The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which first rolled off the presses in 1863 and has been the state's longest publishing newspaper, is up for sale.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which first rolled off the presses in 1863 and has been the state’s longest-publishing newspaper, is up for sale.
The newspaper’s staff was called into a closed meeting today by Publisher Roger Oglesby. Present at the meeting was Hearst Newspaper President Steve Swartz, who told the newsroom that Hearst Corp. is starting a 60-day process to find a buyer.
If a buyer is not found, Swartz said, possible options include creating an all-digital operation with a greatly reduced staff, or closing its operations entirely.
In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form, Swartz said.
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Regardless, he said, if no buyer is found, the P-I as a newspaper will not publish after the two months is up.
Swartz discounted rumors that Hearst, the P-I’s owner since 1921, was interested in buying The Seattle Times newspaper.
He said the P-I has had operating loses since 2000, losing around $14 million this past year. Greater losses are anticipated this year, he said.
“Our journalists continue to do a spectacular job of serving the people of Seattle, which has been our great privilege for the past 88 years,” Swartz said in a news release. “But our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I.”
The announcement stunned the newspaper’s staff, which first heard about the pending sale via television news reports Thursday night. The staff was called into a noon meeting today and given the news.
“I’m really, really distraught … I was not expecting this,” said longtime P-I environmental reporter Robert McClure.
For years, the staff had entertained the hope that Hearst would buy the family-owned Seattle Times, which Hearst has indicated it has wanted to do for years. But Swartz, who took over as president of Hearst newspapers last year, had other ideas.
“They were always out to buy the Times,” McClure said. “I just didn’t think they were going to fold up their tent and go home.”
P-I breaking news editor Candace Heckman said the staff appeared stunned in the newsroom after the meeting.
“People cried, people are still crying, editors are slamming their doors,” she said. “There’s talking of drowning their sorrows.”
Several people have since left the building. A few people are working on stories, but, “I am looking around a newsroom that is not working very much.”
Longtime P-I columnist Joel Connelly met reporters outside the globe-topped P-I building overlooking Elliott Bay. He said the newsroom resembled a “yellow jacket nest.” Connelly said he rode down the elevator with Managing Editor David McCumber, who Connelly said summed up the morning with a single profanity.
Kathy George, attorney for the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, said the group will explore options to see whether the P-I can be preserved. (The group emerged during the last JOA lawsuit to advocate for both newspapers’ survival.) But she said it was not immediately apparent what the committee could do.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels this afternoon released a statement that said in part: “Newspapers may have fallen on hard times, but no one doubts their value in our democracy. Across the country, newspapers have cut staff and shuttered their doors, and we are all a little poorer … Whatever the outcome, this is a big change for Seattle.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Sharon Chan, Bob Young, Mike Carter, Warren Cornwall, and Jim Brunner contributed to this report.