Rami Grunbaum '74: Navigating the newspaper industry transition to the digital age
Photo by Tom Reese
Grunbaum is business editor of The Seattle Times, and former editor of Puget Sound Business Journal. @rgrunbaum
by Lornet Turnbull
Grumbaum remembers the days before the internet intruded on the way we get our news, when it was served up in three basic formats — radio, newspaper, and TV. Readers knew precisely when they were getting opinion and when they were getting news because it said so on the masthead. “You had three channels for the evening news and you could listen to Walter Cronkite and he would tell you what was what,” Grunbaum says.
As business editor of The Seattle Times, where he’s spent the past 14 years, Grunbaum has withstood the rocky transition of the newspaper industry into this digital age.
As papers have slimmed down, merged, gone entirely online, or closed, those like The Times have evolved into a version of their former selves — not quite traditional newspaper anymore, not news websites or apps entirely, but some unnamed combination of them all.
The sole Seattle daily is much different today than when Grunbaum began, when so much was driven by the need to beat the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which stopped printing in 2009 and is now online only. Grunbaum hung on as The Times took its knocks, going from deputy business editor in 2016 to business editor of what is today the second-largest paper by circulation on the West Coast, after the L.A. Times.
These days, competition doesn’t come just from across town but from social media, a flurry of news websites, and bloggers in their pajamas working from their basements. Mainstream outlets like his must set themselves apart by demonstrating authority as well as credibility. And transparency.
“There is a lot more room out there for questioning the media, and we realize the media is not infallible, like The New York Times’ misleading stories in the run-up to the Iraq War,” he says. “People rightfully want to vet those things and discuss them openly. That’s legitimate. The thing that distinguishes real journalism is that you live up to your mistakes. You don’t bury them. You make it clear on your website or in the paper because ultimately that enhances your credibility.”
The Times has embraced the digital evolution. It now breaks news online as soon as it’s ready, and through its website, Facebook page, and in print, “reaches more readers than ever.”
It is also finding creative ways to help fund the important work it does - in areas such as transportation, education, and homelessness - through partnerships with foundations and others. “We are trying to reinvent the whole project as we go, trying to see what works and trying not to be afraid of failing or falling short on something.”
No matter how many blogs or social-media feeds are out there, hopefully there will always be a need for the professional and experienced crew of people who can go out to (an incident such as the 2014) landslide in Oso and start asking the right questions...” - Rami Grunbaum '74
Lornet Turnbull is a Seattle-based freelance writer and regional anchor for The Washington Post. She’s a former reporter for The Seattle Times and a writer and editor for YES! Magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.