The SPI has been one of my favorite online papers for several years and regular readers of this and my other old blogs have probably noticed how often I link to it. There have been rumors swirling for weeks that the paper was about to go under, and last week it seemed that the only question left was “When?” The answer is…today.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will roll off the presses for the last time Tuesday.
The Hearst Corp. announced Monday that it would stop publishing the 146-year old newspaper, Seattle’s oldest business, and cease delivery to more than 117,600 weekday readers.
Though not quite at McClatchy’s level, the SPI has been a font of alternative (to the mass media) news and opinion that I relied heavily on in the early years of Bushism when the national news giants were busy kowtowing to Bush/Cheney hysteria and playing stenographer instead of, you know, reporting.
I have been afraid this day would come and sorry for it but I was wrong. For me, actually, it’s not coming. Hearst has done what Mark Gisleson at Norwegianity has been advocating for, I think, decades. They’re dumping paper and publishing exclusively online.
The company, however, said it would maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation’s largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product.
“Tonight we’ll be putting the paper to bed for the last time,” Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. “But the bloodline will live on.”
In a news release, Hearst CEO Frank Bennack Jr. said, “Our goal now is to turn seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region.”
The new operation will be more than a newspaper online, Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said. The so-called “community platform” will feature breaking news, columns from prominent Seattle residents, community databases, photo galleries, 150 citizen bloggers and links to other journalistic outlets.
It may be that we’re about to find out just how viable Mark’s idea is. Advertising revenue for the website seems to be solid (more than it was for the paper edition) but the organization lost $14M last year, so Hearst isn’t going to risk more than it thinks it has to. They’re only going to keep 20 staffers for the online edition and another 20 to keep the advertising flowing. Everybody else is laid off, as of today (no actual number of lay-offs is given).
Some of the best-known writers and support staff will be going to the Seattle Times, but most will be unemployed. There isn’t a single word in the article about what will or might happen to the grunts at the publishing house who actually produced the physical paper. Even if the SPI farmed out the publishing to a commercial house, the loss of a contract like this has to hurt.
Hearst was at one point expected to buy the ST and simply shift people over but that didn’t happen and the reason it didn’t may say something about the future of news.
Hearst had long been expected to buy The Seattle Times, but it became clear in January that the idea had been abandoned. Swartz said that an acquisition wouldn’t be prudent, but the decision not to buy the Times was not specific to the Times’ finances.
“In no way do we feel that newspapers won’t turn around from where they are now, but when you’re looking at making acquisitions, you have to look at where could the cash flow fall before it turns,” he said. “In the current environment it just didn’t seem prudent to be bidding for any newspapers.”
Food for thought, eh?