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Mar-16-2009 13:08printcomments

Seattle P-I to Publish Last Edition Tuesday

The Seattle P-I's story on their upcoming last day of print publication.

Seattle P I
Special thanks to the Seattle Post Intelligencer for permission to republish today's story.

(SEATTLE, Wash.) - Published with the permission of Hearst Corporation

The Hearst Corp. announced Monday that it would stop publishing the 146-year old newspaper, Seattle's oldest business, and cease delivery to more than 117,600 weekday readers. The company, however, said it would maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation's largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product.

"Tonight we'll be putting the paper to bed for the last time," Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. "But the bloodline will live on."

In a news release, Hearst CEO Frank Bennack Jr. said, "Our goal now is to turn seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region."

The new operation will be more than a newspaper online, Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said. The so-called "community platform" will feature breaking news, columns from prominent Seattle residents, community databases, photo galleries, 150 citizen bloggers and links to other journalistic outlets.

On Jan. 9, New York-based Hearst put the Seattle P-I up for sale and said that the paper would stop printing if a buyer were not found within 60 days.

Despite community concern, no buyer emerged. The P-I lost $14 million last year.

"The thing that should not be missed here is that the P-I is not going away. The P-I is going online," Oglesby said in an interview. "Nobody is happy about the newspaper going away. That's a sad thing. The editorial voice is still going to be here."

About 20 news gatherers and Web producers will stay on with seattlepi.com, plus another 20 newly hired advertising sales staff. The publisher will stick around through the transition period, but does not expect to be part of the ongoing online operation.

"Our goal is to just let the quality of the Web site speak for itself," Swartz said in an interview. "We're very excited that the people who are staying with us will continue to evolve and experiment and innovate. The newspaper industry needs more innovation, needs more experimentation, and I think the new seattlepi.com is an innovative experiment and I think that the eyes of the country and this industry are going to be on what we do in Seattle."

Bourbon and whiskey

The Seattle P-I's staff has been in limbo for two months. After the closure announcement, breaking news editor Candace Heckman pulled bottles of Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey, Wild Turkey bourbon and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky out of a bag and set them out at her desk.

"I'd been saving that for a while," she said. She'd just sent a "farewell" e-mail to the staff that said, "Come by the city desk for a drink: bring your own glass."

Some staffers who had imbibed ventured outside the newsroom to be met by camera crews and reporters from numerous media outlets. Some laughingly said they regretted things they had said.

Reporter Claudia Rowe, who wasn't drinking, said she got news of the P-I's closure in mid-exam at her obstetrician's office. Due Saturday, she said the news was a blow, even though she was expecting it.

Copy editor Glenn Ericksen, a P-I staffer for nearly 25 years, said he had mixed feelings about the closure. Most recently working as a copy editor, he said, "I'm sad the print product will go away. It's the end of an era, and I'm not sure it's a good thing."

He said the Web "lowers the standard of literacy all around. Who needs copy editors on the Web?"

Normally stoic business wire editor Maren Hunt cried at her desk. "I didn't think I would cry," she said. "I thought I had already moved on and I think you just can't when it happens like this. This really makes me sad, and I knew it was coming. Everyone knew it was coming."

Employees will get severance packages worth about two weeks pay per year worked.

One newspaper town

The P-I closure leaves Seattle with one daily newspaper -- rival and business partner The Seattle Times. Monday's announcement ends the joint operating agreement that has joined the two papers for more than two decades.

The separation of the two entities was "amicable," Swartz said.

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen responded to news of the closure in an e-mailed letter, writing: "Though The Seattle Times and the Seattle P-I have been fiercely competitive, we find no joy in the loss of any journalistic voice. Today's announcement is an acknowledgement that in the current economy it is a struggle for even a single newspaper to be profitable and impossible for multiple papers in a single market."

Blethen said that being freed from the joint operating agreement, or JOA, that has bound the two papers since 1983 "gives The Seattle Times the best opportunity to be viable long term."

He expressed hope that The Seattle Times "will be able to serve the community with journalism of distinction for many generations to come whether in print, online, or in new platforms not yet imagined."

In an e-mail, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was saddened by the P-I's closure, adding that she was "especially saddened that most of the newspaper's dedicated staff lost their jobs."

She wrote, "The P-I chronicled everything from the Klondike Gold Rush ... to the evolution of our business sector from Boeing to Microsoft. That's a lot of history."

Attorney Anne Bremner, co-chairwoman of the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, e-mailed, "What a terribly sad day this is. Only tomorrow will be worse." The committee fought hard to keep the P-I alive during the four-year JOA litigation that ended in April 2007 but took a lesser role after Hearst announced the paper was for sale.

Hearst had long been expected to buy The Seattle Times, but it became clear in January that the idea had been abandoned. Swartz said that an acquisition wouldn't be prudent, but the decision not to buy the Times was not specific to the Times' finances.

"In no way do we feel that newspapers won't turn around from where they are now, but when you're looking at making acquisitions, you have to look at where could the cash flow fall before it turns," he said. "In the current environment it just didn't seem prudent to be bidding for any newspapers."

Demand for news has not fallen but the revenue model has changed faster than American newspapers can keep up. Thus, falling advertising revenue and the migration of readers to online has rocked newspapers large and small. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver closed in February. The Seattle P-I is the second newspaper to shut down in 2009.

Other major newspaper companies are reducing staff, eliminating bureaus and freezing pay in an attempt to get expenses in line with falling revenue.

PUBLISHER'S REMARKS

Seattle P-I Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby addressed staff in the newsroom Monday morning. Here are his remarks:

Tonight we'll be putting the paper to bed for the last time. But the bloodline will live on.

Hearst is announcing today that the P-I will become an online-only news operation. The last print edition will appear tomorrow.

We have copies of the press release for you, as well as a letter from (The Hearst Corp. CEO) Frank Bennack and (Hearst Newspapers President) Steve Swartz. But first I have just a couple of things to say.

This is a hard day for all of us. We were fortunate to be part of a great newspaper with a great tradition, and we've been blessed to be part of a wonderful group of talented people. We all hate to see that end.

But we knew it was coming. Hearst fought for years to keep this place going, but time and these rotten economic conditions finally caught up with us.

But there's another part to the story, and I'm not going to let you forget it. It's the part that has to do with what will live on and who's responsible for it. Tomorrow, SeattlePI.com will be reborn, outside the JOA. It will continue, and it will thrive, and it will be a strong and vital voice of this city for years to come.

Some of you will part of that ongoing effort, and you have an exciting road ahead of you. But we should all remember that everybody at this paper helped to build SeattlePI.com and the foundation on which its future will rest. Every one of you, everyone at this paper, should take pride in that. I will, and you should, too.

As for the paper, tonight will be the final run. So let's do it right. This is a great newspaper and has been for a long time. Let's show the world it still is. Let's show them what we can do, one more time.

SUBSCRIBER INFORMATION

Subscribers to the Seattle P-I will automatically be switched over to The Seattle Times starting Wednesday, according to a Times spokeswoman. Anyone wishing to cancel instead should call Reader Service, at 206-464-2121.

P-I reporter Dan Richman can be reached at 206-448-8032 or danrichman@seattlepi.com.




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