Last edition of print Seattle Post-Intelligencer set for Tuesday

by Eric Pryne

The Seattle Times (MCT)

17 March 2009

Seattle Post Intelligencer publisher Roger Oglesby, center, talks to reporters outside his newsroom about the PI's final day as a traditional newsprint newspaper in Seattle, Washington, Monday, Maarch 16, 2009. (Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/MCT) 

SEATTLE - The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the city’s oldest newspaper, will roll off the presses for the last time Tuesday, its owner said Monday.

The Hearst Corp. also said it will keep the P-I alive online “as a new type of digital business with a robust community news and information Web site at its core.”

Post-Intelligencer Publisher Roger Oglesby said in an interview that the online venture would have a professional news staff of about 20 or 25. The vast majority of the P-I’s 167 employees, almost all in news, will lose their jobs.

Hearst Newspapers President Steven Swartz said in a prepared statement that the site also would have “new columns from prominent Seattle residents; more than 150 reader blogs, community data bases and photo galleries.” It also will link to other local Web sites and blogs, he added.

The demise of the print P-I had been widely anticipated since Jan. 9, when Hearst executives said they would put the paper up for sale for 60 days. If no buyer emerged, they said, the print P-I would be shut down.

No serious buyer emerged, Oglesby said.

He announced the print P-I’s imminent shutdown to the news staff Monday morning. “This is not what I would call a happy day,” he said later, “but the city isn’t losing the P-I ... We’re not going away. We’re going online.”

Managing Editor David McCumber said the past 60 days have been like “purgatory” for the newspaper’s staff, even with growing excitement about seeing the P-I brand live on in the online world.

“It’s a sad day, obviously, but it’s good to have the word finally and have this process come to an end,” he said.

A 20-page special commemorative section, detailing the P-I’s 146 year history, is planned for Tuesday’s paper. P-I leadership is also planning a press run that will put three times as many P-Is on the street as normal, McCumber said.

“I think we’ll outsell you tomorrow,” he told a Seattle Times reporter.

Lytton Smith, the P-I’s head librarian, said “there were some tears” at this morning’s announcement by Oglesby. “But this was not unexpected. We’ve been living with this for 60 days.”

Smith, who has been at the P-I for 35 years, said staffers were given only a few minutes’ notice of Monday morning’s announcement, although Hearst executives had said last week that word on the paper’s future would come sometime this week.

The staff’s reaction Monday, Smith said, was more reserved than in January, when Hearst announced that the P-I was being put up for sale. Finding a buyer for the P-I always was considered a long shot. Newspapers across the nation are reeling as advertising revenue plummets, buffeted by twin typhoons: the recession, and reader and advertiser migration to the Internet.

Some daily newspapers have closed. Other owners have filed for bankruptcy protection. Almost all have cut costs, trimming staff through buyouts and layoffs.

Papers up for sale that are healthier than the P-I aren’t attracting buyers. One of them, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, stopped publishing last month.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer traces its roots to 1863. Hearst bought it in 1921.

When Hearst put the P-I up for sale, Chief Executive Frank Bennack and newspaper division President Steven Swartz said the paper had not made money since 2000.

“We see no opportunity for us to publish the P-I on a profitable basis,” the executives said in a letter to the newspaper’s employees.

They said the P-I had lost $14 million in 2008 and stood to lose more this year.

Those losses came despite a joint-operating agreement between the P-I and The Seattle Times, approved by the U.S. Justice Department in 1983, that allowed the two papers to consolidate some operations to reduce costs.

The JOA is being terminated, Oglesby said Monday morning.

Under the JOA the Times and P-I have maintained separate newsrooms while the larger Times has handled advertising, circulation, production and other business functions for both papers. In return, The Times has received 60 percent and Hearst 40 percent of whatever revenue is left after The Times is compensated for the papers’ combined non-news expenses.

Times Publisher Frank Blethen said in a prepared statement that the P-I’s demise is “unfortunate, but understandable, given the significant losses that both newspapers have experienced as a result of the Joint Operating Agreement.”

Since The Times switched from afternoon to morning publication in 2000 to compete head-to-head with the P-I, the latter’s weekday circulation has dropped from nearly 200,000 to about 117,000. The Times’ circulation has slid less dramatically, to about 198,000.

The Times also is in financial trouble. Its executives have said that while the P-I’s demise increases The Times prospects for survival long-term, in the short run it will hurt The Times economically.

In addition to the P-I, Hearst owns 15 daily newspapers, 29 television stations, two radio stations, more than two dozen U.S. magazines and a large portfolio of cable and online investments.

It is a privately held company that does not disclose its finances, but has indicated its newspapers, like others, face financial difficulties.

Last month Hearst said it would sell or close its money-losing San Francisco Chronicle if costs there can’t be cut quickly.


(Seattle Times staff reporters Jack Broom and Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.)

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