- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 10, 2009

SEATTLE (AP) | 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 would likely close or continue to exist only online.

If it does become an Internet-only operation, the P-I, as the paper is known locally, would have a “greatly reduced staff,” Hearst said in a statement.

Hearst is a major media company that also owns TV stations, other newspapers, and magazines including Cosmopolitan.

“In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form” once the 60 days are up, Hearst said. Steve Swartz, the head of Hearst’s newspaper division, broke the news to employees in a meeting Friday.

Seattle is one of two major cities on the verge of losing its second daily newspaper as the industry tries to pull out of a tailspin brought on by falling circulation and advertising revenue. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News recently put itself up for sale in the face of steep losses and could close if a buyer isn’t found soon.

Hearst said it 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.

“People are kind of depressed. There’s some crying,” said Candace Heckman, P-I breaking-news editor who has worked at the paper since 2000.

Ms. Heckman told the Associated Press that Mr. 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,” Mr. Swartz said in the statement. “But our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I.”

The news was first reported by Seattle’s KING-TV on Thursday night, taking even top editors at the P-I by surprise.

Rumors of the P-I’s imminent demise have surfaced repeatedly over the years, but the paper’s footing seemed a little more solid after Hearst defeated an effort by the Times to dissolve the joint operating agreement two years ago.

Joint operating agreements allow newspapers such as the Times and P-I to share business and production operations, which cuts their costs, while keeping their newsrooms separate and independent.

They are exemptions to federal antitrust law allowed by the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, designed to prop up failing papers. Of more than two dozen JOAs created since the law was passed, fewer than 10 remain.

Many industry analysts expected the P-I, backed by Hearst’s deep pockets, to outlast the Times, which is controlled by the Blethen family. The Times, like newspapers across the country, has had severe financial troubles and has cut 500 positions in the past year.

Also Friday, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis ended talks with a union representing employees after being unable to agree on a request for concessions, setting the stage for a possible bankruptcy filing by Minnesota’s largest newspaper.

Canada’s Globe and Mail also said Friday that it would cut 80 jobs, or 10 percent of its work force.

“We report on this stuff all the time, and everybody here knows this is a business and sometimes business decisions hurt,” said David McCumber, the P-I’s managing editor. “But even seeing colleagues and friends go through this at other papers doesn’t prepare you for when it happens to a paper and to colleagues you love and admire and strive with every day.”

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