Changes to the news media landscape are occurring at a pace that is both alluring and alarming. At a time when we are nationally witnessing the loss of daily print newspapers and major media outlets are consolidating into a few corporate owners, we are also seeing the rise of independent news sources with global coverage and reach, as well as our own ability to access wide ranges of information almost instantaneously via the internet and mobile devices.
Here in Seattle these changes are very dramatic. The end of the Post Intelligencer as a daily paper and its reemergence as an online news source in 2009 was arguably a loss for Seattle since its coverage of local issues has waned (despite the fact that its parent company, Hearst, is one of the largest communication companies in the world). The Seattle Times, the largest daily newspaper in Washington, has a circulation of about a quarter million, yet its local news coverage is not in always broad or in depth. The Stranger, one of Seattle’s alternative newsweeklies has a circulation just a third of the Times; however it has a very influential online presence (SLOG) which covers a broad range of local issues and stories. Because of the Stranger’s SLOG, along with Crosscut and Publicola (two struggling but also influential web news sources), it is arguable that the bulk of what is happening with local Seattle and Puget Sound issues is now found on the internet. Coupled with the rise of local neighborhood news blogs and the increasing quality of the City’s website (with its access to pending legislation, descriptions of work initiatives, and source documentation), it seems Seattle citizens now have far greater access to information about local issues than ever before. That is if you are wired, have a smart phone, and the time to keep informed.
So while it is clear that not only how we receive and process news is changing, so is the degree to which it is covered and the level of accuracy and completeness. While “fair and balanced” may be the goal, how that is achieved – both for the reader and the presenter – remains in question. With the ability to access so much information, it is easy to discern the bias of Fox News, and harder to refute sources such as the New York Times (fallible as it is at times).
With our online local Seattle news sources there is no doubt that bias and editorializing are often built in. Particularly with The Stranger, where an opinionated news piece is a badge of honor, we have come to have a love/hate relationship depending on the topic covered. But rarely does their coverage elevate to the level of propaganda, hovering more in the realm of impassioned argument, and occasionally, satire. Part of this stance is due to the roots of The Stranger (publisher Tim Keck also started The Onion) and the sarcastic tone championed by former editor Dan Savage. But the paper has excelled, and this year even won a Pulitzer Prize. And while sometimes maddening, The Stranger’s coverage of local issues puts it at the forefront of our news sources.
How local news stories are selected and covered is important. And with the election over, it will be interesting to do a post mortem on the various races and initiatives, as well as critique The Stranger’s coverage of issues near and dear to Seattleites, including the deep bore tunnel, the basketball arena, public transit, micro-apartments, and the upcoming 2013 city elections.
Helping us parse through all of this is today’s speaker, Dominic Holden. Dominic is the news editor at The Stranger, a stupid paper written by spoiled children. He is only in this position because Josh Feit was dumb enough to think that Publicola could actually be important. Dominic used to be a marijuana-legalization activist, working at the ACLU of Washington and managed the campaign to make pot possession the city’s lowest priority. Pardon his French; he only swears English. And for the record, Dominic supports the war on cars, even though he did get a ride to today’s meeting.
by Bill Bradburd 11/5/12