The former Seattle Post-Intelligencer building, with its iconic globe on top. courtesy of Joe Mabel
 

The former Seattle Post-Intelligencer building, with its iconic globe on top. courtesy of Joe Mabel

 

The touch-and-go tribulations of the new millennium defeated the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before the end of the first decade. 

The trouble began on Nov. 21, 2000, when employees of both The Seattle Times and the P-I went on strike after negotiations between union and management reached a deadlock. Although the issues under discussion primarily concerned the employees in the classified-advertising department of The Times, it was ultimately the P-I that would suffer. 

Sports writer John Hickey, who came to the P-I in 2000 from the Oakland Tribune, was assured by both management and the union that there would be no strike. 

“This was at the beginning of the negotiations,” Hickey explained. “Then [Times publisher] Frank Blethen forced the walkout that precipitated everything. The weird thing was the strike was all about The Times, but it was mostly the P-I that showed the greatest solidarity. You would have thought that if The Times were so hot to strike, there would have had better representation on the picket line.”

Since 1983, the P-I had been published under a joint-operating agreement (JOA) with The Times, an agreement that became a thorn in Blethen’s side when The Times, after 104 years as an afternoon paper, started coming out in the morning, becoming a competitor with the P-I. 

In 2003, Blethen brought his case against the P-I, which was based on the loss of revenue in the years following the strike. For two years, the P-I’s owner, the Hearst Corp., successfully fought Blethen, but in 2005, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Times. The battle continued outside of the courts, though, and finally, in 2007, peace between the rival papers was declared. 

Then, in 2009, Hearst declared that, after losing money on the paper for a decade, Hearst was putting the paper up for sale. If no buyer came forth within 60 days, it would cease publication. 

Hearst’s announcement took the P-I staff by surprise. 

“It was completely out of the blue,” Hickey recalled. “He was saying that he was giving up on the Seattle market. To my understanding, Seattle was costing Hearst much less than San Francisco, where the Chronicle was bleeding the organization dry. Of course, Hearst has over 300 [publications] that are still making him a lot of money.”

On March 17, 2009, the P-I published its last print edition. 

 

PostGlobe

Two months later, Hickey, Kery Murakami and Sally Deheen were among those who wrote their first articles for the Seattle PostGlobe, a resurrection of sorts for the P-I, or at least a return to work for some of the reporters who had been out of the newsroom for two months. 

It was non-paying work, but far from non-professional. For more than two years, a handful of writers who refused to go down with the ship kept the spirit of the P-I alive in this on-line alternative to the “official” seattlepi.com, which was P-I in name only, with none of the arts writers having been invited aboard and most of the entertainment writing being nothing more than links to articles from TV Guide.

“The first day of seattlepi.com, people were asking where the content was,” Hickey remembered. “Well, they fired 140 of their employees. Do you think they only fired the ones who didn’t provide content?” 

They did keep a few of their writers, most notably Joel Connelly, who has been a columnist for the P-I, both print and on-line, for an uninterrupted 39 years. Today, he is responsible for writing his share of local news stories. 

Sports writer Art Thiel was retained for a period, during which time he built his own site, Sportspress Northwest. His commentaries can also be heard on Friday and Saturday mornings on KPLU-FM 88.9. 

For many Seattleites, editorial cartoonist David Horsey was one of the few reasons to keep up with the website. He left for the Los Angeles Times at the end of last year and syndicates his work to newspapers across the country. Horsey’s work for the P-I is archived on its website, but unfortunately, it is such a disjointed morass of flotsam, blogs and wire stories that content that is uniquely P-I can be difficult to find. 

Many of the writers who could have helped the print edition transition to a viable on-line newspaper were given generous severance packages and shown the door. 

For Hickey, covering the Mariners games for the PostGlobe was a good way to keep in touch with the city’s readers. 

“It was a unique experience, and I’m glad to have done it,” he said. “It was a way for us writers to keep going while we tried to sort our lives out.” 

 

Going where the money is

Hickey was able to afford to contribute articles to the PostGlobe because he was going to be at the ballpark much of the time anyway, doing freelance work that would bring in a little money. Others tightened their belts and worked for free, just to keep working and maintain their presence and connections. 

Pop-music writer Gene Stout stayed in the game by starting his own website, which he linked to the PostGlobe. The website remains active today, and Stout also contributes freelance articles to The Seattle Times.

Hickey searched for a full-time job for seven months, and he was ultimately hired by AOL Fanhouse, where he worked for 15 months. Now, he is back on the job hunt. 

“Papers are downsizing, and people are being laid-off. It is a terrible market for what we do,” he said. “Good people are consistently out of work, making the competition for those few existing jobs incredibly fierce.” 

Although he doesn’t see the situation improving for newspapers, he still has hope that the on-line market will improve. 

“I don’t think we know what the new profit model is going to look like yet, and we need to figure out how to make it pay before anything else, ” said Eric Rutherford, who worked for the P-I for a short time while finishing up college in 2001. He then pursued other work, including nonprofit management, before Murakami asked him to help with the management of the PostGlobe. 

For Sally Deheen, who stuck it out with the PostGlobe until the end and is currently a contributing editor to Success magazine, the bottom line is, “No one has the business model for journalism figured out — no one. Meantime, it’s as if a fire is burning in a library, and books are being consumed as the fire advances. Journalists continue to lose their jobs, and the public is all the poorer for it.” 

“A key issue,” she continued, “is that for every dollar a print ad earns, a web ad pays 10 cents — that is a 90-percent reduction in money available to pay for staff.” 

 

A happier ending?

Still, most of the former P-I writers have found jobs, even though that job search has been a long and winding road that may continue winding after their current jobs vanish. 

Rutherford’s last full-time job ended in July 2007. 

“I was applying for 20 to 30 jobs a month,” he said. “My personal connections didn’t help me, even though I grew up and went to college in Seattle. I found a few temp jobs along the way. I got hired for two jobs I found on Craigslist that were supposed to be long-term… [but] the jobs didn’t last long. Currently, I have two part-time jobs that add up to a mostly full schedule in the nonprofit field.”

Murakami, who was the principal force behind the launching of the PostGlobe, was also one of the first to land a substantial job. “After PostGlobe, I worked as communications manager for a progressive think tank called the Washington State Budget & Policy Center — did that for over a year,” he said. “Then, in January of 2011, I moved to New York, where I’m a reporter for Newsday.”

Murkami’s story is, at least for the present, one of the few with a happy ending. 

Some of the former P-I writers seem to have disappeared. On the one-year anniversary of the P-I closure, the Seattle Weekly ran a piece on the whereabouts of columnist Robert Jamieson, from whom not a peep had been heard. 

Art critic Regina Hackett wrote the most recent blog entry for her site “Another Bouncing Ball” on Feb. 9, 2011. For them and many more, there is too much truth in Hickey’s assertion, “There is not going to be anybody reporting the news if there is no one paying them to do that job.”