Monday, April 6, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Closing

By Greg Bensinger

March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Hearst Corp. will run its final printed edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer tomorrow and shift the entire publication to the Web after failing to find a buyer for the money-losing newspaper.

The New York-based publisher sought unsuccessfully to sell the Post-Intelligencer after the daily posted a $14 million loss last year. Hearst may close the San Francisco Chronicle if it can’t negotiate cost-cutting concessions from its unions.

“They are the first major metropolitan newspaper to flip the switch and go online only,” said Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Inc. in Burlingame, California. “This is going to be an important model for people to watch, whether this can survive as a Web-only presence.”

Since December, four newspaper publishers have filed for bankruptcy protection, including Tribune Co. and the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer. E.W. Scripps Co. last month closed its Rocky Mountain News in Denver after failing to find a buyer and Gannett Co. said it will shutter the Tucson Citizen in Arizona if it can’t sell it by March 21.

Hearst will cut about 145 newsroom jobs at the Post- Intelligencer, leaving the newspaper with 20 reporters and editors, including two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey, said Paul Luthringer, a Hearst spokesman.

Hearst is raising subscription prices and has considered trimming its page count to counter the accelerating decline in advertising sales, Steven Swartz, head of the newspaper division, said last week.

‘Worst Year Yet’

U.S. newspapers eliminated 5,000 newsroom jobs in 2008 as industry advertising revenue fell 16 percent, and 2009 “may be the worst year yet,” according to a study released yesterday by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. New York Times Co. and Gannett Co. are selling assets and cutting jobs to help cope with advertising declines.

Hearst said it would terminate a joint operating agreement between the Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times in which the latter arranged advertising, printing and distribution for both newspapers. Under terms of the agreement, the Times received 60 percent of the combined revenue of the newspapers after operating costs.

Hearst will hire its own ad sales staff for the online Post-Intelligencer, Luthringer said. Subscribers to the Post- Intelligencer will automatically begin receiving the Times beginning March 18, said Jill Mackie, a Times spokeswoman.

The Post-Intelligencer’s average paid weekday circulation was 117,572 as of Sept. 30, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Times had a weekday circulation of 198,741.

Doctor estimated the Times would retain less than half of its old rival’s subscribers.

Union newsroom employees in San Francisco on March 14 approved a contract that will allow Hearst to limit severance pay and cut at least 150 jobs, the California Media Workers Guild said on its Web site. Hearst still has to negotiate with the Teamsters.

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