Monday, January 12, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Goes Up For Sale

SEATTLE, WA (January 9, 2008) – The Seattle Post-Intelligencer went up for sale today, but most of the people in and around Seattle who were watching TV news knew about it last night – long before Hearst bothered to tell P-I employees today.

Thursday afternoon KING-TV 5, the Seattle NBC affiliate owned by Belo Corp., started reporting that Hearst was going to sell or close the Post-Intelligencer.

"They stuck with that story and topped the 6 o'clock news with it, they didn't back off," a Seattle photojournalist told News Photographer magagzine today, "even though no one at either newspaper seemed to know anything about it. They said they had 'an unnamed source close to the deal,' which made everyone think maybe Belo had something to do with it."

Which apparently wasn't the case, because around noon today Pacific time the newspaper's staff was summoned to a closed meeting with publisher Roger Oglesby and Hearst Newspaper president Steve Swartz, the Seattle Times reports, where they were told that the company has started a 60-day process of finding a buyer.

If no buyer is found, Hearst's options include going Web-only with a greatly reduced staff, or shutting the doors completely, employees learned.

Swartz told the gathering that under no circumstances would the Post-Intelligencer continue "in printed form" under their ownership.

"The way this all came about is only part of the theater of the absurd surrounding the P-I," the Seattle photojournalist said today. "Hearst didn't even bother to tell their own people first that the newspaper was dead. They told someone else first, and it was on television."

The newspaper has been published daily since 1863, and is the state's oldest. Hearst has owned the newspaper since 1921. It's been losing money since 2000.

Several reporters reporters and editors who were at the meeting told the Associated Press that both Oglesby and Swartz, along with Post-Intelligencer executives, refused to take questions about the announcement. Lincoln Millstein, Hearst's senior vice president for digital media, accompanied Oglesby and Swartz.

The Post-Intelligencer has been published in a joint operating agreement with The Seattle Times for 25 years, and the Times reports that their executives were not aware of the P-I's plans before today's announcement. In addition to the Post-Intelligencer, Hearst's interest in the joint operating agreement is also for sale. The JOA was modified in 1999 to allow the Times to start publishing a morning paper.

"I'm stunned," Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen said when the news broke.

"The JOA structure is inefficient and has been a significant part of the deep losses experienced at both papers," Blethen said in a company statement later in the day.

"Today's surprise announcement that Hearst Corporation has put the Seattle P-I up for sale and will close it in 60 days if there is no buyer is a reflection of two realities: that structural changes, which began as far back as 2000, have made it impossible for cities to profitably support two newspapers; and, that the devastating recession in which we are mired has made it very hard for even a single metro paper to be profitable," Blethen said.

"If the P-I does close and the JOA ends, it will enhance the chances that The Seattle Times can survive the recession even though our continued operation will require additional sacrifices by its employees and owners."

"Absent the Blethen’s six generation commitment to journalism and the community, we would have given up long ago, Seattle Times COO and president Carolyn S. Kelly said.

"Even if the JOA ends, there’s no guarantee we’ll be successful, but it’s more likely this market can support one newspaper; it clearly couldn’t support two."

In a statement released today, Hearst said that it has no interest in buying The Seattle Times and that no such acquisition is underway.

To add insult to injury for Post-Intelligencer employees today, some who openly cried during the meeting as they heard the news, The Virginian-Pilot reports that Hearst is among an handful of companies and millionaires who are donating huge sums to pay for the commissioning of the new aircraft carrier, the George H.W. Bush.

Hearst Communications Inc. has given $100,000 of the $4 million raised by The Navy League of the United States of Hampton Roads, VA, for the new ship. The money will be used to pay for enhancements to such features as the ship's chapel, library, ceremonial quarter deck, and a "tribute room" that's in honor of the ship's namesake. While the carrier itself was built with taxpayer money, the commissioning ceremony along with certain amenities are traditionally funded by private donations such as the one from Hearst.

Other donors include AT&T, Northrop Grumman Corp., PMX Industries, Faircount Media, and several wealthy individuals.


  1. I read recently where the publishing industry as a whole is in trouble. Publishers are not taking on as many new projects and are cutting back on the number of books published.

  2. That is interesting, yet extremely sad. I heard the other day that there has been some sort of high tech newspaper developed. It supposedly feels like real paper, but automatically updates every day. Just like a newspaper you read every morning, but you won't throw it away, or pull it out o your box in the morning. All you have to do is plug it in at night, I guess.

    This man told me this yesterday.