The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is the latest casualty in the American newspaper industry. The final edition of the city's oldest daily hits newsstands Tuesday. But the P-I isn't disappearing entirely; it'll be published online only.
Everyone in the newsroom and readers across the city knew the paper's demise was imminent. Its owner, Hearst Corp., said two months ago that the P-I would be put up for sale, adding that the city's No. 2 paper would close if no buyer were found. On Monday, Hearst made it official, announcing that the next day's edition would be the last to roll off the presses.
Joel Connelly, a veteran P-I columnist and political writer, said that when he came to the paper in the early 1970s, it was blowing the whistle on a gambling payoff system that reached deep and high, into the courthouse and city hall.
"Nearly 40 years later, I see the paper blowing the whistle on the golden parachute for the managing director of the port of Seattle, so there's a continuity of what this paper has stood for, what this paper has fought for," Connelly said.
David McCumber, the paper's managing editor, calls it an amazing, wild and enterprising place. McCumber, who has been in journalism for the better part of 40 years, says he is grateful for his time at the paper.
"This staff is like family; it really is like family," he said.
Walking through the newsroom and watching journalists do what they love brought him joy; now, he says, there's the pain of losing talented staff.
"I'm sad for the industry," he said. "It's not just us — it's that the industry can't seem to find a way to make journalism work, and people need it — democracy needs it."
The newspaper industry is struggling financially. The advertising-fueled revenue model no longer works. People and ad dollars are migrating to the Web. So Hearst will launch an experiment — making the P-I an online-only format.
University of Washington journalism professor David Domke suggests that it makes sense to try it in Seattle, a city that is highly wired and highly literate.
"P-I is going to be a test case for major metro," Domke said. "Daily newspapers: Can they go online? Can they survive and maybe even thrive if they change the kind of news and their definition of news that they deliver to the public?"
Only about 20 newsroom staffers are moving to the new venture — a couple of others will provide sports columns on a regular basis. Along with staff reports on hard news, there will be lifestyle content from Hearst-owned magazines and a lot of blogs. Long investigative pieces probably won't find a home. In short, its content won't resemble that of the hard-copy newspaper.
P-I reader Bill Laub is one of many customers dining at the Elliott Bay Cafe who said they were saddened by the demise of the 146-year-old newspaper.
"It seems tragic that we are heading toward a world of USA Today and generic papers that don't have a local flavor — that don't have the voice and the flavor of local communities guiding them," he said. "It's just crazy." He added that he doesn't intend to read the online edition.
The demise of the Post-Intelligencer is not expected to do much to bolster the finances of the Seattle Times, the city's surviving daily newspaper. It, too, is in serious financial trouble.