“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” — Journalism icon Walter Cronkite
More than 200 years ago, our founding fathers created the foundation for what has become the world’s model for self-government, egalitarianism and economic prosperity. A key brick in that foundation is our Free Press. The essential platform for healthy, self-governing communities across America.
Through the years, our Free Press evolved into a national system of local, independent newspapers accountable to the communities they lived in. This collection of diverse local voices became the underpinnings of a robust nation comprised of vibrant communities. Until recently.
Today, our Free Press is on life support. Consolidated absentee control and loss of localism imperils the health and future of our democracy. But not in Greater Seattle and Washington state. Here, The Seattle Times remains one of only five top-50 metro newspapers that is local, private and integral to the community’s fabric.
On Aug. 10, 2018, The Seattle Times celebrated its 122nd anniversary of local family stewardship. Fittingly, we are emerging from the Great Recession with an innovative, sustainable business model. A model solidly grounded in five generations of community-based, public-service journalism.
How did we do this?
The answer can be found in our emerging model:
• The continuous local stewardship based on a passion for relevant, impactful local journalism.
• A community that values quality independent journalism and is willing to support it through subscriptions and direct funding of journalistic content.
• Innovation in the use of technology to create and distribute news in multiple formats and to turn a print advertising department into a full-service print and digital agency.
• Transformation 2030, a process where we track each audience cohort (Millennials and Gen Xers, Boomers and Matures) from 2017 to 2030, tailoring content, delivery and products to each end of the market.
For the community, our most beneficial innovation has been the nationally unique community funding of Public Service Journalism, which has resulted in the most robust, local/regional journalism in the United States. High-impact, high-interest content which our community so richly deserves.
Notable facts about The Seattle Times:
• Nationally, one of only five private, local top-50 metro newspapers
• Second-highest paid print audience outside of Los Angeles
• Digital subscription revenue grew by 42% last year
• Print audience subscription revenue also grew
• The largest News, Opinion and Public Service staff in the Northwest
• One of the fastest-growing digital subscriber bases in the country, from 0 to 36,000 subscribers
• The largest audience ever in 122 years — 1.8 million adults
One of the great myths is that we are not reaching younger audiences. The fact is, our largest audience segment is older millennials (25–39), who represent our largest group of online subscribers. We even reach 43% of the fast-growing younger millennial cohort (18- to 24-year-olds).
Unique investment in community funding of Public Service Journalism
Coming out of the 2008 financial crash and Great Recession, we were in a resource-starved environment. Adding to overall economic woes was the structural erosion of traditional newspaper advertising, a revenue stream that had been the primary funder of newspaper and media journalism for more than 50 years.
Faced with this, the family made two decisions. First, we doubled down on our commitment to be a catalyst for reforming our state’s public education system. Second, we began to experiment with raising community funds to support journalism.
Major community-funded journalism labs and projects to date are:
• The Greater Good Campaign (2011–2018) to stop the defunding of higher education.
• Education Lab (2013–2018) soon followed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The positive impact has been extraordinary. It became a catalyst for important reforms in our public K-12 education system. It expanded the dialogue to include early learning, wraparound services and post-secondary access. It was key to elevating community awareness and activism, which led to the Legislature complying with the State Constitution’s mandate to fully fund K-12 education.
• LiveWire (2013–2017) was launched around the same time as an event series featuring meaningful discussions about vital issues impacting our region and its people.
• Traffic Lab (2017–2018) soon followed, focusing on one of our community’s most intractable issues. It launched with support from Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development, NHL Seattle, PEMCO, Sabey Corporation, Seattle Children’s and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
• Project Homeless (2018) was the first journalism lab proposed to us by the community (Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Starbucks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
We now have a backlog of requests for additional labs from a diverse mix of the community.
The Seattle Times’ Free Press Watchdog Fund
Next up is the most audacious community-funded project yet: The Seattle Times Free Press Watchdog Fund. Investigative reporting is the most popular and most impactful content we produce. It is also the most expensive and time-consuming journalism, which is why there is very little of it left in metros across America. If successful, this project will create the largest investigative team in the country outside Washington D.C. and New York City. Expect to hear more about this in coming months.
How can you help sustain our vibrant, local free press?
• If you’re not already one of our advertising Agency partners, explore what it means to be a customer of a full-service digital agency, and how we can uniquely leverage our combination of digital and print.
• If you, your associates and friends are interested in learning more about investing in our community through Public Service Journalism, please let me know at PublisherFeedback@seattletimes.com.
• Show appreciation, whenever you get the opportunity, to the funders behind The Times’ Public Service Journalism. They are truly helping make this special community even better.
On behalf of the Blethen Family and our Seattle Times Family colleagues, thank you to our subscribers, advertisers and funders. We couldn’t do it without you.