Broadsheetless in Seattle?

A major daily paper morphs into an online-only publication; others could follow. How will the changes affect the presence and profile of minority journalists?

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Seattle, city of iconoclasts and wired pioneers, is embarking on a new frontier in journalism, as the home of the first major metropolitan daily, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, switches from print to an entirely online format—a bold, economically driven departure in publishing, and one that is already being closely watched by media companies and analysts.

Other newspapers are considering Web-only publications. But even if these papers successfully morph into online news organizations, it’s an open question for black and minority journalists as to whether diversity, in staffing and story coverage, will remain an editorial priority for the phoenix that rises from the ashes of the print version.

With necessarily bare-bones staffs and more reliance on external content partners, it’s possible that newsroom diversity could be among the early sacrifices on the altar of bottom-line efficiencies.

The Seattle P-I joined Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, which closed Feb. 27, as a victim of the imperfect storm of declining advertising, the onslaught of the Internet and the current economic crisis. The future of the Seattle Times, the surviving city daily saddled with $91 million in debt and falling ad sales, has been debated for months.

The San Francisco Chronicle, like the P-I a Hearst paper, dodged a bullet this month only after its editors and reporters agreed to deep cuts in benefits, including vacation and preference by seniority. Staffs at the Raleigh News & Observer, the Miami Herald, the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Bee and the Tacoma News-Tribune have been warned of impending staff cuts and the need for the rank and file to make broad concessions in pay and benefits.

Workers at the Denver Post, which survived a newspaper war with Rocky, voted March 10 for a new three-year contract that calls for nearly $2 million in annual wage and benefit reductions. The contract calls for wage cuts up to 9 percent, as well as more health-insurance costs passed on to employees, unpaid furloughs and a suspension of company contributions to 401(k) accounts.

“In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets,” Mike Simonton of industry analyst Fitch Ratings, told the New York Times on March 12.

 

Last April, a newsroom census report by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) found that the percentage of minority journalists was growing at its customary snail pace, to 13.52 percent of all journalists, up from 13.43 percent the year before. Only 11.4 percent of all supervisors in newsrooms are minorities. ASNE found that 423 of the 924 newspapers that responded to the survey had no minorities on their full-time staffs at all.

Now, with the bell tolling for metropolitan papers across the country, minority journalists face not just the usual challenge of finding employment; there’s the question of their internal opportunities when the papers they already work for go into survival mode.

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