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Messenger Archives - April 2010

misc - by Clark Humphrey

Seattle Center's Chihuly debacle, The print-free P-I turns 1, SODO's new Grocery Outlet

DALE CHIHULY: an eye for art marketing.

HEART-OF-GLASS DEPT.: The Fun Forest carny operation is being demolished in stages. Boo! But a done deal, alas.

Now the Space Needle’s private owners (principally the Howard S. Wright family) have announced what they’d like to see in place of the Fun Forest’s outdoor rides and indoor arcade—a huge Dale Chihuly glass art exhibit, most of which would be behind paid-admission gates.

Don’t do it, Seattle Center!

Getting rid of the last amusement park within the city limits is one thing. It would be even worse to replace it with one more world class-esque monument to the Dictatorship of the Upscale.

Let’s have more visual arts in the Center. But let’s have lots more different kinds of visual arts.

Or take the advice of our pal David Goldstein at HorsesAss.org, and put in a new kid/family recreation zone.

DEAR MOBY: If you don’t eat meat, don’t put out a book with a subtitle mentioning “...Truths About the Meat We Eat.”

This grammatical advice also goes out to all you radical-chic-sters. “We” means “me and you and maybe more.” It does NOT mean “those stupid mainstream sheeple who aren’t as cool as you and me.”

IT’S THEIR PARTY AND I’LL CRY IF I WANT TO: SeattlePI.com held its one-year anniversary party last month. The Crocodile was all done up with pastel pink and blue “baby color” balloons. (The Seattle Weekly anniversary parties I’ve been to were all festooned with black, white, and red balloons,
as in “black and white and re(a)d all over.”)

The first song by the first band on stage included the repeated refrain, “I want to dance on your grave.”
With the prominent exception of cartoonist David Horsey, most of the 120 or so people there were well under 40, nay under 30. They were significantly younger, on the average, than the people I’d seen at any of the P-I memorial gatherings over the previous year (of which there were at least three). They weren’t about mourning the dying old media. They were about celebrating the shiny new media (or at least celebrating this particular new-media venture’s survival in-this-economic-climate etc.).

I don’t need to rant about PI.com’s shortcomings. Its own people know about them. They’re scrambling to put out a popular site on a skeletal budget. I remember the early months of The Stranger, and that venture also was then heavy on proven circulation-building features, light on hard news.

PI.com officials say the site now gets as many “hits” and readers as it did when it had a newspaper feeding it content. They’ve scraped and scrambled to get to that level, using every trick in the old Hearst playbook: canned gossip items, comics, cute animal pictures, fashion pictures, basically all the soft sides of Wm. Randolph Hearst Sr.’s old circulation-building formula. (The hard side of that formula, the scandals and exposés, would require more person-hours of research than the site’s minimal staff can muster.)

Most days, there’s at least one significant local news story on the site. Its sports commentary and tech-biz coverage have steadily improved. Local entertainment coverage disappeared from the site altogether when it went web-only; now at least there’s some.

The site’s design is still too cluttered, but it’s better than it was.

But it’s not the depth-and-breadth news source that the print P-I had been at its best, and that today’s Seattle Times sometimes tries, but usually fails, to be.

To become that, PI.com would need to bulk up from its current 20-person core staff to at least double that.
Even if online advertising rebounds from the current all-around business slump, it’s unlikely to generate enough revenue to support that. (PI.com, from all accounts, is inching toward profitability as is.)

It’ll need some other, or additional, revenue model.  (An iPad paper? A print weekly?)

Until then, or until some other new venture or set of ventures shows up, Seattle’s information landscape will still have a P-I sized hole needing to be filled.

THE INSANITY CONTINUES: TheDailyBeast.com claims Seattle is America’s 19th Craziest City. The site’s list of 57 metro areas is based on psychiatrists per capita, drinking levels, and the amorphous criteria of “stress” and “eccentricity.” Portland is #17. Number one? Cincinnati.

IT’S A DAY, ALL RIGHT: I want to like KING-TV’s new morning talk show New Day Northwest. We need all the pro local media we can get. Host Margaret Larson is a seasoned broadcast journalist; she’s also worked in PR for several humanitarian groups. The show’s director, Steve Wilson, was a key member of KING’s old Almost Live! team.

That said, the initial telecasts are a disappointment. They’re light on substance, heavy on homemaking tips (as if the daytime audience were still all stay-home housewives obsessed with domesticity).

I’m not part of the show’s target demographic. But I can still tell what is and isn’t compelling TV. And I’d really like New Day to evolve into more of the former.

THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT THE NEW GROCERY OUTLET IN SODO:
- There’s another real supermarket in greater downtown!

-It’s got quite decent, everyday low prices on the staples and the perishables. (As long as you’re willing to do without a really broad selection or the high-end artisanal varieties.)

-But on packaged, canned, bottled, and frozen stuff, it really shines. That’s because the franchise chain (130 stores in six states) specializes in buying manufacturers’ surpluses, closeouts, and overstocks. This means the concept can’t spread too big. (As you may have read elsewhere, the U.S. food industry operates at sometimes brutal efficiencies. There’s only so much “remarketable” product for the likes of Grocery Outlet to pick up.)

-But on what Grocery Outlet does obtain, retail prices can be half of what regular stores charge, or even less.

-And what stuff it is! It’s an ever-changing array of the familiar and the exotic. Store brands from stores that don’t exist in this region. (Acme! Jewel! Stop n’ Shop!) Boxes of Cap’n Crunch boldly labeled USA PRODUCT FOR EXPORT ONLY. (Nice to know there’s still some goods we can sell overseas.) Items that never gained great distribution here, such as Vienetta (a “frozen dairy dessert cake”).




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