WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has printed its final edition only to be reborn as an online publication whose fortunes will be closely watched by the struggling US newspaper industry.
As the 146-year-old newspaper rolled off the presses for the last time on Tuesday, SeattlePI.com, the website of the P-I, as the daily was known, looked toward the digital future.
"One era ends, another begins," read a headline on a story on the P-I website that its publisher Hearst Corp. has pledged to transform "into the leading news and information portal in the region."
The final commemorative edition of the newspaper, meanwhile, looked to the past with a nod to its more than 110,000 faithful readers.
"You've meant the world to us," read the headline on the front page, which featured a picture of the enormous globe that topped the P-I's headquarters and served as the newspaper's emblem.
The last edition of the P-I landed on doorsteps in the Seattle area within hours of Hearst's announcement that it was shutting down the daily, which racked up 14 million dollars in red ink last year.
The closure of the P-I left Seattle, home to Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks and the biggest city in the state of Washington, with just one daily newspaper, The Seattle Times.
But it also paved the way for an online journalism experiment that will be closely monitored by other US newspapers and media analysts.
"They are blazing a path right now in going online-only," Andrew Donohue, editor of the Voice of San Diego website, told the Columbia Journalism Review.
"Obviously it's brought about by their financial situation, but it's exciting to see somebody try that before their financial situation gets so bad that they can't do anything but close their doors."
"This dramatic shift could be the catalyst behind a new era in the news business," said Larry Kramer, a veteran newspaper reporter and editor writing on The Daily Beast website.
"If Hearst is right, they will prove that an online local news operation can be a good business," Kramer said. "Even if they fail at this attempt, we will learn from their efforts."
The P-I is the largest daily newspaper in the United States to make the leap entirely online.
The century-old Christian Science Monitor announced last year it plans to fold its print edition in April and become the first national newspaper to publish only on the Internet.
According to the P-I, SeattlePI.com will have an editorial staff of about 20, down from the print edition's 150 staffers, and an additional 20 people to sell advertising.
Hearst Newspapers president Steven Swartz said SeattlePI.com would not just be a "newspaper online."
"It's an effort to craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information website at its core," he said.
The new website will provide a "great opportunity for us to try out many of the theories journalism professionals and academics have been throwing around for the past few years," said SeattlePI.com executive producer Michelle Nicolosi.
"Is it possible to run an online-only local news site that serves a city's readers well while turning a profit?" she asked. "Is a digital news product a viable solution for cities whose papers can no longer afford to operate?"
The P-I is the second major US newspaper to shut down this year and like other dailies, it had been struggling with a steep decline in print advertising revenue, falling circulation and the migration of readers to free news online.
The E.W. Scripps-owned Rocky Mountain News closed down in February, leaving Denver, Colorado, with just one newspaper, The Denver Post, while several other newspaper groups have recently declared bankruptcy, including the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and six other papers.
Hearst's decision to close the P-I came after a fruitless effort to find a buyer for the newspaper, which was founded in 1863 as the Seattle Gazette.
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