Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Using cooperative model to remake Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Seattle P-I | I woke up this morning, made the coffee and walked out to get the P-I. As I began reading the headlines, I started thinking and moping about its presumed demise. Bad enough that it merged local with national news and business with sports. But in a month, we will most likely have lost it all together.

When my wife and I moved to Seattle in 1983, we rented an apartment in Wallingford that looked across Lake Union to the revolving globe of the P-I. Later on, we moved and so did the P-I, but we still depended on it and respected it for our news. Not that we agreed always with the P-I or the P-I agreed with us. Indeed, the P-I endorsed my opponent in my unsuccessful run for the Legislature last year.

But now we feel, as do thousands of P-I readers, like sitting ducks, just waiting for the next and final bullet. That’s how a lot of us feel in this great recession: helpless against the larger forces of economic catastrophe. We are unsure of our jobs, our mortgages, our credit card balances, our health coverage, our kids’ college tuition. Our economy is like an out-of-control gyroscope, swinging further and further out of balance. The demise of the P-I would be the symbolic coup-de-grace for this era of hopelessness and fear.

So what’s happened to us here in the Northwest, the home of public power, Puget Consumers Cooperative, Group Health Cooperative, Recreational Equipment and credit unions like Boeing Employees and the Washington State Employees Credit Union? Have we lost our mo-jo to figure out how to make things work? Are we really just going to passively accept the demise of our oldest and most knowledgeable source for real news, allowing the Hearst Corp. to shut it down without a fight?

We don’t have to take this.

This is a town that mobilized 100,000 people against the impending invasion of Iraq, that hosted historic demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, that actually pulled off a general strike. It is a town in which working people still understand the central role of unions in maintaining a middle-class quality of life for working people. It’s our state that organized the Washington Commonwealth Federation to create a platform of economic security for the middle class.

One way to salvation is to hope that one of our billionaires might buy the P-I. But I don’t expect a knight in shining armor to volunteer for that duty. So why not figure out how to make the P-I our paper and keep it in our town, ourselves? It has more than 100,000 subscribers. Can we mobilize now to create a new cooperative of readers and employees to take over the P-I?

This new P-I wouldn’t look like it does now, but then again, maybe that is a good thing, since it was getting awfully close to a carbon copy of the Seattle Times. The important thing is we have a source of information outside of the blithering conservatism of the Blethen’s family inheritance. This new P-I might publish three times a week. It might go to a format like the Seattle Union Record that the workers from the Seattle Times and the P-I revived during the 2000 strike. That was a good paper, with 18 print editions and a website, providing daily news, as well as editorials and social commentaries

Here are some numbers. Let’s say we form a cooperative and we need to raise $10 million to keep the P-I and make it ours: 40,000 shares at $250 each would do the trick for that. I’m ready to put in now. I bet thousands of other citizens are as well.

This isn’t a pipe dream. A group of P-I employees is working on such an effort. They need start-up funding. Here’s our chance to join them and build the community of support to enable the P-I to rise out of the ashes that Hearst has left behind.

If a small group of newspaper reporters and workers on strike can produce a professional newspaper like the Union Record, thousands of readers and hundreds of P-I workers together could build the P-I as a new cooperative newspaper, for the benefit of the citizens of our city and our state.

We have to stop mourning and start organizing. We can make sure that the P-I globe still revolves somewhere in Seattle, and that every other day or so we can look forward to making the coffee and then going outside to get our P-I.

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