If I were responsible for keeping the books, I would’ve shut it down too. It has taken me a year to realize that and admit it.
With its spinning neon globe overlooking Elliott Bay, the printed Seattle Post-Intelligencer was a West Coast institution. It was the state’s oldest business. A home for elegant scribes and scrappy diggers. Quirky. Artistic. Majestic. Beloved. Hated. Respected. Feared.
Working there as a reporter was a personal dream-come-true. I loved that place and proudly showed off my business card to whoever asked, “What do you do?”
After years of moving around the country and seeking a home, I’d found one in the P-I. I belonged at a newspaper. That newspaper. In a major city. In Seattle.
So when the Seattle P-I stopped printing one year ago, I felt shattered. “How could they do this to this city? To us?” I wondered about Hearst Corp., the New York-based company that owned the P-I.
I felt angry and blindsided and helpless. I was one of 10 percent of the staff chosen to work for seattlepi.com — which was a blessing in that I had something to focus on and I got to keep doing what I love.
But now, one year later, I am working in finance — almost by surprise. And I realized this week: Of course. I needed to understand what happened, and to do that, I had to understand more about how business works.
Sometimes it’s hard to be objective about the things we love — even for reporters.
My new job as a junior stock analyst has helped me to see my treasured-shuttered newspaper with fresh eyes. Objective eyes.
Early into the new millennium, the P-I had become a crappy company with a business model creaking louder than the globe atop the building:
–It was losing up to $14 million a year with no future profits in sight.
–It outsourced its basic money-making functions to its biggest competitor, which also, oh by the way, was run by men who wanted to squash it dead. (The P-I’s printing, delivery and advertising sales were handled by the rival Seattle Times. This would be like if Coca-Cola outsourced its distribution to Pepsi Co.)
–It was staffed by members of a feisty union that wasn’t afraid to tussle with management.
–It was overseen by new executives in New York who didn’t put the paper into the mess it was in, and had little inclination or time to get it out of it.
–It was operating without any legal freedom to market itself.
“Shit show” is a new phrase I’ve picked up from the finance industry to describe operations like the P-I. I love the term. It’s brutally honest, doesn’t mince words and isn’t afraid of the truth: Kinda like the P-I.
The whole devastating debacle taught me two crucial life lessons:
Whatever can’t go on forever . . . won’t.
And that shit show reality is why you’ll never find a P-I flapping in the wind at the Pike Place Market newsstand again.