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Seattle paper says goodbye to print

The Post-Intelligencer becomes the nation's largest newspaper to shift publication entirely to the Web.

March 17, 2009|Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, whose giant globe has been a fixture on the city's skyline for much of the newspaper's 146-year history, will print its last edition today and become the largest metropolitan daily to switch to an online-only publication.

The announcement was delivered Monday morning by Publisher Roger Oglesby to a shattered newsroom that -- in classic P-I style -- wiped back tears, broke out the whiskey and then went back to work.

"We knew it was coming," Oglesby said as he handed out copies of the statement from the Hearst Corp., which has published the P-I since 1921 and which lost $14 million on the paper last year. "Hearst fought for years to keep this place going. But time and these rotten economic conditions finally caught up with us."

The P-I's nearly 118,000 weekday subscribers are being switched automatically to the city's only remaining daily paper, the Seattle Times, which for 26 years has published under a joint operating agreement with the P-I.

The Times, with about 199,000 subscribers, is under so much financial duress it can hardly declare victory in one of the nation's most intense newspaper rivalries.

It was a competition -- in one of the last cities to have two dailies -- where the papers jousted to break news on local government, the changing Northwest environment and international businesses like Microsoft and Amazon.

The P-I, which for years played the scrappy, blue-collar rabble-rouser to the staid, thoughtful Times -- earning a reputation for good writing and hard-hitting investigations -- will in its new incarnation see its editorial staff shrink from 165 to about 20.

"At times, I've likened the competition between the two Seattle papers to the World War II struggle in North Africa between Rommel's army and Eisenhower's. They were vastly better-equipped. We've had to fight hard to stay in there," said Joel Connelly, the P-I's well-known national correspondent and columnist who will continue working on the website, along with some of the paper's best-known columnists and specialists.

"We've had fewer sacred cows and more gore-able oxen than any newspaper in the Northwest," he said.

Hearst Newspapers President Steven R. Swartz said the website would not be an online newspaper but "a new type of digital business" featuring "robust community news and information."

It appears it will feature only a handful of breaking-news reporters, according to sketchy information provided by Hearst.

"We're going to break a lot of rules that newspaper websites stick to, and we are looking everywhere for efficiencies. We don't feel like we have to cover everything ourselves," Michelle Nicolosi, the website's executive producer, said in a note to readers.

Nicolosi said the paper had signed a new partnership with Hearst Magazines that will allow it to use content from magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Country Living, Esquire and Good Housekeeping.

Hearst said the site would also feature columns from "prominent Seattle residents" and more than 150 blogs, in addition to community databases and photo galleries.

"The new site is much more about . . . linking to unpaid bloggers, and I fear they will lack the reporting teeth needed to do fact-checking," said Kristen Millares Young, who covers the Port of Seattle but won't be continuing with the online publication.

"Personally, I'm just disappointed that such a rich news tradition has closed with so little regard for the core values that we strived to preserve during all the years we worked here," she said.

Newspapers across the country are reeling from the parade of readers and advertising dollars to the Internet.

The Christian Science Monitor announced it was ending its regular daily print run in favor of online publication in April.

Denver lost its second daily newspaper when the Rocky Mountain News ceased publication Feb. 27, but former staff members announced this week that they would start an online publication if they could sign up 50,000 subscribers by April 23.

Hearst had been a major force in West Coast newspapers, but it closed the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1989, and it has threatened to shut the San Francisco Chronicle, which lost about $1 million a week last year, unless it can find a way to run the business more cheaply. The P-I has been losing money since 2000.

The news that the P-I would no longer be delivered door to door hardly came as a surprise to subscribers. Since Hearst announced Jan. 9 that it would halt publication if it couldn't find a buyer, the paper has been engaged in the bittersweet journalism of documenting its own demise.

Managing editor David McCumber was among those who filed "sixty days" dispatches on a blog; the paper filmed video reminiscences from staffers; reporters and editors assembled last week on the roof, next to the famous globe, for a final photo.

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