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Posts published in “Day: March 14, 2006”

Side to side

Eearly in the last legislative session, Senator Bill Finkbeiner, whose 45th district includes Kirkland, Woodinville and part of Redmont - the northern eastside of King County - made a significant switch. In the 2005 session his vote was key to killing a key piece of gay rights legislation. This January, having resigned his leadership of the Senate Republicans, his vote changed in favor of passage, which it did. And it was hard to escape the notion that his vote change had a lot to do with attitudes on social issues on the east side of King County.

The Eastside has been a pivot in Washington politics for a decade and more - the side winning substantially there has a good shot at winning statewide. That was part of the strategy underlying the near-win of Dino Rossi for governor in 2004: He had been a Republican senator on the east side, and was thought likely to capture enough of those votes to launch him over the top. That effort came to the edge of working.

But is the Eastside moving away from Republicans? The turn of a couple of legislative seats in 2004 toward Democrats was one indicator it might be. The policy switch of Bill Finkbeiner was another. And now, the case of Rodney Tom. (more…)

The gentrification of grungetown

Athoughtful piece in the Seattle Times today by long-time area music writer Charles Cross suggests that the Emerald City, which became such a target of gentrification in large part because its arts scene is so active, may be driving away its popular arts because of just that success.

Gas Works ParkThe trigger for his immediate concern is Gas Works Park, a 20-acre former industrial site (as its name suggests) obtained by the city of Seattle and opened as a park in 1975. A series of 17 concerts had been planned there; a lawsuit from neighbors (who are not exactly right on top of the area) apparently has killed it.

That would be a minor issue by itself, but apparently it is emblematic. All over Seattle, Cross writes, in places like Pioneer Square and Belltown where funky music outlets fostered the development of grunge and much else, and where neighbors often are much closer - and where they often have paid outrageous prices for the privilege of cultural nearness - similar battles have been underway. The issue is of special note because the arts, and especially music, play such an important part in the identity and culture of Seattle: They are an important piece of its definition.

"Club owners have found themselves squeezed by rising rents, plus ordinances that control noise, hours and crowd sizes. Artists and musicians rely on cheap urban rent districts — which was the very reason Belltown spawned a music scene two decades ago — and those are increasingly impossible to find in Seattle," Cross writes. And he asks: "The larger question, though, is what kind of city will Seattle be in the future: one ruled by condo owners and developers and not-in-my-backyard special interests, or one where a vibrant arts scene plays a role?"

Sounds like a question ripe for serious civic consideration.

Concentration

A number of readers of the Tacoma News Tribune and the nearby Olympia Olympian put together a few pieces of information and asked the question: With McClatchy Newspapers, which already owns the paper at Tacoma, set to take over the paper at Olympia, might that mean closure of the smaller Olympia paper?

The reply today, from the publisher at Tacoma, was: “We have no intention of closing the Olympian or selling it.”

And there's no immediate reason to think they will. Olympia (with Lacey and Tumwater) is a market distinct from Tacoma, even if it is only 30 miles away. It also is a growing market, which may be one reason McClatchy put the Olympian in the "keep" rather than the "spin off" category. There's also some ugly newspaper industry history when companies try that sort of consolidation; an attempt some years back by Lee Newspapers to merge the Oregon papers at Albany and Corvallis, just 10 miles apart, blew up, and the papers remain mostly separate to this day.

That said, those concerned readers may be missing a larger issue: McClatchy is moving from being a substantial player in the Puget newspaper scene, to being the dominant player.

In addition to the Tacoma and Olympia operations, it also will own outright the paper at Bellingham, the Herald (also a keeper). And although the partnership has been mostly silent, McClatchy will have 49% of the leading paper in the Seattle area, the Seattle Times - no small consideration. And don't forget another paper of substance, the Tri-City Herald, just over the Cascades.

What may this mean? Consolidation of some regional reporting? A reshuffled business picture, surely. It does mean a concentration of newspaper clout in the hands of one company unlike anything the Puget Sound, or even the Northwest, has ever seen before.

UPDATE NOTE: Several news stories have pointed out that McClatchy so far has been able to avoid the ever-growing pressures on profitability (and cutbacks at newsroomss) in part because the corporate stock is structured in such a way that the family has maintained strong voting control. This space suggested yesterday that McClatchy may have trouble resisting Wall Street and its larger investors; the stories suggest the stock structuring may allow it to do so.

Maybe - and we hope so. But we have our doubts, because the larger picture remains: The massive expansion of this company will mean far more outside, non-family, money will be coming into the picture. And it will come with a price that will insist, eventually if not immediately, on payment.