4d39/1236116053-pi_shirt.jpgAbout a month ago, I posted a leaked P-I memo that congratulated the newspaper's staff for drawing record online traffic in January (even as the P-I's print edition was facing closure). At the top of the congratulations list: Joseph Tartakoff, the 23-year-old force behind the P-I's popular Microsoft blog.

P-I staff blogs posted a record 2.8 million page views in January, with two blogs over a half-million page views for the first time ever and nine staff blogs were over 100,000 page views — also a first!

Leading all blogs — with about a quarter of that traffic — was Joe Tartakoff and the Microsoft blog. With 774,153 page views, the Microsoft blog eclipsed the previous record for any P-I blog.

This is the kind of person who Hearst would presumably want for the new, online-only P-I, which is shaping up to be a bloggy aggregator with a small breaking news team. But Tartakoff, despite being on the (growing) list of reporters who are believed to have been offered online-only jobs, isn't going to be joining any online-only P-I.

"I am not going to be part of such a venture," Tartakoff told me via e-mail. He couldn't say much else, but added this: "I will really miss the old P-I."

Which raises a question: With Hearst's offers apparently refusable, at least for some, is the company really going to be able to gather up the 20 staffers it seems to be aiming for in order to run an online-only product? One P-I reporter says it will become clear very soon, since those who were offered jobs were asked to respond quickly:

My understanding is that if not enough people said yes, they would not go ahead.

While all of this sorts out, here's something that Tartakoff's decision is recalling for me. While I was reporting this piece, I heard about how two former P-I tech writers, John Cook and Todd Bishop, pitched the Hearst hierarchy, way back in the summer of 2007, on launching an online news publication that would focus on the Northwest and essentially be built around Cook and Bishop's tech blogs—blogs that were early entrants into the local tech blogging field and had developed a certain following. Hearst wasn't interested in the concept and so Cook and Bishop left the P-I and started TechFlash ("Seattle's Technology News Source").

The easy moral of this story: Fail to appreciate the ideas and talents of your most web-savvy reporters and they'll leave you. But here's another way of looking at it: Into the void that Cook and Bishop created by their departure stepped young Joseph Tartakoff, who quickly built up a Microsoft blog that, as that leaked memo pointedly noted, "eclipsed the previous [traffic] record for any P-I blog that had been held by his predecessor, Todd Bishop."

Regina Hackett, the P-I's art critic for 27 years (and not, apparently, on the list), was talking to me a while back and used the Cook-Bishop-Tartakoff story as a sort of parable.

“That was humbling for me personally," she said, meaning the process of watching Cook and Bishop being successfully replaced with someone very young, very talented, and very web-savvy. "Who’s indispensable then?

It seems to me that Hearst is now operating with this same idea in mind. The executives think: For every person who might decline to be a part of the online-only P-I, there is, somewhere out there, either within the P-I building or without it, some young and talented individual who is willing to dive in to a new bloggy project. (And, the execs also seem to be hoping, dive in for relatively little pay.) We'll find out soon how well that works out.

Illustration by Andrew Saeger