Peter Kafka

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Hearst Shuts Down Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Replaces it with Website

newspaperlessAs expected, Hearst is pulling the plug on its Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In its place, starting tomorrow, will be seattlepi.com, which will kind of be like an online version of the old newspaper — if it was put out with a fraction of the staff.

The Post-Intelligencer used to have something like 150 editorial employees. SeattlePI will have 20. Michelle Nicolosi, who ran the paper’s old Web site and will oversee the new one, says “the site won’t have specific reporters, editors or producers—all staff are expected to write, edit, take photos, shoot video and produce multimedia.” That sounds familiar, and not a terrible idea.

Can a 20-person staff, augmented by a bunch of local bloggers, put out the same product as the old paper? Of course not. But no one’s pretending they will. It will be a different animal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The real question — and the one that Hearst itself says it’s trying to answer with this experiment — is whether even a stripped-down site can be profitable. I’m doubtful it will, for reasons I’ve previously expressed. But I’d love to be proved wrong.

Here’s the Hearst press release.

NEW YORK, March 16, 2009— Hearst Corporation announced today that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) will become the nation’s largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. The announcement was made by Frank A. Bennack, Jr., vice chairman and chief executive officer, Hearst Corporation, and Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers. The final print issue of the newspaper will appear tomorrow.

“The P-I has a rich 146-year history of service to the people of the Northwest, which makes the decision to stop publishing the newspaper an extraordinarily difficult one,” Bennack said. “We extend our profound gratitude and admiration to our P-I colleagues who have done such an exemplary job under extremely difficult circumstances over the past several years. Our goal now is to turn seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region.”

“Seattlepi.com isn’t a newspaper online—it’s an effort to craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information Web site at its core,” said Swartz. “It will feature the breaking news reporting of Chris Grygiel and others covering City Hall; Levi Pulkkinen reporting on the court system; popular staff blogs like Seattle 911 with Casey McNerthney and the Big Blog by Monica Guzman; columnists like Joel Connelly, Art Thiel and Jim Moore; and of course, the cartooning and commentary of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey. The Web is first and foremost a community platform, so we’ll be featuring new columns from prominent Seattle residents; more than 150 reader blogs, community data bases and photo galleries. We’ll also be linking to the great work of other Web sites and blogs in the community.”

“On the business side, we are assembling a staff to form a local digital agency that will sell local businesses advertising on seattlepi.com as well as the digital advertising products of our partners: Yahoo! for display advertising, Kaango for general marketplaces and Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Ask.com for search engine marketing,” Swartz said. “The site will also feature a digital yellow pages directory powered by Hearst’s yellow pages unit, White Directory Publishers.”

On January 9, Hearst announced that it was offering for sale the P-I and its interest in the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) under which the P-I and The Seattle Times are published. No buyers emerged, resulting in the decision to move to an all-digital news model. Additionally, the JOA is being terminated. The P-I was founded in 1863 as the Seattle Gazette.

Seattlepi.com will be led editorially by Michelle Nicolosi, executive producer, who has headed the site since 2005. Nicolosi was previously an investigative reporter at the Seattle P-I. She was also previously the editor of Online Journalism Review (www.ojr.org) and taught journalism at the University of Southern California. Prior to that, Nicolosi was a reporter at the Orange County Register, where she was a lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fertility Fraud series.

In January, Nielsen ranked seattlepi.com among the top 30 newspaper Web sites with 1.8 million unique users. The site has an average of 4 million unique monthly visitors, according to internal Hearst tracking.


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