Don't Stop the Presses

An accounting of good newspapering in Seattle.

BASHING THE CITY'S two daily newspapers can be something of a civic sport in Seattle, as in any town. What drives people crazy is that there are many days when the two papers here read the sameā€”and dully at that. What many readers overlook, though, is that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Seattle Times actually thump out impressive journalism over the course of a year. This being the time when newspapers everywhere are preparing their annual entries for numerous journalism competitions, it's worth taking stock of 2002, especially with all the talk of one of the papers vanishing. It might not have been a Pulitzer Prize year for either the P-I or the Times, but noteworthy stories were published.

In the P-I, for example, reporters Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler turned out an exhaustive, five-part series on environmental problems plaguing Puget Sound. Larry Johnson did some smart, original reporting from Iraq, and investigative reporter Ruth Teichroeb went after the mysterious deaths of young children.

OF THE TWO PAPERS, the Times arguably had the stronger year. That's no huge surprise: The paper has twice as many reporters as the P-I and apparently has oodles of surplus money to spend on projects like sending two staffers to New Zealand to cover billionaire Craig McCaw's bid for the America's Cup (one of the odder choices the Times made last year).

Probably the most effective Times story of 2002 was written by Marsha King and concerned a woman facing early-stage Alzheimer's. Paula Bock's article on AIDS among sub-Saharan African women also was powerful. There was much dogged reporting in "The Terrorist Within," a serial look at the life of wanna-be millennial bomber Ahmed Ressam, by Hal Bernton, Mike Carter, David Heath, and James Neff. The Times also did impressive work covering the D.C. snipers' Tacoma links and delved into the dark chasm of government taxation and spending. And it was a classic moment when City Hall reporter Jim Brunner demanded and published the note Mayor Greg Nickels' staff used to shake down the City Council during a budget meeting.

So how do the papers themselves view last year? P-I management did not return calls for this article. But Cyndi Nash did; she's the Times' director of content development. Nash called 2002 a "great year" for content in the Times. Asked about possible Pulitzer nominations, she said the Times doesn't focus on that.

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