As someone who worked in the Seattle-area newspaper market for more than seven years, it came as little surprise that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced it was taking itself off of life support. Hearst, owner of the P-I, announced that the paper was for sale, and if a suitable buyer is not found in 60 days, the paper would case print operation. Most in the Northwest and newspaper community agree, a buyer is not likely to come forward. Frankly, it’s been a tough year for folks in the Emerald City: their beloved Sonics moved to Oklahoma City; both the Mariners and Seahawks had dismal seasons, and the area was hit with a series of atypical late December snow storms that ground many holiday plans to a halt.
Citizens are sad. The mayor and governor are sad. Some guy who commented that he will miss the daily Jumble is sad. Frankly, I am not. The P-I has been a second-class citizen in the market since I moved there in 1980, taking the dependent position in its JOA agreement with the Seattle Times. The Times’ management (with financial issues of its own) is no doubt thrilled as it may be relieved of the burden of printing 114,000 copies of a newspaper that was rapidly becoming the size of a weekly community throw-away. Aside from a few star reporters on glamorous sports beats, and a few notable columnists (most of whom were not on guild contract), it was my impression that every news staffer’s goal was to work for the Times, Tacoma News-Tribune or Spokane Spokesman-review (or leave the market altogether and get a gig at a .com news site). Simply put, the P-I was never a top priory for Hearst.
Consider the fact that metro Seattle had a population of about 600,000, about the size of Fort Worth, Charlotte and Baltimore. Both Charlotte and Fort Worth are in growing markets, and neither has two newspapers. It’s a safe bet that by the end of 2010, U.S. cities with more than one daily newspaper will be extremely rare.
It’s unclear whether the P-I may continue as an online-only version. If that’s the case, the operation will need to be severely scaled back to stay afloat. Online ad revenue currently is unstable, and the number of dollars needed to keep even a skeletal editorial staff going would require a substantial increase in the paper’s online traffic and engagement metrics. Average time spend per user per session is about 45% that of The New York Times and 52% of that spent on USA Today. As a Web-only product, the P-I’s future is grim.
On the other hand, there’s this cool globe statue outside the building. That should fetch a pretty penny.