Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Memo to Zagnation and Zagnauts: Your beloved Bulldogs are once again going for the money. Make no mistake, it’s just a matter of time before they officially accept an invitation from the “new” Big East to join the Catholic Seven non-football playing members of the “old” Big East conference.

Forget about tradition. Forget about rivalries. In the words of motor-mouth basketball commentator, Dick Vitale, “it’s all about the money, baby, it’s all about the money.” Don’t forget, Zag fans, this is the same guy that guaranteed the nation’s basketball watching television audience that Wichita State would defeat Gonzaga in the NCAA Round of 32.

Yes, Gonzaga’s success over the last 16 years has spurred growth in applications and enrollment, and has helped to secure Gonzaga’s financial future. It has also enabled the school to undertake expansion and new buildings. It has become a Harvard business school case study, no doubt, on how to leverage success on the hardwood into success and stature in the competitive world of academia.

Yes, too, Gonzaga has come a long ways from the days in the early 60s when only Board Chairman Harry F. Magnuson’s personal guarantee behind a line of credit kept the doors open and averted bankruptcy. If not for the deep devotion by the late Wallace millionaire and investor no one would even be talking about the Zags today.

So, how much more money are we talking about and is it enough to offset the travel expenses that would come with being so far geographically from the Catholic Seven? The answers are lots more money and yes.

The latest figures available are two years old but they show that the Bulldog basketball program spent $5.3 million and its revenue was $6.1 million. That would put them in the middle of the Catholic Seven——Marquette (which has one national title), Villanova (one national title), Georgetown (one national title), DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s.

Marquette, by contrast had $10.3 million in expenses, but revenue was a nice $15.6 million. Though Gonzaga’s numbers look middling to the new Big East, all these schools see great potential in games with the Zags generating much more revenue because the Zags national following would guarantee more television revenue for all.

Keep in mind that with the possible exception of St. Mary’s, no other school in the West Coast conference spends nearly as much as the Zags. Then there is the factor that coach Mark Few has reportedly wanted to leave the WCC for a number of years in no small part because the lower conference power ranking of the WCC compared to the Big East or the PAC-12 almost always presents a “strength of schedule” barrier that the Zags have to overcome to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

A tougher conference schedule would mean that Few would not have to schedule quite so many tough non-conference opponents.

One suspects that the additional dollars from television will easily off-set and over-come the travel distance barrier. The Zags already charter a large private jet for all of their away games and most Zagnauts are well aware that in order to become a “mid-major” power the Zags already travel great distances for quality games against premier opponents.

There is also a queue forming of other Catholic schools in the mid-west clamoring to join which, with Few reportedly wanting to leave the WCC, means there is behind-the-scenes courting and lobbying going on for the Zags to be the first new addition and the eighth school to join.

Speculation is already rampant among basketball junkies that before the next season the new Big East will have expanded to ten members with Creighton and Xavier joining and the one non-Catholic university, Butler (which made the national championship game two years in a row just two short seasons back) also joining.

If, the Zags indeed do join it would make the most sense to do so quite soon and the “new” Big East might then invite St. Louis to join also, giving it 12 teams that could be divided into two divisions with another one of those lucrative conference tournaments also adding more dollars.

Someone somewhere though should be asking just how much more “success” can the Zags absorb and will there ever be enough? What are the added costs to the student athletes in more long-distance travel? You can also bet that the price of those already expensive seats in the Zags arena will take another exponential jump.

After all, it really is about all the additional money. And by the way, look for the WCC to quickly tender an offer to Seattle University to take the Zags place.

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Carlson

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS
 
West of
the Cascades

At the liberal Daily Kos site there’s a set of statistics anyone interested in horserace politics should examine. It suggests where he heated congressional races in the Northwest (and the rest of the country) will be, as least in statistical probability, in the next few years.

What they did was to compile, for all of the new U.S. House districts around the country (those formed after reapportionment for this decade, before the last election) the outcomes of the last two presidential contests, by district. This provides a really useful alternative check against the actual U.S. House races, where individual candidates and campaigns, or unusual local elections, might influence a specific election. It gives you an idea of how much change a Republican or a Democrat really has of winning in the district.

In a district, for example, where Barack Obama won twice, or lost twice, by decisive margins, you can pretty much tell which party is likely to hold the congressional seat.

And for nearly all of the Northwest’s 17 House districts, that result is very clear. In both Idaho’s congressional districts, for example, Obama lost by more than 30 percentage points in 2012 and by more than 23 in 2008. That gives you a clue. So does Obama’s wins each time by more than 45 points in Oregon 3 and Washington 7. These are among the most spectacular examples, but any time the gap approaches 10, the margins are too broad for a minority party to win under any but unusual circumstances. Or unless something important happens to change politics on the ground in those places.

There’s one gray-area district, not really a true swing but not far from it. Oregon 5, won the last three elections by Democrat Kurt Schrader, voted for Obama both times, but narrowly (50.5% to 47.1% in 2012, and 53% to 44.2% in 2008). It’s worth watching, because it’s not far from even-odds competition.

Only two districts of the 17 are close enough, in the presidential count, and they are both in Washington state. One I would have guessed falls into this category is Washington 1, the new construct that runs from eastern King County to the Canadian line; but it turns out that Obama won there pretty decisively each time, by 54.1%-43.3% in 2012, and 56.3% to 41.9% in 2008.

The closest district isn’t a massive surprise. It is Washington 3, in the southwest part of the state centered on Clark County, where Obama lost in 2012 by 47.9% to 49.6%, and won in 2008 by 50.9% to 47.1% – the only district of the 17 that flipped between parties in the two elections. Widely regarded now as a Republican district (maybe partly because of incumbent Jaime Herrera-Beutler’s strong win in 2012), it may have closer margins than many suspect.

The same is true in Washington 8, also a new construct which includes the eastern King County area across the Cascades to the Wenatchee area and large regions beyond. It looks like a solidly Republican district, but turns out that – surprise! – Obama won it in both of the last two elections, 49.7% to 48.1% in 2012 and 51.5% to 46.8% in 2008. That’s a narrow margin, but that’s the point: This should be classed as a swing district, other conditions being equal, which could happen if incumbent Dave Reichert eventually opts out.

Look to those two districts for some of the congressional heat in the decade coming up.

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Northwest

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Modern budgets in the federal government are more stories than spread sheets.

Consider the three competing budgets for 2014. The House budget is stark. There are no new taxes and spending drop below even the sequester levels. The Senate sets out a very different course. That budget plan increases taxes, mostly on the White House, and restores spending to many parts of the budget.

Today’s White House plan melds the House and Senate into a compromise plan. That is, if compromise is even possible in today’s political environment. Remember that no single plan, not the House, not the Senate, and certainly not the president’s, will be enacted into law without lots of changes, debates, and compromises. This is only the beginning of the process where every line is written in pencil. (The Washington Post has a great graphic that shows how rare it is for a president’s budget to actually get enacted.)

But this is a smart budget. It’s might even work because it’s neither the House nor the Senate approach.

“The budget also incorporates the president’s compromise offer to House Speaker Boehner to achieve another $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction in a balanced way,” the White House says. “When combined with the deficit reduction already achieved, this will allow us to exceed the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, while growing the economy and strengthening the middle class. By including this compromise proposal in the budget, the president is demonstrating his willingness to make tough choices and his seriousness about finding common ground to further reduce the deficit.”

There is a lot to like in the president’s budget because it invests in the areas of government that require more money, mainly education. If you pull back and look at the big picture, the federal government’s primary challenge is demographic — an aging workforce that’s ready to retire — so the best answer is to invest heavily in education, so that young people have the skills to earn as much income as possible. (Instead of what we’re doing now: Loading up this generation with student debt.)

The budget: “Improves college affordability and value with a continued commitment to Pell Grants; budget-neutral student loan reforms that will make interest rates more market-based; a $1 billion Race-to-the-Top fund to support competitive grants to States that drive higher education reform, while doing more to contain tuition; a $260 million First in the World fund to spur cutting-edge innovations that decrease college costs and boost graduation rates; and reforms to Federal campus-based aid to reward colleges that set responsible tuition policy, provide a high-quality education and better serve students with financial need.”

It also calls for more money for innovation at the high school level, including “a new, competitive fund for redesigning high schools to focus on providing challenging and relevant experiences, while promoting and developing partnerships with colleges and employers that improve instruction and prepare students to continue education or transition into skilled jobs.”

There is also more funding for science, technology, engineering and math education (or STEM) including money for 100,000 “master teachers.”

All of these programs will benefit Indian Country. Because Indian Country is so much younger than the general population; every dollar spent on education is an opportunity that benefits both reservation communities and the larger society. It’s the ultimate win-win.

But the details of the budget are the sentences that make up the narrative, not the actual numbers. The president’s budget — and even more so, the Senate’s budget, invest in the future. Those budget spend money on education (as well as other important programs). While the House budget would reflect a dramatic reversal.

So what’s next in the debate? The Congress must answer one simple question, actually. Does the United States government want to invest in the future by increasing educational opportunities for young people? Or cut the federal budget deeply and hope for the best? Modern budgets are stories, sure, but that’s why the numbers matter because it helps policy makers chose which story should come true.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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Trahant

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

The Independent Party of Oregon recently polled members on a variety of issues, and released the results this week. From their statement on the polling results, in a party very roughly positioned between Democratic and Republican:

82% agreed that “The cost of PERS exceeds the state’s ability to pay and should be reformed to reduce expenses.”

A majority supported each of the reforms contained in the Oregon School Boards Association Proposal for PERS reform. The most favored reform was stopping payments to out of state retirees to cover their Oregon state taxes that they do not actually pay.

A majority did not support “rate collaring” as a means of reducing PERS costs.

Only 11% thought that PERS reform was not needed.

Only 6% stated they were “willing to pay more in taxes in order to protect retirement benefits for state workers.”

76% favored reducing tax breaks for wealthy individuals.
69% favored reducing tax breaks for corporations.

50.0% favored capping at $30,000 per person the income tax deductions and credits claimed on state income tax returns.

No other proposals for cutting costs or increasing revenues earned majority approval.

The most popular potential additional tax was a sales tax (38% approved), while increases in income taxes and property taxes were highly disfavored.

IPO Members strongly support consumer protection & economic development legislation.

89% opposed a 2011 law that repealed a 2005 statute prohibiting private utilities (like PGE) from charging ratepayers for “income taxes” that the utilities actually do not pay.

Large majorities favored legislation intended to protect consumers from unfair practices and greater public review of health insurance rate hikes.

Large majorities approved awarding government contracts under rules giving preference to Oregon-based companies and providing tax credits for capital construction in Oregon for companies that hire new Oregon workers

50% approved of automatically registering to vote all persons who prove their U.S. citizenship and Oregon residency to government agencies, such as DMV.

Increased spending on transportation infrastructure received only 45% approval. IPO Members strongly support opening Oregon’s primary election to all minor parties.

98% agreed that Oregon should allow minor parties to participate in the state’s primary election instead of being compelled to conduct their own primary elections or caucuses.

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Oregon Reading

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS
 
West of
the Cascades

Politics – in the campaigning end of it, that is – is full of people “stand firm”, who are resolute, who have the backbone to stick fiercely to their principles.

Most of this is garbage, of course. Effective political people know that blind adherence to points of view often generates either little accomplishment or, sometimes, deep defeat. For a politician, it can put you at risk. For an organization, too.

Which brings me to two widely disparate kinds of groups with similar problems: The National Rifle Association, and Oregon’s public sector unions.

After the Sandy Hook shootings late last year, my thought about what the NRA ought to do, as a matter of self-preservation and in the real interests of its membership, was simple: Compromise. Give in a bit on some of the ideas, such as universal background checks, that even President Wayne LaPierre strongly supported only a decade ago. A few such modest moves would be enough to position the NRA, and by extension many gun owners, as well within the mainstream, without giving up anything very important to their interests. Politically, that was the smart move.

As we know, they didn’t do that. Short term, this may not matter, but long term, after a few more mass shootings (which as we all know will happen), this will be an over-stiff branch that rather than bending with the wind may be broken by it.

Similar point, and the real subject today, applies to Oregon’s public section labor unions.

The topic of the day for them is singular, but in-state significant: What to do about the heavily escalating cost of PERS, the public employee retirement system, which is one of the most generous in the country.

The costs of paying for those obligations is cutting deeply into budget for public schools and almost everything else, and probably only a sliver of people in Oregon would argue that costs ought to be trimmed. That could be done with no substantial damage to retirees, as part of an overall budget and revenue package. The Oregon school boards association has proposed a PERS change that might in fact bear down in some retirees, but Governor John Kitzhaber has proposed one that seems to hit a sweet spot – saving quite a large chunk of money but impacting retirees only very lightly or, in most cases, not at all. Proposed in his state of the state, it would objectively seem easy to support.

But the public sector unions have a great deal of clout among the Democrats who have the majority in Oregon’s legislature, and they are resisting any changes at all. The co-chairs of the budget committee, Senator Richard Devlin of Tualatin and Peter Buckley of Ashland, last week delivered a PERS proposal that sits about halfway between “nothing” and the Kitzhaber. Reports suggest it will be jammed through soon.

Even that seems to be too much give for the unions.

As a whole, Oregon is fairly labor-friendly and there’s not the kind of widely-trafficked animus against public employees you might find in, say, Idaho. But that’s not immutable. Imagine this scenario: The co-chairs’ PERS plan or something even more watery passes the legislature (and Kitzhaber has said that if the co-chairs’ plan is what passes, he’ll sign it). In response, someone (not hard to come up with prospects) develops a ballot issue to impose much tough changes on PERS, and argues that the choice is between either a big payday for a fraction of the retirees, or more teachers in the schools. And Republicans running for the legislature lash themselves to those ballot issues – and run with the argument that it became necessary only because majority Democrats are too beholden to the public sector unions.

In that scenario, both the PERS benefits (in anything like their current form) and the Democratic majorities in the legislature (which are thin) would be at risk.

This risk may not be this year, or even necessarily next. But eventually.

Bend or break.

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Oregon West of the Cascades

portneuf exhibit
 
One of the images on display at the exhibit “Nature Photography of The Portneuf Valley in Spring” sponsored by the Idaho Museum of Natural History, on display in the Cordillera Gallery at Walrus and Carpenter Books April 5. (image/Idaho State University)

 

Legislature wrapup was a key subject last week in Idaho, and showdowns in Washington as well; the setup for a possible jam-through of the budget chairs’ PERS bill may be the big deal this week in Salem.

Meantime, and not unrelated, springtime seems to be kicking in.

More followup in next week’s Briefings.

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Briefings

news

ZERO TV Not a totally local story, but this comment in the Seattle Times website was irresistible: “If cable companies would let us pick the few channels we DO want to have, instead of making us pay for loads of toilet bowl filler that we don’t want, they’d have more subscribers.” The article, originally in the Los Angeles Times, is about corporate concerns over the growing number of people cutting cable TV, and even broadcast, and using online steaming and other Internet sources for their viewing entertainment. (We do, almost entirely, in our household.)

POT IMPAIRMENT A possibly significant decision out of the Idaho Court of Appeals on a case involving a man who had consumed marijuana – at some point fairly recently – and was arrested on DUI, charged with under the influence of pot. His erratic driving doesn’t seem to be at issue, but the cause of it was: He said that he has paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (sounds like a great guy to get out on the road in the first place), and there was no evidence he had ingested the pot recently, as in the last day or two. The pot-longevity question may be of some significance in places like Washington state, which are in the process of reviewing a number of laws in that area.

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First Take

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In a public display best called “neanderthal,” and “outrageous,” the NRA has stepped all over its own feet in the worst case of self-inflicted public relations injuries I’ve ever witnessed. It chose the wrong place to debut its latest “independent” gun safety B.S. and it did so with two dozen armed “body guards” for protection. From there, it went straight downhill.

The chosen site was the National Press Club in Washington D.C. I used to be a member and can assure you it’s one of the safest – and also most boring – places in D.C. For nearly 100 years, presidents, kings, prime ministers, celebrities and wannabee celebrities have used its podium to make statements profound and ridiculous. The NRA set a new low for ridiculous.
The occasion was to announce an “independent” committee’s findings and recommendations the NRA would “adopt” on gun safety. The committee was far from independent and the “findings” could have been published before its first meeting.

Chaired by former Congressman Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) the NRA tried to use his credibility as its own. In other words, the NRA bought and paid for that “credibility.” Hutchinson admits he was “hired” but won’t reveal his price. He picked his own “committee” which also was bought and paid for by the NRA. Again, Hutchinson won’t talk dollars. But there was nothing “independent” or “citizen volunteer” about it. No one connected to schools of any sort.

While the back-story of this NRA-front group was bad enough, the worst was how the NRA chose to publish the “findings.” Used to coming in the front door of the Press Club unfettered, reporters and crews were stopped by armed guards who conducted body and equipment searches. NRA guards. Some in private security uniforms; some not. But nearly two dozen of them and all “packing.” Reporters who would not submit were barred.
During Hutchinson’s presentation, he was flanked by armed guards. Others mixed with about 60 reporters and crews – shoulder and hip holsters bulging. When Hutchinson was finished, they circled him like the Secret Service and the proceedings were over. No more questions. No follow–ups. Hutchinson was hustled out. To “safety.”

To anyone reading this who feels this is just a case of the media getting its nose out of joint, go back and read it again. And again. And again. Until the weight of this demonstration of the perverse use of power sinks in.

As a duly chartered organization, the NRA has a right to its own views. However destructive and grotesque those views may be. It has a right to be heard. It has a right to work honestly for its own ends.

But, having said that, the NRA does NOT have a right to attempt intimidation of the public and a free press. The NRA does NOT have a right to pursue divine attachment to the 2nd amendment to the Constitution at the expense of the 1st. The NRA does NOT have a right to falsify credibility by hiring a former member of Congress without disclosure and “renting” the credibility it lost many years ago. The NRA does NOT have a right to pay hard cash for “outside” policy development, then hold out the sham work of paid “volunteers” to be “independent” findings. The issues at stake – the lives at stake – are too important for institutionalized intimidation and deceit.

All of this – ALL of this – is especially maddening because no one – NO ONE – has said a word about taking away firearms – licensing firearms – registering firearms – or threatening responsible gun ownership in any way. ANY way! The outrageous response of the NRA leadership is completely uncalled for and the spectacle it has made with lies and damned lies is contemptible. The NRA has perverted honest efforts of Americans to live their lives unthreatened by homicidal people who need to be identified and stopped before new outbreaks of the recent slaughters we’ve endured.

Consider: nine of 10 Americans say background checks for purchasers of guns should be the law – more than six of 10 NRA members agreeing. More than seven in 10 of us – including the International Association of Chief’s of Police – say no civilian should be allowed to buy an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. More than seven of 10 want high capacity gun clips banned.

These are not “threats” to legitimate gun ownership. These are not ways to confiscate legitimate firearms. These are not steps to take away rights of citizenship. Nor to impede the exercise of gun ownership by any competent individual. These ARE steps responsible Americans – gun owners or not – must achieve to restore a higher level of safety in our communities than we now experience. These ARE honest, common sense, legitimate efforts to honor the 2nd amendment rights of some without restricting access of the rest of us to all the other rights of the Constitution under which we all live.

If Asa Hutchinson wants to sell his credibility and reputation to the NRA, so be it. If the “volunteers” who identified themselves with illegitimate NRA participation did so for a few pieces of coin, that’s their business. If the NRA is so morally bankrupt it needs to hire otherwise “respectable” people to hide behind, it can certainly do so.

But the rest of us need to know that all of these things happened last week. We need to be aware of the lengths the NRA will go to – or the subterranean levels it will stoop to – to hide its own blackened reputation behind bought-and-paid-for “credibility.” We need to know the NRA itself is now using guns in the hands of contracted armed bodyguards in public appearances.

To protect itself from whom? You? Me?

Who?

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Rainey

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As this year’s Idaho legislative session cranked up in January, many observers noted two significant changes in it: An unusually large number of freshmen, and a new House speaker who, for the first time in decades, had ousted an incumbent who would still be in the chamber in the session ahead.

There was some suggestion that these things might be a big deal in the course of this year’s session: New people, a new way of doing or looking at things.

That legislature adjourned just before noon on Thursday, a mid-length session. Now, looking in the rear view mirror, looking at the large picture, it seems reasonable to say: Eh, not so much.

That doesn’t mean the commentary from a season ago was totally off base. In the Idaho Legislature, very little of real substance has changed in two decades, even while some (not all) of the names have, so people understandably get excited about anything new that does happen.

And it’s not that the new freshman crowd and the new Speaker Scott Bedke have made no difference. Both certainly mattered in what may be the keynote event of the session, the passage of a health insurance exchange bill. A group of 16 freshmen may have provided the legislative lubricant to ease it through to a narrow win in the House, and Bedke may have made possible progress on the bill, period; it had died a year earlier under his predecessor, Lawerence Denney.

Bedke’s administration of the House was widely touted as smoother, more efficient and less controversy-prone than Denney’s. (There even seemed to be somewhat fewer “quotable quotes,” the kind that go viral nationwide, than in the last few sessions.) The Legislature’s “climate” – emotional and temperamental – was said to have improved. People inside the building tend to notice and appreciate that sort of thing a lot more than people outside it.

Some of the newcomer legislators did seem to have a better feel for operating in a legislative environment than some of their seniors, taking the relatively sophisticated step of forming their own voting group on the subject of the health insurance exchange. And Denney seemed to have more sense of responding to outside concerns, as he took steps on ethics (limited as they were).

But looking at the broader range of issues and ideas, and money handled, during the session, you have to conclude that this year’s legislature didn’t act a lot differently than the legislature of 2011. Or 2009. Et cetera.

Last session probably would have been happy to repeal the personal property tax much as this one did – might have jumped at it with fewer reservations than this session. It would have been comparably tight with the budget bucks. This session was actually somewhat less open to the public, overall, if you consider as a significant decision the end to the one-year effort in opening the legislature’s budget committee, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, to public hearing and comment.

These were very much the same kind of legislators, with very much the same outlook on the world, as have been there for two decades. It did not change, much. Nor will it next session. Nor, most likely, assuming no stunning earthquake in Idaho’s political culture, in the term beyond that.

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Idaho Idaho column

Menzel TOM
MENZEL

 
Washington
My Home

Last week I got the message that I had dreaded for months. I pretty much knew the day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so abrupt. We first met in the 1950s in the small Wisconsin town where I was born. I was just a kid looking for something to do when my neighborhood pals went home for dinner. For most active 8-year-olds, a minute of downtime can feel like an hour.

We were enthusiastically introduced by my parents, who somehow knew we’d get along. They were so right. Our relationship blossomed over the years – growing deeper as we spent more time together. Even in high school we kept in touch almost daily, despite all the distractions that could have easily pulled us apart. We continued our relationship non-stop almost every day for more than 50 years, even after I moved to Idaho, then later to Washington. After brief separations – for fishing trips, backpacking adventures or family commitments – I always scrambled to catch up so I wouldn’t feel left behind.

Monet
Monet reading

However, in recent years I knew things were changing. No matter how hard I tried, barriers were gradually building up between us. Then on Tuesday, April 2, the message suddenly popped up on my screen:

“Your free access has ended. Subscribe today for unlimited access!”

Yes, I had been freeloading on the Seattle Times for a couple of years. I was among those who stopped subscribing to the “dead tree” edition which had been delivered miraculously to my semi-rural home since moving to the Puget Sound in 2003. For the first time in my life I was reading a daily newspaper that wasn’t on paper. The Times was online. It was free. It was even updated with the latest news throughout the day. Unless I was incapable to part with tradition, I had no reason to pay $300 a year for my daily news fix.

But there it was – front and center on my screen when I tried to call up a story. “Time to pay up, pal!”

I had wondered why they waited so long, but I felt almost insulted when it happened. Pretty strange for a former newspaper editor who knows that it takes real money to run a newspaper. In my previous life, I pulled a salary (albeit not much of one) out of newspapers for 14 years – four at a daily in Wisconsin and 10 at the Idaho Statesman in Boise. Those were heady days for newspapers. Many were influential – some perhaps too powerful. And many owners were among the rich and famous.

Power and riches aside, I have always had great respect for the fourth estate – at least the responsible ones. Although I never worked at a major daily, I read the respected Milwaukee Journal as a kid (starting with the comics, of course) and discovered that I could write my way out of almost anything in high school. I then graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a journalism degree and proudly worked as a reporter, photographer and editor until I started my communications consulting business in 1986. I enjoyed the newsroom so much that I didn’t even notice when I spent 50 hours a week or more on the job, which I did regularly. (Why I left a career I loved is a whole different story.)

I’ve always been, and always will be, a news junky. Therefore, I’m a huge fan of C-SPAN, TVW (Washington’s excellent state public affairs television network), PBS NewsHour, NPR – any news program without Cialis ads. It was my fate. My grandfather owned the small but prosperous daily in my hometown. My mother wrote for the paper. My uncle was the editor for many years. And I delivered them every day, even in the middle of January blizzards. The news was as much a part of our family as a pet is to some.

So, of all people, I should be willing to pay for a good newspaper, right? A solid news operation needs cash to pay skilled reporters who take their work seriously and can write circles around 99 percent of the population; under-appreciated photographers who are some of the best on the planet; competent editors and newsroom managers who have to be disciplined and independent while knowing when to pull on the reins. They have to pay for (but probably not for much longer) massive rolls of paper by the ton, ink by the barrel, amazing machines that pound out thousands of papers 365 days a year without fail, and the skilled pressmen to run them (I even had the privilege of yelling “Stop the presses!” several times). Finally, every daily has to pay for a cumbersome system that delivers a bundle of news directly to our homes by an unheralded pack of young kids (and some adults) trying to make a few bucks.

Add to this the cadre of advertising personnel who sell the ads that bring in most of the operating cash day after day. The same cycle is repeated every 24 hours for the printed newspaper. It almost wears me out just thinking about it.

So there. I love newspapers, and I really like my Seattle Times. But the Times and most other dailies in the country are now in crisis mode, forced to reinvent themselves as ad revenue continues to flow to the digital world. Newspapers have been losing subscribers, laying off employees, closing their doors, declaring bankruptcy, even resorting to publishing only three days a week. Like the Times, many have implemented aggressive price increases for print subscriptions, forcing fewer subscribers to pay even more. This is not a pretty picture.

While I accept part of the blame for not subscribing, the newspaper industry was caught sleepwalking into the digital age. They were in denial for years as the Internet snuck up behind them and bit them in the ass. When they finally went digital, they gave away their work like it was a charitable service. Then it hit them that they needed to also charge for their digital product if they are to survive.

Better late than never? Maybe. But recent data isn’t promising. In the first half of 2012 alone, newspapers lost $25 in print ad revenue for every $1 in new digital ad revenue (see http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/business-news/the-biz-blog/187577/newspapers-print-ad-losses-are-larger-than-digital-ad-gains-by-a-ratio-of-25-to-1/). Meanwhile, the Internet is teeming with endless, free alternative sources (some of it reliable, much of it crap) that can adequately keep us informed, if done right.

So I’m very sad that my long relationship with newspapers as I know it may be coming to an end. I’ve already bookmarked at least a half-dozen reliable local and statewide news sources and there’s certainly no shortage of excellent national and international sources. I’m actually discovering what I’ve been missing.

I haven’t yet decided if I’ll pay $207 a year for my daily digital news fix from a single source. But I have no intention of having the printed version delivered in a bag at the end of our driveway for $333 a year. I know, I know … that’s a heck of a deal for 365 days of continuous news. But I’m sorry, my old friend – it’s tough to beat free. Our half-century of good times together is probably coming to an end.

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Menzel