Seattle Newspaper Weighs Online-Only Future

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Listen to KUOW's six-part series "Turning the Page" — a look back on the history of the P–I and the people behind the venerable institution.

Seattle's No. 2 paper, the Post-Intelligencer, may cease publication and move to an online-only format. Hearst Corp., the paper's owners, may use Seattle and the P-I as a test case: Can an online-only newspaper make money?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There's been another newspaper casualty, the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The last edition is expected to hit newsstands next. But the P-I, as it's known, isn't going away entirely. Hearst Corporation, which owns the paper, is about to launch an online-only edition.

Still, as NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports, that's of little comfort to the writers and the editors at Seattle's oldest daily.

WENDY KAUFMAN: For the past two months, newsroom employees at the P-I have been grieving and reminiscing. They've known for years that their paper was in serious financial trouble. But it wasn't until January that Hearst said it was putting the paper up for sale, and if the city's second largest daily couldn't be sold in 60 days, it would be shut down. There were no buyers.

Mr. JOEL CONNOLLY (Columnist, Political Writer, Seattle Post-Intelligencer): What a great place to work. I think we cherish each other.

KAUFMAN: Joel Connolly is a veteran columnist and political writer. A couple of days ago, he turned in what was probably his last piece for the newspaper.

Mr. CONNOLLY: I started as a summer replacement in July of 1973.

KAUFMAN: What was the very first story you ever wrote? Do you remember?

Mr. CONNOLLY: I think it was something having to do with the Seafair Clowns arriving on the waterfront. But within about three weeks of coming here, I got a tip.

KAUFMAN: The tip related to a land swap in which a portion of state park land would be clear cut for timber.

Mr. CONNOLLY: And we were able to stop that sale within 40, 48 hours. So with that story, I discovered that you can do a lot of good with a newspaper.

KAUFMAN: The Post-Intelligencer is much smaller than its rival, The Seattle Times. But the Pulitzer Prize-winning P-I has featured some wonderful writing, feistiness and tenacity. Connolly leads me to the western corner of the newsroom to a vast window with a spectacular view across the Puget Sound. We can see two wilderness areas that were strongly backed by the paper. And just to the north, the port's grain terminal.

Connolly says cronyism at the port, problems in a nuclear construction program and improper conduct by a prosecutor and a judge are just a few of the P-I's investigative undertakings.

Mr. CONNOLLY: I've done an awful lot here. We've done an awful lot for the city that we've served. And this has been a newspaper that's been on the side of the angels.

KAUFMAN: But the advertising-based financial model that fueled newspapers for decades no longer works. Advertisers and consumers have migrated to the Internet, depriving newspapers of vital revenue. Next week, Hearst is expected to reveal the successor to what Connolly affectionately calls the fish wrapper.

The new P-I, though it may not be called that, will exist only online. Connolly is one of about two dozen P-I staffers who've been asked to work for the online edition. The vast majority of the newspaper's employees will be out of a job. Marsha Milroy came to the P-I in 1972.

Ms. MARSHA MILROY (Seattle Post-Intelligencer): I remember there being, I believe, one woman in the newsroom when I started. And we had a dress standard.

KAUFMAN: No pants, only pantsuits, she says. The top and bottom had to match. She chuckles a bit, but it doesn't mask her sadness at losing the job she has loved.

Ms. MILROY: I feel homeless. Emotionally I'm under a bridge with a shopping cart. I grew up here.

KAUFMAN: Seattle is a highly wired and literate city, and Hearst is planning to use the city as a test case. Can it make money with an online-only edition? It will probably contain a lot of aggregated content, blogs, video links, lifestyle reporting columnists and sports. But don't expect investigative pieces.

Back in the P-I newsroom, managing editor David McCumber says what he'll remember most from his decade as editor is the joy of walking through the newsroom and watching journalists do a job they loved.

Mr. DAVID MCCUMBER (Managing Editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer): I'm grateful to the staff more than anyone. And I'm grateful to our readers for making it possible and for caring. It's been a hell of a good run.

KAUFMAN: Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

NORRIS: And our member station, KUOW, in Seattle has been chronicling the demise of the P-I. You can find a link to their stories at npr.org.

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