Sleepless in Seattle

Seattle Post-Intelligencer staffers on the demise of their newspaper

After learning that the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer would cease operations today, we invited the paper’s staffers to share some thoughts and reflections. The invitation still stands: write to us at We will update this tribute as more thoughts arrive.

Paul Joseph Brown, staff photographer

We all know what a divorce is. It is what happens to bring a bad marriage to an end. Losing my job is like a divorce from a really good marriage. It’s a shock to the system. I’ve worked for five newspapers in six states. It’s been a great ride. When I chose photojournalism over the Foreign Service and law school I didn’t think I was making a risky move.

Janet Grimley, assistant managing editor

This is a very sad time for all of us. I’ve worked at the Seattle P-I for thirty-four years, ten months, so have lived through rumors of our impending demise for many years. We survived several mini-recessions, the creation of a Joint Operating Agreement, our competition going head-to-head with us in the morning, a newspaper strike, and a successful lawsuit against our JOA partner. So, when Hearst announced they were shutting us down, it was a huge shock to the newsroom. It’s uncomfortable to be the news, instead of covering the news.

A unemployment counselor said to a group of us: “Now you can all find the perfect job.” She just didn’t understand; this was our perfect job. Working for a newspaper isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. Where else can we work with such quirky, smart, and interesting people? It’s like your own information service—someone is an expert on whatever you need to know. And where else can you get paid to ask snoopy questions to strangers?

I feel fortunate in doing what I love for all these years and am sad for the younger staffers who will never have the same opportunity. It’s the end of an era. While I’m happy the Seattle P-I name will live on with the website, it won’t be the same. A staff of twenty can’t cover what over 150 reporters and editors covered for the print product. There won’t be the investigative reporting with hundreds of dollars spent on background research. But, long stories don’t draw readers online anyway, so online readers probably won’t notice or care. I’m sure many of the public agencies we’ve investigated are happy we’re shutting down as there will be one less set of investigative reporters snooping around! But, the public will be ill served as they’re losing a champion of their rights.

Regina Hackett, art critic

The Hearst Corporation has always treated the P-I like a placeholder. When there was money to be spent, they didn’t spend it here. This is the time to invent the template for the transition from newsprint to online only, and once again, the Hearst Corporation is doing it bare bones. A skeleton looks plump compared to poorly-paid online crew. I wish it well, but those people have a near-impossible task. The future according to the Hearst Corporation seems to be, journalism without journalists.

Debera Harrell, reporter

It has, indeed, been a very corrosive, depressing time for those of us who have dedicated heart and soul to this profession.

I would like a deeper, broader public discussion about what journalism really is and its true role in society. Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message” forty years ago; now we know what he meant—but what are we going to do about it?

The Internet is causing much excitement from those making money off it (who not coincidentally are the loudest voices claiming newspapers are dead), but it is also causing a backlash from those of all ages who do not want to be chained to their electronic devices all day long.

A huge truth is that online journalism is being deployed to break unions—and I say this on behalf of my many highly educated, talented colleagues who are now without jobs because of this unfortunate trend. The corporate bottom line has trumped public service.

To me, journalism is a profession with exacting standards, requiring the same level of experience, education, and training that many other professions require. You need deep curiosity, the intellectual bandwidth to range across a broad spectrum of issues, analyze documents, research, interview, interrogate, relate to people, gain their trust, behave appropriately for whatever situation confronts you (interviewing a trauma victim versus covering a politician, for example), keep your sense of humor, help colleagues, and info-share, follow your gut instincts, be tough and compassionate—sometimes simultaneously—and then weave all this material into a layered, intelligent, multi-faceted, unbiased, truthful piece that holds people’s attention. They must capture and bridge increasing loads of information, while being increasingly manipulated and spun, in a public-service capacity that demands far more than it gives back. It all takes a high IQ and a high EQ and we do it for love, passion, a chance to touch people’s lives and a sense of democratic mission—not the money.

Will Web sites do this? The P-I’s cannot, because they have neither the expertise, the personnel, the brain trust, nor the numbers. They traded all that in for what the Hearst Company acknowledges is an “an experiment.” Their heavy bet is that 150 professional journalists, graphic artists, photographers, and editors can be replaced by inexperienced twenty-something sociology majors who blog, a couple young reporters, and 150 “citizen journalists.” Hearst, knowing it can pay them far less, has chosen to agree.

The majority of people in what is no longer a newsroom think this is lunacy, that the public is being robbed blind. And have no doubt; the deep sense of mourning is for the public, our profession, and our own vanished careers. Many of our subscribers agree. They, too, are in mourning, judging from the outpouring of e-mails and phone calls.

I think of all the corporate rip-offs of taxpayers, this may be the worst. Newspapers - or the lack thereof - have a direct bearing on democracy. You cannot kill a newsroom and still cover news; we didn’t have enough people to cover everything that deserved coverage as it was!

In an era where Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie’s breastfeeding earn the most hits off our website, maybe real journalists are not needed.

But the public will be far poorer for it — and I worry about the citizenship, educational and democratic implications of it all.

Marsha Milroy, news researcher

I’m currently the longest-tenured P-I employee with thirty-nine-and-a-half years. When I began my career there were, I believe, two women in the newsroom - and one was the receptionist. Even as a naive eighteen-year-old I knew I was there to see the end of that era, and it was pretty damned exciting. And it never stopped being exciting. Working for a newspaper is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and all I ever have done.

Susan Paynter, reporter and columnist

For 146 years—thirty-nine of them while I worked there—The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran faster, jumped higher, and kicked more crooked and complacent butt than anyone in our now diminishing journalism realm had a right to expect. That given the fact that the P-I was routinely bled by Hearst, undermined by its supposed Joint Operating Agreement partner, and both blessed and challenged by a staff remarkably leaner than that of our fatter, comfier and, yes, grayer competition. The P-I has always been a “writer’s paper” which has benefited its loyal readers with sprightlier and more probing reportage. The region will be a duller place without us as ethically-challenged pols, developers and power-wielders in the state feel the backs of their necks cooling even as we speak.

Don Smith, interactivity editor

The P-I has faced both the difficulties of two-newspaper town with a joint operating agreement and our current punishing economic climate. The demise of the P-I as a print publication is certainly another sad moment for journalism and likely not the last. This is a brutal time for many of the journalists who have poured their lives into this profession, especially so today at the P-I. But this also may be a seminal moment for our profession.

We must find a way to fund quality journalism or face the perils of an attempted democracy without it. The transition from a newspaper company to an online-only publication at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may teach us a great deal of what it takes to survive and thrive. I hope an online only P-I can succeed, grow and help us learn what we will need to know to take us forward. A future where journalism continues to falter as it is doing across America right now is downright perilous to our democracy.

Ruth Teichroeb, investigative reporter

I write this having spent the day clearing out my desk and doing media interviews about our demise. Seattle is losing a scrappy newspaper that fought for those who had no voice: kids in foster care and locked up at juvie, developmentally disabled adults stuck in substandard group homes and homeless folks on the street. The community is losing editors who said yes to stories that took a long time and made Hearst attorneys shudder at the risks. We are losing a newsroom of great journalists who thought nothing of trudging five miles through a snowstorm to put out the newspaper in December when the rest of the city was at a standstill. Seattle is losing a piece of its soul.

James Wallace, aerospace reporter

For the last 12 years, I covered the aerospace industry for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the paper, through the Hearst Corp., allowed me to travel extensively internationally. You can’t cover Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, defense and space companies—the aerospace industry—from a desk in Seattle. These are global companies. It’s a global beat. You have to go to the air shows in Paris and London, to the key industry events in Europe and in Asia. Networking allowed not only the development of my best sources and contacts that were critical in breaking many important stories, but I planted the P-I flag with top industry leaders and our paper became recognized around the world for its excellence in aerospace coverage. Without that financial commitment, many of those stories would never have been done by the P-I. Whoever follows me for the online-only operation won’t have those financial resources and the in-depth reporting of an important beat will go missing.

Brad Wong, reporter

When a big news story broke at the Seattle P-I, it was an incredible scene. All of us—editors, reporters, photographers, researchers, online producers and layout artists—would essentially jump into the same boat and row as hard as we could. We would chase, question, investigate, think, write and edit. Often, in a matter of hours, we would produce some magnificent and memorable journalism. And we would start the process over the next day.

Molly Yanity, sports reporter

The overwhelming feeling for me is sadness. I hate to be selfish, but I feel like I’ve worked the majority of my life for the kind of career I have right now and it just makes me profoundly sad that it is being taken away. I am disappointed the online venture is cutting out so much sports coverage. Our sports blogs get amazing traffic and, well, is there really anything more local than your local sports team? Maybe that’s just sour grapes, but I haven’t heard an explanation that makes sense. To see the talent and experience walk out of this newsroom tonight will break my heart. It just seems like an awful waste in a time when every mind should be utilized.

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer staff is a contributor to CJR.