By Katie Wilson
At the end of this month, Crosscut Opinion will be no more. Under new leadership, the news site where I’ve been a columnist for over two years is shutting down the section entirely. At some point next year, newsroom staff have been told, it will be replaced with a still undefined “new process of engaging community voices.”
I’m happy to be proved wrong (it’s happened before!), but to me, this looks like a bleak turn in our local media landscape.
The opinion essay is an irreplaceable element of healthy political discourse. Unlike a traditional news story, it does not pretend to represent an unbiased version of reality. It presents a perspective, drags you through an argument, invites you to think critically: Do you agree, or don’t you? Why or why not? Ideally, it’s read by a large number of people of varying beliefs. People discuss it and argue over it. It becomes common property, a tool that empowers readers to better articulate their own positions and orient their actions.
Over the past two years, I’ve received many emails from readers, ranging from adulatory to enraged. Some of my favorites are from people who reached out to say that they found my writing thought-provoking even though they don’t share my politics or my worldview. Good opinion writing makes you pause and ponder even if you disagree.
Crosscut now hopes to “retool” and develop a “new feature” that aims to “bring more community voices into our newsroom and our storytelling,” according to the memo from management. I’m not opposed to media trying new things. But I struggle to imagine a replacement for the good old fashioned opinion essay that fills its function and doesn’t leave a gaping hole in civic life.
Of course, there are ample opportunities these days to share opinions online. There’s Twitter and Facebook, Medium and Substack. But discourse on these platforms is deeply fragmented or reaches only a niche audience. News outlets with a wide reach are pretty much the only actors positioned to transcend the echo chambers. They’re one of few forums in which people with reasoned opinions can pipe up and be heard across an entire city or region. That’s a responsibility.
Having shut down its “traditional” opinion section, Crosscut now hopes to “retool” and develop a “new feature” that aims to “bring more community voices into our newsroom and our storytelling,” according to the memo from management. I’m not opposed to media trying new things. But I struggle to imagine a replacement for the good old fashioned opinion essay that fills its function and doesn’t leave a gaping hole in civic life.
Last week, Erica Barnett wrote that Cascade Public Media “board members have reportedly raised concerns over the years that the opinion page slants left.” If that is what’s behind this decision, then I’m certainly part of the problem, as the section’s most frequent contributor and someone who often writes from a candidly left perspective.
I do know from past conversations with my editor that Crosscut Opinion has consistently welcomed and even sought out more moderate and conservative voices, with mixed success. Do Seattle’s centrists not have interesting opinions, or do they simply not care to share them in the virtual pages of Crosscut? I don’t know, but squelching all opinions doesn’t seem to me like much of a solution.
Shutting down the whole section only serves to further diminish an already diminished local media landscape. It cements The Seattle Times’ dominance as pretty much the only game in town when it comes to outlets that publish guest opinions and reach a large regional audience. And that publication skews politically conservative, couldn’t care less about political balance, and doesn’t seem particularly bothered about fact-checking, either.
To be clear, I’m not angling for my job back. I know the coincidence strains credulity, but the day I learned of the opinion section’s demise I had just mustered the nerve to inform Crosscut that I had to stop writing. In my columns I sometimes talk about what the left needs to do. Writing is time-consuming, and time spent writing about doing things is time not spent actually doing them. For now, I need to refocus on my primary work running campaigns for the Transit Riders Union.
Good local media is worth fighting for. I’m sure that Crosscut’s new leadership, so keen on “listening to the communities that we serve,” would love to hear from readers about the decision to end the opinion section and the question of what should replace it. Maybe tell them what you think.
Katie Wilson is the General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union, a Seattle-based organization advocating for improved public transit and other progressive urban issues.