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Seattle Paper Moves From Print to Pixels

  • Bellamy Pailthorp

Seattle, Washington, was one of the last U.S. cities to have two competing dailies, but as of this week, it is no longer a two-newspaper town. The Hearst Corporation ceased printing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Tuesday, ending a 146-year run. Like many dailies across the country, the P-I, as it's known, has seen advertising revenue fall in recent years, sustaining million-dollar losses for the better part of a decade.

Before a packed newsroom, P-I publisher Roger Oglesby announced that the paper would become the nation's largest daily to shift to an all-digital news product. Only about 20 of the P-I's 170 news staffers would still have jobs. But in a video posted on the Web site, Oglesby said the paper's bloodline will live on online as

"It will continue and it will thrive and it will be a strong and vital voice in this city for years to come," he said, adding that those who still work at the P-I should remember that their success will stand on the foundation of all the work done by their predecessors in print.

Young reporter sees storytelling opportunities online

Those words resonated for 26-year-old Monica Guzman. She's one of the few P-I reporters who were offered and accepted jobs at the new online-only publication. She says it's a weird feeling: There's so much sadness about the loss of all those great reporters who built the P-I, and she feels it too.

But she's also excited about the possibilities of online news, explaining, "If a story's better told through video, tell it through video… If a story's better told through audio, tell it through audio… If a story's better told through text, if it's better told through a slideshow, a photo gallery."

She points out that an online story can reach any one of a reader's senses.

"Online can put all of those things together, and that's what makes it so exciting. It seems a great medium, as long as we can make the business work," she concludes with a laugh.

Guzman has worked at the P-I only two years. She admits she's not typical. She only started subscribing to a print newspaper herself a couple of weeks ago. She says she gets most of her daily news through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

"I'm one of those 'network readers.' They call them that, people who look to a network of acquaintances or friends, or short little updates with links to news."

News veterans mourn decline of 'true journalism'

And that's the kind of audience Hearst appears to be going for with its online-only venture. It is a community news site, fleshed out with reader blogs, commentary from civic leaders, lifestyle content from Hearst magazines and links to news posted by rival outlets. There's no place there for the vast majority of professional reporters, like Debra Carlton-Harrel, who worked at the P-I till now.

"We're not technophobes. We're just experienced. There's a big difference. You know, just because I'm not online all day and because I don't Twitter and titter and ditter, it doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing," she says.

During her 28 years at the paper, she has covered more beats than she can count. She says what's being lost is true journalism, "the ability to draw connections and connect the dots between a whole lot of information that can only come from experience and layer it and write it fairly, without bias, intelligently and lay it out there for people to decide."

The Post-Intelligencer had earned a reputation for good writing and hard-hitting investigations. Carlton-Harrel is part of a group of P-I veterans that's talking about creating a new outlet for the kind of journalism they want to keep publishing in Seattle.

Her former boss, Managing Editor David McCumber, turned down an offer to join the skeleton crew at the Web site. He says they won't be able to do much of the kind of journalism that's hardest: investigations and narrative stories with lasting impact.

"I think that writers write, dancers dance, and investigative reporters investigate things. And what they do has a very tangible value to society," he says, adding that he believes new platforms for those sorts of stories will emerge, eventually.

Metro reporter Kristin Millares-Young says she still has several ongoing investigations of one of the area's biggest economic engines, the Port of Seattle. But she didn't get an offer from Hearst to work for the Web site.

"And because we received so little notice about when our last day will be, unfortunately, I don't think the P-I readers will be able to have them, but I hope to still put them out in the public arena, one way or the other."

One newspaper is still printing in Seattle: The Seattle Times, which previously shared business costs with the P-I in a joint-operating agreement. But like most of the nation's remaining newspapers, the Times has been losing money and facing a dramatic decline in advertising revenue. Some observers think it, too, will cease printing and go online-only by the end of this year.

In technology-savvy Seattle, all eyes are now on - which says it will spend the coming months trying out everything to see what works - and what turns a profit.