SEATTLE – Hearst Corp. put Seattle’s oldest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, up for sale Friday, saying that if it can’t find a buyer in the next 60 days, the paper will close or continue to exist only on the Internet.
“These options include a move to a digital-only operation with a greatly reduced staff, or a complete shutdown of all operations,” Hearst, the P-I’s parent company, said in a statement. “In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form following the conclusion of this process.”
Hearst Newspaper Division President Steve Swartz broke the news in a meeting with newspaper employees.
The statement said Hearst is not considering buying the Seattle Times, the city’s other daily paper, which has handled non-news functions for the P-I since 1983 under a federally approved joint operating agreement. Hearst has owned the P-I since 1921, and the paper has had operating losses since 2000, including $14 million last year.
The mood in the P-I newsroom was grim. Some staff members cried. Others were visibly shaken and angry.
“People are kind of depressed. There’s some crying,” said Candace Heckman, the P-I’s breaking news editor, who has worked at the paper since 2000.
Heckman told the Associated Press that Swartz was peppered with many questions by staffers but declined to say more.
“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 the written statement. “But our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I.”
Chris Grygiel, an assistant city editor, said neither Swartz nor P-I executives took questions at the meeting. While the newspaper’s Web site is strong, he said, the print edition has always been the flagship, and it’s not clear how an Internet-only operation might work.
“Right now people are just trying to digest what happened,” Grygiel said.
Many industry analysts expected the P-I, backed by Hearst’s deep pockets, to outlast the Times, controlled by the Blethen family. The Times, like newspapers around the country, has had severe financial troubles of its own and has cut 500 positions in the past year.
Times Publisher and CEO Frank Blethen said in a statement that the JOA structure is inefficient and had been a big part of the deep losses both papers have experienced.
“If the P-I does close and the JOA ends, it will enhance the chances that the Seattle Times can survive the recession,” Blethen said.
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