SEATTLE, WA – The final edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has rolled off the presses. Tuesday's last front page, a full-page photograph of the P-I's neon globe that tops the newspaper's office building, told readers, "You've meant the world to us."
The 146-year-old newspaper was closed on Monday by owners Hearst Corp., and the presses that delivered papers to more than 117,600 weekday readers will stop. The P-I will continue now only as a Web site, with a handful of workers - about 20 - replacing the 170 journalists and support staff who at one time created the print product.
Ten photojournalists at the P-I are NPPA members. They are Andy Rogers, Gilbert Arias, Grant Haller, Joshua Trujillo, Karen Ducey, Dan DeLong, Michael Urban, Michael Kane, Robert Sumner, and Meryl Schenker.
The announcement Monday morning to a nearly-silent gathering in the P-I newsroom was a headline the staff and the journalism world has known was coming for some time now. In January the company said the P-I was for sale and that if a buyer didn't come forward in 60 days the newspaper might become an online-only product or shut down completely. Last week when the 60 day period ended and there was no buyer, P-I employees began to sense that the end was near. Business reporter Dan Richman discovered that packing boxes and shredder bins for sensitive documents had been ordered for delivery to the paper last week, and employees had been invited to take a "Last Visit To The Globe" on the roof for group photographs.
According to a new report just released by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, more than 5,000 newsroom jobs were eliminated in 2008 while advertising revenue fell 16 percent. As bad as those figures are, the study predicted that 2009 "may be the worst year yet."
Monday morning, P-I editor and publisher Roger Oglesby ended the speculation when he told those gathered in the newsroom, "Tonight we'll be putting the paper to bed for the last time. But the bloodline will live on." (See a P-I slideshow of the newsroom meeting).
The P-I was Seattle's oldest business. It lost $14 million last year alone. Another Hearst paper losing money is the San Francisco Chronicle, which may also close if the company doesn't get all of the cost-cutting concessions it is seeking from unions.
"This is a hard day for all of us," Oglesby said Monday in Seattle. "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."
"Our goal now is to turn Seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region," Hearst CEO Frank A. Bennack Jr. said in a company press release announcing the closure on Monday. (Download a PDF of the P-I's final front page).
About 20 people will make up the online P-I staff, about 10 creating content (including one photographer) and ten Web support people. Monday's story in the P-I also said there are 20 newly-hired advertising sales staff members to sell advertisements for the Web site.
P-I employees will continue to receive pay up through March 18 (due to federal laws that spell out how much notice employees must receive before a business shuts down or lays off workers). A story in Monday's P-I said that employees will get severance packages worth about two weeks pay for each year they've worked.
Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen told Times employees in an eMail on Monday about their rival's closure, saying that the Times "finds no joy in the loss of any journalistic voice." But at the same time Blethen acknowledged that the Times being free from the burden of the Joint Operating Agreement "gives The Seattle Times the best opportunity to be viable long term."
At one time, and as recently as January, some P-I watchers thought it would be Hearst who would buy The Seattle Times and make the city a one-newspaper town. Now, only a few short weeks later, it's the Times that's left standing as the P-I turns off the presses.
On Wednesday, subscribers to the P-I will be automatically switched over to The Seattle Times.
The closing of the Seattle P-I comes about two weeks after The Rocky Mountain News was closed by Scripps in Denver. That paper was Colorado's oldest business, clocking in at 150 years. On Monday in Denver a group of former Rocky editors held a press conference with investors to say that they plan to launch InDenverTimes.com with former Rocky staff members if they can sell 50,000 subscriptions by April 23.
Also on Monday, more newspaper job cuts were announced in Raleigh, NC; Albany, NY; and Tacoma and Olympia, WA.