Seattle P-I takes digital-only route

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On Wednesday, March 18, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) will switch from a daily print paper, with an average circulation of 117,572, to an online-only publication.

The switch, announced by P-I parent company Hearst Corp. on Monday, March 16, will make it the largest daily newspaper to adopt an entirely digital operating model. The paper's Web traffic, which Nielsen measured at 1.8 million unique visitors in January, already far outpaces its print circulation. The goal will be to grow that number through deeper community involvement, additions to the site and content-sharing partnerships with other popular publications.

“Our goal now is to turn seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region,” Frank Bennack Jr., CEO of Hearst, said in a statement.

Regional and community news will be the bread and butter of Seattlepi.com; the site is adding more than 150 reader blogs, as well as community databases, photo galleries and regular columns from Seattle residents.

The closing of the P-I print edition leaves Seattle, which has a population of just under 600,000, with only one daily print newspaper, the Seattle Times. The Times, which until recently held a joint operating agreement with the P-I, has an average Monday circulation of 194,377. The Times appears committed to maintaining its print product, and could conceivably pick up some former P-I readers after the switch.

Hearst magazines, too, could benefit from the P-I's online move. To bolster its site, the paper has formed content sharing agreements with the magazines owned by its parent company, including Redbook, Cosmopolitan and Esquire. Michelle Nicolosi, the new executive producer of Seattlepi.com, said that the paper will continue to develop such partnerships and will deepen existing ones with TVGuide.com and Xconomy.com.

Advertising will take a more prominent role at the P-I: while the paper is whittling its editorial staff from 150 to about 20, it is hiring 20 new employees to create a digital agency, which will sell online ad space for Seattlepi.com, mostly to local businesses. The new agency will also sell the digital advertising products, such as display advertising and SEM, of P-I partners like Yahoo, Google, MSN, Ask.com and Kaango.

Hearst put the P-I up for sale on January 9, but no buyers emerged within the 60 day limit set by the company. The paper reportedly lost $14 million last year.  

The P-I is the second city newspaper to shutter this year. Denver's Rocky Mountain News, which was closed in February, followed a similar trajectory: After losing a reported $16 million in 2008, it was put up for sale by its parent company, Scripps, and failed to find a buyer within its specified time frame.  

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