Why can’t we toss out our old P-I newspapers?

Photo by Justin Steyer

By Paula Wissel

There they sit. On the shelf in the KPLU newsroom. Two dozen of them. Each in their own day-of-the-week slot.

Seattle Post-Intelligencers from March 2009, the month the paper ceased publication after 146 years.

We wonder: Why haven’t we been able to toss those papers and relegate the printed P-I to the dark depths of the archive stacks at the public library?


‘I don’t want them to go away’

About a year and a half ago, I raised the question during a KPLU news meeting: What should we do with these old Post-Intelligencer papers?  By then, they were already starting to turn yellow.

The overwhelming response was that we should leave them alone.

Kirsten Kendrick, Morning Edition host: “I’m not sure I’d go back and read them, but I don’t want them to go away.”

Keith Seinfeld, Health and Science reporter: “The reason we haven’t gotten rid of them is that there’s nothing to put in their place.”

Erin Hennessey, KPLU News Director:  “All I can compare it to is my parents who’ve passed away and family letters and I’ve got to preserve those letters. It’s history.”


Why it’s hard to let go of stuff

I decided to consult an organizational expert.

Laura Leist is the author of “Eliminate Chaos at Work.”  She gives advice on getting rid of stuff you don’t need. She says it’s often the emotional element that is the most difficult to deal with. For example, after a loved one dies, it may be difficult to get rid of their things.

In the case of the old P-I’s, she says it sounds like nostalgia might be getting in the way.

“You know, the Seattle P-I is gone so we want to hold onto this thing of the past, right?”

Leist’s suggestion is that, rather than have the papers take up valuable shelf space, we put them in a “memory book.”

We can’t bring ourselves to follow that recommendation, however, and the old papers on the newsroom shelf continue to age. Frozen in time. March 2009.


Remembering the paper’s demise

Two former P-I reporters now work at KPLU. Tom Paulson, who had been at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 22 years when it ended the print editon, now writes KPLU’s Humanosphere blog on global health. Jake Ellison, KPLU’s online editor, was at the P-I for 10 years.

Both say they had a hard time believing that a newspaper that had been around for 146 years would be shut down.

“It’s hard to describe the last days because you lived in a sort of denial about what would happen to the paper,” Ellison said.

Tom Paulson says when they got word via a TV news report that the paper was up for sale, “We were all feeling pretty beat up so, of course, we went to a bar.”

Both say, like KPLU, they haven’t found it easy to dispose of old editions of the newspaper.

“I have a bunch of old P-I’s on my shelf at home that my wife’s upset that I won’t get rid of,” Paulson said.

And, like a lot of former P-I reporters, both Paulson and Ellison have red metal P-I newspaper boxes in their homes. Ellison says the souvenir reminds him of what he loved about being a print reporter.

“It was just a thrill to watch somebody walk up to the box and put their money in and pull the paper out and put it under their arm and walk away with it. It just felt like you were part of their lives,” he said.


The new news landscape

Ellison says with the P-I boxes gone from the streets after 146 years, it couldn’t be clearer “how radically the news environment has changed.”

And, while many tout the power of online news reporting – from crowd-reported stories such as the revolutions in the Middle East to a local news story going viral and reaching far more people than the physical newspaper ever could – news organizations are still struggling to pay for their newsrooms.

So, perhaps we cling to these last print editions of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer because they are physical reminders of what is rapidly disappearing everywhere – large city newsrooms staffed with hundreds of professional journalists dedicated to keeping government and institutions accountable, something not likely to be duplicated in the online world anytime soon.

Since the P-I closed its print edition in 2009 and then continued to publish online only with a much smaller staff, dozens of papers around the country have followed suit.

A website called Paper Cuts tracks newspaper closures and layoffs, and it reports that more than 20,000 newspaper reporters have lost their jobs since 2009.

And the future continues to look grim for newspapers.

One recent study declared:

“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest. … It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”

While the debate continues over the future of journalism, Tom Paulson, who now works strictly online, compares the current state of affairs with the “the wild west.”


Are we ready to move on?

Last month, The Puget Sound Business Journal reported that a giant crane was used to remove the silver Seattle Post-Intelligencer letters from the front of the building that housed the newspaper.

The giant P-I globe that spins on top of the building is likely headed to a museum.

So, maybe it is time, with another year fast approaching, to finally clear the old P-I’s off the shelf in the KPLU newsroom.

There’s an empty recycling bin waiting.

With everything from books to friends going virtual, maybe this is the time to finally get rid of these Seattle Post-Intelligencers from March 2009.

What do you think?


On the Web:

The following three stories are from a KPLU series produced in early March of 2009. The radio series was called "A No Newspaper Town?"