When I read today on Monica Guzman's Twitter feed that writers for other publications were being let into the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's doomed newsroom, I decided to ignore managing editor David McCumber's refusal to let The Stranger chronicle the paper's last day. McCumber's reasoning had been that he wasn't saying yes to anyone, and that he didn't want to put the staff through the ordeal of being watched at such a moment. But when a reporter took me up a side stairwell and slipped me into the P-I newsroom, I found a writer from TIME Magazine already milling about, P-I staffers sipping beers and jokingly discussing the best locations for dumpster-diving, and no one who seemed all that stressed out. There was sadness, certainly, but also a strong feeling of release. The last deadline, ever, was just about to pass.
I'd forgotten how close the P-I newsroom is to Puget Sound. It's close enough that, looking west from the center of the room, you don't see any land—just water, islands, freighters going by. The effect is of being on a ship, and today, of course, the effect was also of being on a sinking ship. More precisely, a ship that had already sunk (in shallow, friendly waters, perhaps, but with the mechanism of the crew's livelihood damaged beyond repair).
Some desks had been abandoned long ago, part of the newspaper's years of downsizing. In one of the areas that remained populated, page designers ("Of which none will be kept," a guide said) sat surrounded by green Christmas lights. Nearby, a gray bin with a slot cut in the top and a combination lock keeping anyone from getting inside—the shred pile. Beneath a central table, about a dozen boxes of Pagliacci Pizza, which had been delivered courtesy of the Houston Chronicle upon the news of the P-I's print demise (and quickly devoured). A whirring laser printer, a wall of "Employee of the Month" plaques, a pile of Society of Professional Journalists awards, and all around the clatter of cleanup.
This was sometime after 4 p.m., and a small rally was assembling outside the P-I offices on Elliott Avenue. "Will you be going to the rally?" someone asked a scowling copy editor who was chewing on a toothpick as he worked on a story. "Yeah, I'll be rallying my ass off," the copy editor shot back. I took that as a no. A staffer walked by wearing a P-I baseball hat. Others sat in their P-I commemorative t-shirts. There didn't seem to be high hopes for the rally, which was being organized by Hal Bernton, a reporter at the Seattle Times. After all, what's to rally about? The air was far more funereal than fired up.
But the rally, as it turned out, was quite sweet and welcome. "The whole idea that this could be the last day is very hard to process," Bernton (above) said, speaking into a tiny, faltering megaphone—a metaphor for the shrinking reach of print journalism if ever there was one. He was followed by McCumber, who thanked the P-I staffers for the honor of working with them, and by David Horsey (below), who tried to capture the moment. "We're in a new world—all of us," he said. "Who knows where we go... I hope everyone of us finds a way to keep doing what we do because it's so important."
Bruce Ramsey of the Times editorial page was there. "None of us at the Times are happy about this," he said. Times columnist Danny Westneat was there, too. "Reporting is what matters," he said. "The reason this is such a sad day is that we no longer have 150 reporters anymore who are working and telling the stories in this city." About a dozen of his colleagues—and maybe a few more—had come down to salute their former rivals, even those who would be continuing their work through Hearst's online-only P-I. "I hope you make it," Westneat said to them. "I hope somebody figures out how to make money off that whizbang thing they call the internet."
Photos by Eli Sanders