In the Hall
Good-bye, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
In a December 25, 2008, article ("Your 15 Minutes Are Up"), we predicted that one of the two Seattle daily papers, saddled "with a difficult debt load and a terrible economic environment for newspapers," would not "end the year in a very recognizable form."
Less than one month later, that prediction is coming true—just not at the paper we expected.
Last week, Hearst Corporation announced that it was placing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer—Seattle's oldest daily paper—up for sale; if it fails to find a buyer within 60 days, the paper will probably go out of business.
The question is: Does it matter? Hardly any cities have two newspapers anymore. I grew up in a town with two papers—the Houston Chronicle and its scrappy liberal competitor, the Houston Post—but when the Post went under, in 1995, it felt like the end to a protracted illness, not a sudden blow.
Still, I'll miss the P-I—and not just because its closure is a sign that the industry I'm a part of is changing forever.
Both the Times and P-I cover local news, but only the P-I seems to care. Rare was the city hall briefing, low-profile campaign event, or political party without at least one P-I representative; in contrast, I couldn't pick half the people on the Times' "local reporting" roster from a lineup. On-the-ground reporting isn't the kind of thing that gets you an "investigative" next to your title or that wins Pulitzers. But it does matter to people who care, and are curious, about the city they live in. As much as we at The Stranger bitch about P-I reporters and columnists stealing our stories and rehashing dusty old tropes like the "nanny state" (Joel Connelly, I'm looking at you), the P-I was the only daily whose reporters paid attention in more than a superficial way to neighborhoods and city hall.
That's despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the P-I's newsroom has always been leaner and scrappier than the Times'; even after a round of recent layoffs, the Times' local-news bench remains deeper than the P-I's, with 11 editors, two columnists, and 30 reporters, many of them names you rarely see in print.
The P-I's closure will also mean the loss of Seattle's only truly local daily paper. The Times may have "Seattle" in its name, but it is relentlessly suburban, in ways both frivolous (a recent holiday supplement featured a photo of Seattle that was clearly taken from Bellevue) and portentous (the majority of its editorial board lives outside the city). That perspective matters—it means that instead of front-page stories about local campaigns, for example, we get headlines like "Obama gives area trio 'gift of friendship'" and "Gregoire's inaugural bash: ice sculptures and sashimi," and editorials supporting roads, opposing density, and backing Dino Rossi (really).
Could Seattle have survived as a two-newspaper town? Probably not. But with last week's announcement, I can't help but feel that the wrong guys won.