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Originally published March 12, 2009 at 3:44 PM | Page modified April 6, 2009 at 6:09 PM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

Newspaper transition: Preserve local newsgathering

Newspapers will figure out the economics of online news though not all will survive the transition, writes Ryan Blethen, Seattle Times associate publisher. "My generation of Blethens, the fifth to own The Times, will preside over a much different organization than any of the previous four. Our goal is not so much to preserve the printed newspaper but to preserve a local newsgathering operation."

Seattle Times editorial columnist

What is a newspaper anymore? Many different things, judging from the e-mails I receive from readers and the feedback I get from friends and the community.

In my last column, I wrote that I am using this space during the next couple of months to examine the many ideas and business models that have been suggested to support professional journalism and the newspaper of the future. Before I can go further with this topic, I need to reconcile what I believe a newspaper is and what appears to be a large chunk of the community's and readers' definition and/or perception of newspapers.

A number of comments generated by the column claimed that newspapers were dead but might live online. Or that the Internet will kill newspapers and that society would be all the better for the digital slaying.

The latter notion was forcefully raised by a commentator called CougInLacey, from you guessed it, Lacey. "I think the Internet will kill off the newspapers. As in no news via PAPER. It's possible that newspapers will morph into online only but like you I don't see the economics in it."

I partially disagree. The Internet will not kill off newspapers. I can say this because of my definition of a newspaper. To me the word "newspaper" is a catchall for whatever way newspaper created content is delivered. This includes a newspaper's Web site. The content might be digital but it is still newspaper-created content.

When newspapers come up in conversation — which, with me, is often — I almost always ask people how they get their news. A decade ago, this conversation hinged on whether they were Seattle Times or Seattle Post-Intelligencer readers.

Today, the answer is much more convoluted. I usually get the generic "from the Internet" answer. This response prompts me to drill deeper. What I find is that "the Internet" is really a daily or multiple daily newspapers and a search engine.

Where I disagree with CougInLacey is that newspapers will figure out the economics of online news. An online news site does not rule out the continuation of print. The days of printing seven days a week for a mass audience might have to be sacrificed for old-time newspapers to make a successful transition into the digital age. Not all newspapers will survive the transition. But many will, and contrary to what a lot of commentators say, that is a good thing.

Another reader, cathy2010 from Bellevue, got to me with her comment: "Is the point to save the printed page or is it to save local news organizations?"

Good question. My mission is to save the local news organization, which to me is The Seattle Times. As much as I love news printed on paper, I have accepted the fact that the future is going to be different.

My generation of Blethens, the fifth to own The Times, will preside over a much different organization than any of the previous four. Our goal is not so much to preserve the printed newspaper but to preserve a local newsgathering operation.

I asked at the beginning of this column what a newspaper is, anymore. Let me answer that another way. The Times will be a company rooted in journalism as long as my cousins, brother and I are involved.

The question should be: How are we going to change to sustain the journalism that serves the community?

Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is rblethen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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