Seattle Post-Intelligencer may end print version

In what is becoming a common trend, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to be planning a move to online-only publication. This shift, which could happen as soon as March 18, would make it the first major newspaper to go paperless. The Christian Science Monitor, which recently announced its own plans to go web-only, will not do so until April.

One of the first steps in the paper's switch to online-only would be a reduction of its news staff from 150 to about 20. At this point, the employees who are being let go seem to include all copy editors, editorial writers, designers, sports writers, and features writers. Those who are being offered positions on the online version are, by and large, under 40, web-savvy, and familiar with online content.

Hector Castro, a metro reporter who was offered a position at the online Post-Intelligencer (or would that be the Post-Post Intelligencer?), stated that the new deal would have increased his insurance cost, cut his salary, forced him to forego his severance, erased his vacation accrual, and canceled his overtime. Castro declined the offer.

As Daily Finance previously noted, the two primary concerns facing online newspapers are funding and platforms. As it stands, the portable platforms for reading periodicals are pretty much limited to the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. As impressive as these tools are, they have not yet reached the point where they can legitimately compete with a newspaper. They are expensive, are only available in black and white, and have a small screen. While the Plastic Logic reader, which is coming to stores in early 2010, will have a larger display area, it will also only be available in black and white, and will be priced on a par with the Kindle.

In the absence of an effective platform, online papers will be chained to computers, effectively negating one of their key traits: portability. While many readers will undoubtedly be willing to get their news from a computer, it's hard to imagine scads of Seattleites juggling laptops and coffee cups as they try to adjust their morning routine to a post-paper world.

Funding is an even more pressing problem. In a nutshell, the battle is between moving to an advertising-only model or asking readers to pay for online content. The vast reduction in staff (and the staff's vast reduction in compensation) seems to suggest that the Post-Intelligencer is going with the advertising-only option. The question is, however, if the paper can continue to provide effective journalism with a revenue model that is proving increasingly questionable.

The repercussions of the Post-Intelligencer's move will be felt across the nation. Hearst, which owns the P-I, either owns or has interests in over 100 other newspapers in the United States. Like the Post-Intelligencer, many of these publications are having moderate to severe financial problems. If this move goes well, it is very likely that millions of readers will soon be getting their daily news without their daily paper.
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