Of Dying Blogs And Newspapers: Publicola

A farewell screenshot from PubliCola. We'll miss it.

PubliCola, the frisky leftist metro-centrist blog, died Wednesday. And we all should be sad. We at Washington State Wire wish Josh and Erica a long run at Crosscut. We need all the quality content that is possible, of whatever stripe. Public debate without exposure and examination is not public. Olympia cannot and should not function without windows on all sides of the room.  There are ignorant people who would bury openness and free speech. There also are very bright people who understand the destruction of a free press will erode their tyranny. But in a democracy, journalism should have no enemies.

Washington State Wire is part of a new platform. So was PubliCola. (It is not easy to use “was” and “PubliCola” in the same sentence.) With the shutdown of PubliCola and David Brewster’s column yesterday in Crosscut we all see how fluid this new platform can be. Like so many other ticklish details in our lives, it comes down to money. Good people with good writing skills can only pour so much of their lives into the telling and sharing that is journalism until the reality of paying the bills clobbers them. Brewster explains that without substantial and generous sponsorships or reader support, advertising revenues at PubliCola could not float the boat.

So whose job is it to see that both sides of a state policy issue get a public airing? We have gone from more than 20 Olympia based reporters to a handful, and one of those is our own Erik Smith. After two years of work with Washington State Wire, after watching the Seattle P-I go digital and now Publicola going black, it is very apparent to me that this job falls on the publishers and the business managers of these 21st century First-Amendment champions.

We have to sell advertising and develop other financial models that will provide enough support to keep ventures like these alive. Often it requires missionary work and a bit of education as we make our case. And it’s tough – we’re still figuring out the business end of things ourselves. No one yet seems to quite have a handle on it. The entire field is still in what you might call the experimental phase. Probably the clearest lesson of this and our own experience, and that of Crosscut for that matter, is that advertising alone isn’t enough to keep the lights on.

It might sound funny for us to say this, given the fact that Washington State Wire and PubliCola have aimed for different audiences, and because we have a rather different view of the world and a different way of presenting it. But PubliCola’s demise hits us hard. Clearly it was one of the strongest and most ambitious ventures on the public-affairs scene in Washington state. We’re hoping that ways can be found to sustain solid, quality Internet news ventures with independent voices, to expand them and to realize the dream of a healthy, vibrant new medium that might actually do a better job of serving the interests of its readership than the newspapers of old. Whatever happened with PubliCola, we remain convinced that the Web is the future.

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