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The emotional and journalistic definitions of success are more difficult to measure. By most accounts, the P-I is a far less relevant source of news than its print version; its talent has been reduced by an order of many.
Horsey, and columnists like Art Thiel, which gave the paper its unique voice, are gone. (Thiel co-founded Sports Press Northwest with former P-I columnist Steve Rudman.) Some of the paper’s investigative and enterprise reporters started InvestigateWest, a non-profit website dedicated to public-service and investigative journalism.
Editor Chris Grygiel, who helped with the P-I's transition from print to web, also left last year, becoming a state editor for the Associated Press. He had worked at the P-I since 2000 mostly as a government and politics editor. Coincidentally or not, the P-I's recent losses coincided with a round of layoffs at The Seattle Times, which let go of 20 employees in December, five of them from the newsroom.
The SeattlePI.com covers with a few what the paper used to cover with many. "It seems to be a little bit of everything,” said former reporter Kery Murakami. “It still does original reporting, so it’s not fair to say it’s just an aggregator or a portal. It seems to be a site trying to do things on the cheap but with no clear mission.” Murakami led the creation of the Seattle PostGlobe, an online news site run by former P-I staffers until it ran out of money and resources and withered last summer. Murakami now works as a reporter at Newsday.
The SeattlePI.com's mission, even three years ago, was not clear. The expectation back then, said former P-I staffer Monica Guzman, was that “we were going to be a small shop, we were going to be nimble, but we were going to figure this out. And then we were going to hire people back. That’s what you hoped for. You knew it was a stretch, but you had hope. I believed it then. Later, I wasn’t so sure.” Guzman started one of the main features of the SeattlePI.com, the Big Blog, a popular, catch-all, breezy update of the happenings about town. She left to work for a social media startup called Intersect and now works as a media consultant.
SeattlePI.com supplements staff articles with wire reports, photo galleries, quizzes, amateur blogs, and content from other Hearst properties. Original reporting and writing are always the most expensive form of content and the type that has been disappearing at many newspapers. Writers who leave tend to not be replaced.
Jim Moore, a sportswriter for the P-I for almost 30 years, stayed on after the transition as a freelance sports columnist along with Thiel and Greg Johns. Moore’s last column was in June. “I started out writing eight columns a month, then was cut to six, then was cut to nothing,” Moore said. “I was told it had nothing to do with the number of hits or page views the columns were getting and more to do with budget cuts. It bummed me out because it truly marked the end of my time there once and for all.”
SeattlePI.com’s sports department, which once also included Christian Caple and editor Gerry Spratt, is now a department of one, Nick Eaton. “I’m guessing he’s spread way too thin,” said Moore, who remains a friend of Eaton’s. “It’s a full-time job covering one team let alone five or six.”
A few pre-digital staffers remain at the P-I: Vanessa Ho, Scott Sunde, Joel Connelly. Most have duties as reporters, editors, and producers, the general term applied to those who build web content. One reporter, Casey McNerthney, covers crime; Connelly covers politics; Aubrey Cohen covers business; Amy Rolph writes the Big Blog, Guzman’s legacy.
Careful story selection, picking one’s spots, is a daily necessity. The most visible stories, like the shooting of the Lakewood police officers, get respectable treatment in the P-I; less visible stories might get ignored altogether. Such rationing is true at traditional newspapers as well.
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