Updated 3/17 and 3/19 (see below)
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s newsroom heard the announcement this morning: The Heart Corporation, which owns the paper, will cease printing after tomorrow’s edition.
The official word is that the P-I won’t be going away, but transitioning to an online-only format with the goal of being “the leading news and information portal of the region.” That’s a quote from Hearst CEO Frank Bennack Jr. in an article that must have been wrenching for P-I reporters Dan Richman and Andrea James to write.
The portal “will feature breaking news, columns from prominent Seattle residents, community databases, photo galleries, 150 citizen bloggers and links to other journalistic outlets.” With a staff of only 20 “news gatherers and Web producers,” though, it’s unlikely that the P-I will be able to offer the kind reporting-intensive coverage of environmental issues that so many of us in the environmental health world have come to appreciate and rely on.
I haven’t seen the names of the people who will be staying on, but I imagine that if they’re paring down to a staff of just 20, the P-I will lose the reporters who’ve developed deep expertise on particular issues and who often spend months investigating important stories. These reporters often win prestigious awards for their coverage, but that prestige doesn’t always generate income in an industry that’s struggling for survival.
In particular, I fear that we’ll no longer be able to read Andrew Schneider’s excellent coverage of public health issues in the Seattle P-I. As Celeste noted recently, Schneider brought the asbestos disaster of Libby, Montana to the public’s attention a decade ago, and he’s currently providing detailed and informed coverage of the federal criminal trial against W.R. Grace and five Grace officials over their actions in Libby. His blog, Andrew Schneider Investigates, is providing day-to-day trial coverage, and I hope he’ll be able to continue it.
P-I environmental reporters Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler have also provided great coverage of environmental issues, both through their articles and their posts on the Dateline Earth blog. McClure’s farewell post says he’ll try keep blogging at a different URL, so watch www.datelineearth.org in the weeks to come.
McClure points out something that it’s easy for newspaper readers (but not journalists) to forget: editors play an important role in reporting. I’m sure that former P-I reporters will continue to bring us great coverage on blogs or other online news sources, but without the usual editorial team behind them, their reporting won’t be quite the same as it used to be. (There’s a chance that it will be even better, of course, but there’s no doubt that it will be different.)
The Seattle P-I will be missed.