New SeattlePI.com Strategy: ‘Experiment a Lot, Fail Fast’

Today the Seattle Post-Intelligencer delivers its final print edition; tomorrow it debuts as an online-only publication. The new SeattlePI.com will try to answer the question raised by its executive producer Michelle Nicolosi: “Is it possible to run an online-only local news site that serves a city’s readers well while turning a profit?”

Nicolosi says, “Our strategy moving forward is to experiment a lot and fail fast”:

We are successful because we pay close attention to what the reader wants. We have a “survival of the fittest” attitude about content that isn’t working. If a story, beat or blog isn’t resonating with the readers, we ask, is there something wrong with our approach, display or placement? We look for ways to improve results, and if that particular feature doesn’t work after six months of trying out improvements, we will likely decide to kill it. Experiment a lot, fail fast.

Nicolosi says the site will focus on breaking news and hard news — what readers want, based on traffic patterns and a recent survey.

The site is temporarily missing an important element: paid advertising.

A lone house ad promotes the site’s health section, which features content provided by a new partnership with Hearst magazines Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, Redbook and Popular Mechanics.

As part of the P-I‘s contentious Joint Operating Agreement with The Seattle Times, the Times handled advertising.

The Hearst news release about the transition says the company is building a staff to sell local ads and its partners ad products, including Google, Yahoo and others.

It is unclear whether the P-I‘s changes and dissolution of the JOA will help The Seattle Times enough to sustain its future.

A Seattle Times story about its future begins:

Seattle is now a one-newspaper town. Will it become a no-newspaper town?

While economic hardship has claimed the printed version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Times also is fighting for its life.

“This quarter will probably be the all-time bad one in my career/lifetime. As will the two- to three-year [economic downturn] we are in,” Seattle Times Publisher and CEO Frank Blethen wrote last week in an e-mail to family members and senior managers.

Blethen says he and his family, who have owned and published the paper continuously since 1896, have no intention of giving up now. But he can’t guarantee survival.

In the immediate future, The Seattle Times could see ad revenue decline, the paper reports, because ads were sold for the combined circulation of the two papers. But in the long term, the Times will benefit financially from shedding the additional cost of printing, advertising, marketing and distributing the P-I.

P-I subscribers will begin receiving the Times instead. And several features that appeared in the P-I will now appear in the Times, including The New York Times crossword puzzle.

The Times said it would also like to hire some former P-I employees:

Eventually, Times Executive Editor David Boardman said, the newspaper hopes to hire some of the newsroom talent at the P-I. He said that is unaffordable now for The Times, where the news staff has been reduced by more than 40 percent since 2003.

“We simply can’t afford to hire any of their people. We have had to cut so many of our own,” Boardman said. “But we have been having conversations with some of their best people, and I’m hopeful at some point they can come join us.”

Editor & Publisher reports the P-I staff will stay in its current building, with the iconic globe atop it.

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