>Newspaper sales bode change

>Hearst Corporation announced Jan. 9 that it is looking for a buyer for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a wonderful paper for which I have freelanced. According to the company’s press release, if they can’t sell the paper within 60 days, they will pursue other options, including a move to a digital-only operation with a greatly reduced staff or a complete shutdown of all operations. The P-I, which was founded in 1863 as the Seattle Gazette and which Hearst has owned since 1921, has been losing money since 2000.

This is yet another scary page of a complex and frightening story for those of us who write for newspapers. The P-I is not the only one doing this. A few years ago, big multi-media corporations were snapping up local papers like potato chips, but now nobody seems to want to buy a good old-fashioned newspaper.

What does this mean for us? In the short term, work is going to be scarce if you need to be paid for it. Those who can do freebies or corporate work may find themselves ridiculously busy.

But let’s step back and look at the long-term picture. I really think this is part of a move from print to digital news reporting. I love newspapers. I love the feel and the smell. I love being able to fold back the pages and cut out interesting articles. However, I am also aware of the impact on the environment of all that paper, energy and ink being used to print newspapers. I see massive amounts of waste, both of papers that get read and stacks of unread newspapers that go straight into the recycle bin. Of course, we all see the pages scattered along the sides of our freeways, too. Mother Earth would be a lot less stressed with no print newspapers.

These days, laptops, Blackberries, Internet-connected phones and various reading devices can be slipped into one’s purse, pocket or brief case just as easily as a newspaper. Plus they offer the news more quickly, you can follow links to additional information, and you can search for whatever interests you. It’s not necessarily the same. You won’t find the long features or deep analysis of your Sunday newspaper, but digitized news is awfully convenient and studies show readers under 30 are already getting most of their news online.

The bleeding economy may force us to move into a new method of communication. It’s going to take some adjustment. Newspapers may never completely disappear. Alternative rags, community weeklies, and specialized publications will continue to be published, but the big dailies are just too expensive to produce these days. As freelance writers, we must not give up, but we should look carefully at where our skills can best be used and go there.

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