e8f9/1242842883-mug_nicolosi.jpg It's been just over two months since Hearst shut down the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and launched the online-only SeattlePI.com. Tonight, over wine and hors d'ouevres at the Seattle Art Museum, the people behind the start-up will be crowing about the latest traffic numbers (4.3 million unique users in April, up from 4.2 million last year) and, if I'm hearing correctly, they'll also be pulling the curtain back a bit further on their business plan. Yesterday I called Michelle Nicolosi, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who now serves as executive editor for SeattlePI.com, to talk about the numbers—and, really, to get her talking about how she thinks the site is doing.

So how do you think it's going?

"I think it’s going very well. We have a really great team and I think they’re doing a really great job."

What's this event at the museum all about? I don't think the old P-I ever threw this kind of party for its "partners" and bloggers.

“The Seattle Post-Intelligencer didn’t do very much marketing. The SeattlePI.com actually has a marketing person and a marketing budget, so we’re going to actually be doing marketing.”

So about those 4.3 million users in April: What are they clicking on the most? The photo galleries? The blogs? The reported stories?

“It’s generally a mix.” [Nicolosi then told me she wouldn't be able to give out any more detailed information.]

UPDATED: How about the look of the web site? Those long lists of links? Personally, it strikes me as pretty far behind the curve in terms of web aesthetics. Sort of pre-Slate. By which I mean ugly.

“It is ugly. That’s what I said when I got here. [Nicolosi later called to clarify that she was only speaking about the down page lists of headlines when she said this, not about the site as a whole.] And then I looked at the numbers... While a lot of [users] may think it’s ugly, it’s utilitarian.”

[The numbers apparently show that the site's long lists of links, its jam-packed "splash" of major stories and celebrity photos at the top, and its uninspired color scheme all keep people clicking. Nevertheless, Nicolosi told me the site will be redesigned sometime this summer.]

As a whole, Nicolosi said, "I think the site is a very good looking site."

What's your mission? Are you still trying to cover the city the way an old-style daily would?

“In the same way as before, we are putting a lot of effort behind breaking local news and breaking it first. That said, I don’t know if you read the note from the Newsweek editor yesterday..." [I hadn't read the note, but I have now, and it says this about breaking news, the traditional bread-and-butter of dailies: "Will we cover breaking news? Yes, we will, but with a rigorous standard in mind: Are we truly adding to the conversation?"] Nicolosi said the new Newseek marching orders are very similar to the marching orders at SeattlePI.com. “I just think there’s not a lot of room in this universe for duplication of effort," she said. However, she added that SeattlePI.com has staked out some beats that it intends to cover aggressively: health, education, real estate, transportation, Amazon, Microsoft, crime, courts, and local government.

What's up with all the ads for teeth whitening and fat reduction? They seem kind of... down-market.

“You don’t just instantly start with a whole bunch of ads... We never had an ad operation under the [Joint Operating Agreement with the Seattle Times]." [Her point being that the ad operation is just getting going and will presumably draw other kinds of advertisers in the future. I asked why Hearst hadn't gotten together an ad team together and lined up some major advertisers before launching the site. Nicolosi said she wasn't sure that would have been allowed under the JOA.]

How much money is Hearst willing to lose on this venture?

“Do you mean invest? That’s a question that there probably is an answer to, but it’s probably not one that I can discuss.”

The local media landscape has a lot of new journalism start-ups at the moment. Publicola, the Seattle Post-Globe, the SeattlePI.com. What do you think of your competition?

“I think that this is a really rich media landscape here and I think it’s great. I think it’s great for the people of Seattle and it’s great for journalism. The more the better. Whoever’s out there and is credible, we’ll link to them.”

So what's your verdict on your venture at just over two months in?

“I think it’s too soon to tell.”

(Photo via Michelle Nicolosi.)