our bylines is likely to be diminished in a Web-only environment, being that anyone can publish online.

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