March 18, 2009
Did The Seattle PI Make Mistakes?

On this post, I need your help.   Yesterday I watched the Q13 story and read the Seattle Times story on the newspaper's closing.  Neither mentioned any mistakes by the PI.  In particular, neither mentioned the way the newspaper has alienated moderates, conservatives, and libertarians.   Neither Q13 nor the Seattle Times noted that some are pleased to see the newspaper's print edition disappear.

And here's where I need your help.  Have you seen or read any story that even mentioned any mistakes made by the PI?  In particular, did you see or read any story that mentioned that many readers were unhappy with the PI's bias?

On this post, let me ask you to be very strictly on topic with your comments.  (If you want to discuss the PI's coverage generally, Warren Peterson's post, below, is the appropriate place.)  For this post, only two kinds of comments are appropriate: No, and Yes, giving the place that you saw or read the mention of mistakes by the PI.

What I am trying to do in this post is gather information, not provide a forum for discussion of the PI.

(And I will repeat an offer I have made before — but that no one has taken me up on.  If you would like to have an open post on a particular subject, email me.  I don't mind supervising such posts from time to time as a public service, especially if it is raining that day.  And posts do take some supervision, since a few commenters are not willing to keep the site family friendly.)

Posted by Jim Miller at March 18, 2009 08:10 AM | Email This
1. Yes, the P-I made major mistakes. Number one was virtually ignoring major news stories that would have had dire consequences for leftist political interests. Number two was believing its readers wouldn't notice number one.

And the primary reason we're not hearing of the P-I's shortcomings is that those doing the reporting are guilty of the same lack of journalistic objectivity, credibility and integrity.

Posted by: Saltherring on March 18, 2009 08:53 AM
2. @1: Salthering:
You give a generalized comment and give no specifics at all.

Eric: I would argue that the entire question you are asking is moot.

The reason for the failure of the PI, as they said themselves, was not ciculation numbers. It was advertising revenue drying up due to the internet. The Times is also in trouble - have they been "too liberal" also in the Seattle metro area? An area where very few republicans can even be found?

Posted by: correctnoright on March 18, 2009 08:58 AM
3. Ooops, sorry, I mean JIM not Eric.

Posted by: correctnotright on March 18, 2009 09:00 AM
4. Let me try again. Two possible comments, No, you have not seen any mention of PI mistakes, or Yes, you have seen a mention, and where you saw it.

I am counting the first two comments as No's. (And I respectfully suggest that both commenters read the post again -- carefully.)

Posted by: Jim Miller on March 18, 2009 09:03 AM
5. No, not a single story. I saw the Q13 piece too, and they only interviewed people in downtown who were so sad to see its demise. If they had bothered to venture out of downtown and interview some people elsewhere, they could have easily found an opposing viewpoint.

Posted by: Palouse on March 18, 2009 09:17 AM
6. Why should Q13 or the Seattle Times be pleased to see the PI disappear?

I understand that a newspaper who's editorial board is made up of your ideological rivals has gone under and given you reason to rejoice.

Yes. Ideologues please celebrate! A main stream newspaper with an overt socially liberal agenda went under.

But, why should the ordinary person celebrate that?

Despite the intense media consolidation of the last quarter century, the US remains one of the most competitive media markets in the world. We need to keep it that way. It is essential to our self government.

I don't think that conservatives should celebrate the closing of the newspaper as a time to celebrate.Even though the paper published editorials that you despised, the closing of the PI has set a precedent that has the potential to lower the quality of local journalism. With many daily newspapers closing expensive investigative pieces, in depth analysis on local issues, and overall local coverage will all suffer. (even some with a conservative bent)

Although, SP and its rival HA do pretty well with the ideological crowd -- what about a more sober assessment of local issues?

Posted by: moderate liberal that reads this rag on March 18, 2009 09:34 AM
7. The PI has been going under ever since I was old enough to pay attention. I the early 60's the biggest rap against it was that it sensationalize every story.
EX: The Seattle Times reports a car accident and it reads "The was a auto accident on the Waterfront and 2 people were killed.
The PI would report: "As the blood oozed down the street, you could see the mangled bodies of the dead and dying hanging from the blood soaked car doors.
Then in the late sixties it moved so far left that it made the Seattle Times look centrist.

Posted by: linda on March 18, 2009 09:59 AM
8. Yes -- Bill Virgin's article from Monday evening:

Posted by: Hector on March 18, 2009 10:02 AM
9. No. I have not seen any specific references to mistakes made by the P-I which would have affected its profitability. At least, no 'stories' (meaning news articles in other print or broadcast media). Plenty of bloggers hammering on it for its egregious biases, but let's assume that since those were editorial intentions, they weren't 'mistakes' by management.

However, it's been known for years that the paper wasn't making money - and you can't run indefinitely at a loss, unless you're subsidised from elsewhere. So I propose a reason for the paper hanging on as long as it did, while bleeding dollars of Hearst money.

That reason is, of course, that the paper's success in bulldozing public opinion was worth the losses in dollars, up to some limit which has now finally been reached. And that the reason that the limit was finally applied at all was, that the rest of the Hearst chain is also hemorrhaging dollars and is in jeopardy. Unless a new 'stimulus' comes out of Washington (don't put it past la Pelosi & Co.) which seeks to prop up those dollar-losing newspapers, PRECISELY because of their savage political biases which just happen to benefit the Democrats exclusively.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive on March 18, 2009 10:26 AM
10. Bill Virgin's column referenced in comment #8 is the only one I've seen. I do find it interesting that none of the left leaning deep pockets stepped up to save the paper.

Posted by: Burdabee on March 18, 2009 10:27 AM
11. No, I have not seen any stories claiming that the P-I's failure was due to its editorial philosophy being more closely aligned with its market's than its competition's philosophy was.

Posted by: Bruce on March 18, 2009 10:38 AM
12. Hector - Many thanks for pointing us to that Virgin column.

Posted by: Jim Miller on March 18, 2009 10:42 AM
13. I have read the NY Times story on the closure, also, King 5 news (written by Mimi Jung), and an AP piece. In no case do I find even a subtext of mistakes being made, and no mention of the paper's political orientation and how it might have figured in to the demise.

Posted by: travis t on March 18, 2009 11:49 AM
14. The Herald in its editorial yesterday tried to refute claims that it was the PI's ideological bent that impacted the PI But they didn't explain, then, why it was the PI, not the Times (as John Carlson pointed out yesterday) that was closing . .

Posted by: Scott on March 18, 2009 12:12 PM
15. No. Nothing in the Olympian at least. All blame laid on competition from the internet for both loss of ad revenue and readers. As if no one saw it coming and nothing could be done -- strange blindspot :-) Newspapers are the new buggy whips.

Posted by: starboardhelm on March 18, 2009 01:08 PM
16. Yes. Although not specific to the PI (although it merits a mention...) Howard Kurtz wrote a piece in the Washington Post a couple weeks back under the title, "Under Weight of Its Mistakes, Newspaper Industry Staggers." There is an interesting quote from Phil Bronstein - editor of the PI's sister publication, the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle:

Why a once-profitable industry suddenly seems as outmoded as America's automakers is a tale that involves arrogance, mistakes, eroding trust and the rise of a digital world in which newspapers feel compelled to give away their content.

"Most of the wounds are self-inflicted," says Phil Bronstein, editor at large of the San Francisco Chronicle, which Hearst Corp. has threatened to close unless major cost savings are achieved or a buyer is found. Rather than engage the audience, he says, "the public was seen as kind of messy and icky and not something you needed to get involved with."

Does this count, Jim? :)

Posted by: airfoil on March 18, 2009 03:00 PM
17. Yes. The Russians are planning to base strategic bombers 90 miles off the coast of the US. Was it headline? Was it even on the front page? Nope. Would this have been the case if it happened under Bush? Not on your life.

Posted by: Bye Bye PI on March 18, 2009 04:08 PM
18. airfoil - I'd give that half credit, but then I am a tough grader by modern standards.

And thanks for bringing that column to our attention.

Posted by: Jim Miller on March 18, 2009 04:38 PM
19. Yes. If you tick off 50 percent of your potential readers and they all quit taking the PI, it's no wonder you fail.

Posted by: Kenby on March 18, 2009 04:50 PM
20. Correctnotright @ 2:

Below is a comment I provided in response to other commenters on warrenpeterson's "Chickens Come Home to Roost" thread.

"Great analysis, Bill C. Another facet in Pravda-Izvestia's demise is the obvious bias by means of omission. And never was this more evident than the 2008 presidential campaign, when major flaws in candidate Obama's character and resume were totally ignored by the P-I and MSM in general. Failure to print stories calling attention to Obama's radical associations and political extremism seriously compromised what remained of the P-I's objectivity and credibility.

Another glaring example was the complete pass Pravda-Izvestia has given Governor Gregoire. Imagine if a Republican governor had signed legislation exempting tribal casinos from gaming taxes and then accepted huge campaign contributions from those same tribes? Or if a Republican governor had forced state workers to pay dues to public employee unions and then accepted large campaign contributions from those unions? Or Gregoire's hollow denial of projected shortfalls in 2009 state budget projections. If Republicans were guilty of these, blood and ink would still be flowing.

Folks in this day and age are too well informed to buy into the P-I's outrageous duplicity. When hard earned dollars are spent on newsprint, consumers want truth, not lies and unabashed cheerleading."

In addition to these omissions, correctnotright, Stefan Sharkansky has compiled enough evidence of incompetence and purposeful negligence in the King County Elections office during the '04 governors election to warrant a thorough, unbiased investigation. The fact that no Puget Sound news service was willing to undertake such a task speaks volumes for the bias that exists in Northwest "mainstream media". Such bias serves the interests of no one.

Posted by: Saltherring on March 18, 2009 05:04 PM
21. Commenter #2 makes the suggestion that advertising revenue - not circulation decline or the backlash against the PI's radical left wing bias - are the sole problem that brought the PI down.

I think perhaps the commentator makes thes the common mistake of thinking that advertising is controlled by "evil corporations."

The truth is that 70%+ of all ad dollars available in a given U.S. market are local dollars controlled by local and small businesses. The same businesses that tend to have more conservative people making decisions.

I know more than a few local service businesses that held their noses and placed ads in the Times newspaper but wouldn't even think about the PI. Similarly, they hold their noses and buy ads on KIRO radio but would never think about buying ads on Air America.

"Conservatives" might be only a little more than a 1/3rd of the population in the Seattle market, but we make up an awfully large percentage of the market when it comes to business management.

Posted by: johnny on March 18, 2009 05:09 PM
22. Also, correctnotright, your statement, "The Times is also in trouble - have they been "too liberal" also in the Seattle metro area? An area where very few republicans can even be found?" causes me concern. Whether a community is "liberal" or "conservative" has no bearing on objectivity or truth. The media has an obligation to speak and/or print the whole truth in their respective news stories and/or broadcasts. Editorials are opinions and should be classified and plainly labled as such.

To be straight up, I have no use for lies, ideologically-based omissions or exaggerations, whether they eminate from liberal or conservative sources.

Posted by: Saltherring on March 18, 2009 05:19 PM
23. Jim,

My apologies if I was not clear in the second paragraph of posting #1: NO, I have seen nor heard no mention (by other media sources) of perceived P-I shortcomings or bias that could have contributed to the P-I's demise.

Posted by: Saltherring on March 18, 2009 05:30 PM
24. The biggest mistake of PI was to target the left leaning audience that tend to include far more free-loaders of the society not likely to pay for the paper in the first place. [/sarc-off]

Posted by: DopioLover on March 18, 2009 08:22 PM
25. Has Jim Miller made any mistakes? In particular, does he ask leading questions aimed at pandering to his base? The bias guiding this goofy discussion is that the PI failed by alienating conservatives. You guys need to read up on business more ....

Posted by: toady on March 19, 2009 12:30 AM
26. #25

I don't think we're saying that the PI "alienated conservatives." Most media does that.

What we're saying is that the PI pandered to the hard left and in doing so alienated both conservatives and independants.

Instead of being simply left-leaning - the PI became identified as a left-wing mouthpiece, and in doing so lost the connection they had with a large percentage of their potential audience.

This decline alienated advertisers, who stopped supporting the paper.

Apologists can say "it's just economy and a sign of the times' but the fact is that the newspapers going under right now are those that are most identified with being liberal left.

In spite of the economy and massive layoffs in business, you're not seeing the Wall St. Journal going out of business.

Posted by: johnny on March 19, 2009 08:17 AM
27. Excellent point, johnny. I, for several years, have avoided businesses that contribute heavily to leftist political candidates and causes. If more conservatives did this, we would certainly exert a greater influence on the political scene.

Posted by: Saltherring on March 19, 2009 08:45 AM
28. Johnny @ 26 and others:

While I believe that there can be a good case made for the argument that the PI alienated a core reader segment, and that contributed to the decline, I also believe that the problems and issues are far more complex.

You mention the Wall Street Journal not going out of business. Neither is the New York Times or Washington Post. All three of those entities are parts of larger media corporations that have diversified in ways that allow them to prop up their flagship brands via other revenue streams.

Obviously, Hearst has other business units and revenue streams. But I wouldn't hold the PI in the same league in the Hearst portfolio as the New York Times is in the New York Times Company portfolio. The Times Company - in addition to the many regional and local daily papers it owns - also has a broadcast unit that owns a radio property and an internet unit that owns several modern media companies - including They are also one of the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

The Wall Street Journal is the flagship news publication for News Corp. in the United States. In addition to Fox News, News Corp also as a huge broadcast portfolio, a significant internet portfolio - including and MySpace - publishing properties (Harper Collins) and many other holdings in sports and finance.

My point is that it is fair to examine what the PI did or did not do as an individual newspaper that kept it's circulation and advertising dollars down. But comparing it to the WSJ, the NYT or other such "flagship" properties is probably an unfair comparison.

My $0.02.

Posted by: airfoil on March 19, 2009 09:55 AM
29. Johnny@26 invents, "the fact is that the newspapers going under right now are those that are most identified with being liberal left"

Really? Denver also just lost one of its two papers, and that was generally considered the more conservative one.

Posted by: Bruce on March 19, 2009 10:40 AM
30. Airfoil-

If your argument is that the PI is no Wall St. Journal, then we've reached an agreement point. (I personally filed it somewhere between Pravda and Mad Magazine, but I know others held it in slightly higher esteem.)

We can quibble about media crossover benefits while pretending the Hearst Corp wasn't large enough to build media crossover clout, but I'd say that's a weak argument. Hearst Corp has clout enough to make things happen if the media property they are pushing is right for the marketplace.

So here's the key strategic question that PI defenders seem to want to sidestep: "Why did the Times survive when PI failed?"

After all:
Both serve the same region and advertising base.

Both had similar cost structures because they dealt with the same unions and printing and distribution sources.

They both paid the same B&O taxes.

They even shared their print and distribution on Sundays so the core paying readership in the marketplace had ample exposure to both media properties.

I think you'll agree that from a business perspective, it was as close as it could be to a level playing field between the Times and PI.

If anything, the PI should have won the battle as they have a nationwide ad sales force, but they didn't. The Times has better served a wider audience and (in my opinion anyway) they just put out a product that more advertisers felt better spending money in.

(I was in the ad agency business in downtown Seattle, so I have some personal experience on this point.)

I won't disagree that there is a change in the fundamentals of the print media marketplace. But the PI is dead because it was a niche product in a mass marketplace and the niche it attempted to serve (the extreme left winger) is not a key one for most advertisers.

Posted by: johnny on March 19, 2009 11:08 AM
31. Bruce-
I'll have to bow to your expertise on that. I've never lived in Denver and frankly it wasn't a market that most of my old clients targeted. Exception to every rule I guess.

Posted by: johnny on March 19, 2009 11:23 AM
32. P-I had a better website than the Times too. They embraced reader feedback and blogs long before the Times did.

Posted by: Palouse on March 19, 2009 12:47 PM
33. Haven't seen anything except Bill Virgin's take either and I honestly wonder why. Isn't isolating editorial bias from the NEWS a mark of journalistic professionalism? A news reporter's job is to report the news, not to sway opinions, isn't that right?? How long will it take before somebody publicly recognizes that as one glaring shortcoming in both the P-I and the Times?

It's impossible to so much as glance at either Seattle 'news'paper without knowing the political persuasion of the editors responsible for the content. If you have any doubts after seeing photo selection & article placement, you'll be fully convinced by a quick check of the caption or 1st paragraph. I'm told it's a pretty pervasive problem in the industry, but it's sad and unnecessary.

Both of Seattle's papers seem to have some excellent newshound-type reporters, but it's the editors who choose & place the content and neither paper has seen fit to get editors who actually know how to do their jobs to the papers' benefit. How come? They'll continue driving potential readers away until the Times goes the way of the P-I. Is that what they want?

Doesn't matter, change happens and maybe we don't need the regional papers anyway. WSJ does a reasonable job of reporting national & world news and they isolate the commentary on pages so you can read it--or not. And it too is right at my doorstep when I get up in the morning (I always wondered how such opposites as WSJ & the P-I felt about getting stuffed in that bag together!). The weeklies report on neighborhood happenings and all the rest I can get ON LINE!

Posted by: LonelyConservative on March 19, 2009 07:17 PM
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