The End of the P-I Is Nigh, But Maybe Not So Nigh As Staffers Think

By Sandeep Kaushik March 5, 2009

Yesterday evening, the Stranger's Eli Sanders posted about rumors swirling in the P-I newsroom that the final P-I print edition may roll off the presses sooner than had been expected. Until now, the operating assumption, based on a previous statement from Hearst, is that the P-I would cease publishing sometime between March 18 and the end of the month.

The situation certainly seems ominous at the P-I. I had been hearing the same rumors since last Friday, but they seem more rooted in speculation than anything else. But Eli discovered that the deadline for “special stories that will run in the last print edition” of the P-I has been moved up to tomorrow. Just as worrisome to P-I staff, as one pointed out to me last night, are some changes to the P-I’s internal computer system.

P-I reporters use a program called CCI to write their stories. A source at the paper told me that a couple of days ago P-I investigative reporter Lewis Kamb discovered something odd about the program:

"Now, when using that program, CCI, to create a story, a reporter or editor or whomever creates the story must fill out a dialogue box, which provides a drop down menu for filling in certain fields, such as expected publication date.  Beginning this week, CCI will only provide default publication dates running through this Sunday March 8. Beyond that, the option for publication states "suspended."

(Typically, the program would allow you to choose dates two weeks and even months or years beyond via the drop-down, but that ain't an option now).

A lot of folks worry this means the P-I will cease producing content beyond March 8—or this weekend. If this theory holds true, it would mean the last full P-I print edition would be published on Saturday, March 7, with the remaining P-I op-ed content typically scheduled for the joint Seattle Times/P-I editorial page running in the Sunday March 8 edition."

Meanwhile, Hearst has remained silent about when exactly they intend to stop publishing the print edition of the paper, which is only fueling the sense of rapidly impending doom in the newsroom. And P-I reporters have been expecting a letter from Hearst informing them when their last day of employment is going to be. Those letters have not arrived, which has added to the sense that when the end comes it may come abruptly. 

Still, all of this amounts to just a frenzy of rumors built on circumstantial evidence, rather than anything solid, at least at this point. I just e-mailed P-I Managing Editor David McCumber to ask if the rumors are rooted in reality, and if the changes to the computer system are significant. He sent me back a one word response: “No.”

I've always found McCumber to be a straight-shooter, so based on that pithy reply it looks to me like the globe may continue to spin for a couple more weeks yet. Though given Hearst’s secretive ways – McCumber was as surprised as his staff when Hearst announced in January that they were going to end the print edition of the P-I—I would not rule anything out completely.

In other developments, the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, the union representing P-I staffers, has called a closed door meeting tonight for P-I employees to have an “off the record” discussion about what may happen after the P-I ceases printing. As I reported yesterday, there are two separate and distinct efforts underway to create web-based journalism entities out of the ashes of the P-I.  

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