Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seven months later: What's happened to Seattle P-I Journalists

In March, Hearst closed the 146-year-old Post-Intelligencer newspaper and dumped 140 of us onto the street in the depths of the recession.

Instead of filing stories, we filed for unemployment. Instead of interviewing politicians, we took classes in How to Interview for a Job. Instead of rushing to cover the next story, we became the story.

Almost 25,000 print journalists have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. Reporters who kept an eye on those with power and money. Who showed up at school board meetings and city council hearings. Who filed public disclosure requests and wrote stories about uncomfortable truths. Losing our jobs -- and for many us our careers -- isn’t just personal. The public is losing too.

Here’s what I found by surveying my former P-I colleagues recently. Seventy-one of the 140 who lost their jobs responded:

·      23 have new fulltime jobs for an employer, half working in journalism and the rest in corporate or nonprofit communications, business, etc.

·      3 are working part-time for an employer and 6 started their own businesses

·      18 are freelancing (blogs, photography) or working on journalism start-ups (Post-Globe, InvestigateWest) and collecting unemployment

·      14 are in school, including 10 who are also on unemployment. Studies include education, web design, marketing, paralegal, art

·       4 said a combination of unemployment/jobhunting/parenting while two retired and one has a journalism fellowship

These statistics do not include the 18 or so former P-I staff working at the online Seattle P-I.

Overall trends?

·      Economic hard times: Only one-third have found new fulltime jobs and most are earning far less than they did at the P-I. Five people said their new jobs have higher salaries while 5 said they’re earning about the same. The vast majority, whether working or not, are struggling to pay the mortgage, afford health care and stay afloat economically.

“Unemployment is immensely difficult…I feel like my experience and education was a waste of time and I feel betrayed by investing myself in a field that didn't give a damn.” (Christine Okeson, former P-I copy editor)

·      Say goodbye to paid journalism: Only 15 percent have found fulltime paid work in journalism. Another 25 percent are blogging, freelancing or working on journalism start-ups like Post-Globe or InvestigateWest for little or no money.

“I didn't realize how difficult it would be adjust to the solitude and isolation of working alone instead of in the newsroom. Nor did I expect that fulltime job prospects would be this grim.” (John Marshall, former P-I book critic)

“Freelancing is busy but may not be financially sustainable…I'm stunned and offended by the number of major businesses (wait -- including the online PI) who expect professionals to write for free…There are very few opportunities to do the sort of important work that the old P-I invested in, because it is expensive and unsexy. The point that it is important to society has become irrelevant. And I am no dinosaur - I am Twittering, Facebooking, and Flip video-ing along with the rest of the world.” (former P-I reporter)

·      Say hello to public relations, business, marketing or self-employment: Half of those who found new fulltime jobs are no longer in journalism. Most are doing communications for non-profits or corporations. Another group has started businesses – photography, communications consulting, etc.

“The job I found with Boeing is the best I've ever had, and I had a great job with the PI.” (James Wallace, former P-I aerospace reporter)

·      Just a job? Half of those who are employed say their job satisfaction is worse than the P-I while a third say it’s about the same. The rest are happier – most of them in non-journalism jobs.

All told, I'd rather be a newspaper reporter than anything else.” (Mike Lewis, former P-I Under The Needle columnist)

·      New horizons: For a handful of people, losing their jobs was an opportunity to pursue their dreams – from returning to school to launching businesses to switching careers. Others mentioned finding a better work/life balance without the stress of daily deadlines.

“Life is very exciting, draining, scary. But it is freeing. I love learning, doing art. I feel I have received a huge gift from the universe. Knowing that financially we would be all right in a few years, would be great.” (Elana Winsberg, former P-I online designer)

·      Grieving the loss of the P-I:  Most said they miss the P-I newsroom with its special mix of collegiality and sense of mission. They miss the daily miracle of putting out a newspaper that served our community and made a difference.

I really miss the camaraderie and familial atmosphere of a newsroom. In a nutshell, I'm in the real world now, and I don't like it.” (former P-I sports copy editor)

“I see so many gaps in news reporting these days that P-I reporters and editors would have been filling were we still around. The paper was far from perfect, but it made a difference.” (Lisa Stiffler, former P-I environmental reporter)


  1. These comments resonate with me. I left journalism almost three years ago and went into marketing. I left because my head told me to, and it was the right decision. But I've never been through such a painful life experience. Newspapers are indeed a world unto themselves, and life outside those walls is different.

  2. This is really a well-done informal survey. Thanks for doing this. I touch upon Seattle, and the plight of the PI reporters, in my upcoming feature story. I wrote the piece for the December issue of Quill magazine, and it covers how the public is affected by newspaper layoffs and closings. Good luck to you, --Dan Axelrod, Scranton, PA., recently laid off daily newspaper reporter now in PR consulting.

  3. If journalists went back to actually being journalists -- that is, to speaking truth to power and investigating every topic of public interest with a skeptical eye -- as a group there would be a more intense demand for their services, and more of you would be employed.

    However, journalists (as a whole) decided to get out of journalism and into the kingmaking and "promoting peace and justice" industries. There isn't such a hot demand for that sort of thing.

    The Obama administration is rife with corruption, falsehoods, public disservice, and outright incompetence. Journalists are suddenly not as interested in these things as they claimed to be a few years ago.

    Rediscover journalism and I bet many of you can get back to doing it.

  4. and I'm reading this in a community college classroom, where after 18 months of unemployment (Seattle Times) I'm still studying while collecting "training benefits."

    I see very very job listings that fit my skill set, and those that I know I COULD do (because reporters are true generalists) are hopeless because there are thousands of unemployed people who have actually done that specific job before in the applicant pool.

    I'm curious how so many PI people landed in PR jobs? Because I'm not seeing those listings!

  5. Anonymous, can everything be turned around and become an "Obama Issue?" Christmas is coming up, does Santa have some sort of Obama bias, why don't you take a look. I realize your army of right wing crazies are happier than ever with the demise of "mainsteam" journalism but these people have families and dreams that have disappeared. Hope it happens to you some day, then maybe you can sympathize. Jeff G.

  6. The Bush/Cheney recession has thrown a lot of people out of work. I am afraid the next Wall Street meltdown will bring total chaos. Screw the GOP!

  7. There are two basic reasons why newspapers and magazines are failing: 1) modern technology has made them as obsolete as the town crier and 2) many, if not most, journalists (propagandists might be a better term) attempt to spin many stories to promote pet causes.

    This was never more evident than the contrast in coverage between Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. The media scrutinized every thing Palin did and said while Obama was given a free pass. The NY Times carried three front page stories on Bristol Palin's pregnancy the day after it was announced. In contrast, the media did everything possible to paint Obama in a positive light.

    Newsweek just announced another major layoff today.

    According to a recent Gallup survey, 40% of U.S. citizens are conservative. 80% - 90% of journalists are liberals and most are not shy about working their political biases into stories whenever possible.

    If you are not providing a product many people want, they are not going to buy it and you will not have a job. It doesn't get any more basic than that.

  8. Obama's daughter wasn't un-wed and pregnant. Spin that.

  9. In response to the people who are saying that there isn't any demand for journalism as it's made these days, I beg to differ. How many articles did your friends post in status updates lately? How many times have you googled to find out something and stumbled on a news article that answered your question?

    I don't have the time to dig up the numbers to prove it, as I'm not getting paid for this post, but since I'm a journalist I see the reason for the failure of the industry much differently than you do. Internet ads pay a fraction of what print ads do. That means pay for journalism goes down as readers migrate away from print onto the web.

    The only way to fix this is to figure out a way to get higher rates on Internet ads. While the quality of journalism has suffered in recent years as newsroom staffs shrink, that's less to blame for what's going on than the industry's ad budget problem.

  10. I've been a journalist for over two decades, and I honestly empathize with the formerly-employed folks at the P.I., but it's time to stop mourning your loss. It's a competitve business that has been consolidating for decades. A mid-sized daily I worked for in 1985 closed suddenly one day after being sold to its cross-town rival. We did not have JOAs back then. The closure shuttered a great institution, scattered a great team and forever decreased the quality of journalism in that city. But we all moved on. Most of that class of 85 have done -- and still do -- great things in newspaper journalism. We've held officials accountable, won major prizes, expanded international coverage, provided awesome first drafts of history, and generally enjoyed all the hardships and heartaches of this amazing calling.
    But it's never been easy -- and losing publications and platforms is a hazard of the trade. Another former colleague from the closed paper in 85 went to work for the Sacramento Union. When it closed, he landed at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. When the Her-Ex died, he went to work for the LA Times. He recently fled Sam Zell's regime -- and now writes for his own web property.
    I wish the P-I and quite a few other departed newspapers were still around. But they aren't and it's not the end of the world, certainly not the end of objective journalism, which has always been brutally competitive. It has to be. We have to keep the crazies, liars and partisan hacks out.

  11. Thanks for the informal survey. It was very enlightening- unlike most of the comments here, which show what a junkyard public discourse has become. I'd love to know how the "new" Seattle P-I is doing with it's small staff and links-only approach.

  12. Palin is a good looking fluff head and you can vote for her if that's what you want.

  13. I am not a former PI journalist, but I am a former PI reader/fan. Love this survey, but after reading a couple of comments about that woman Palin, I laughed OUT LOUD. Any self-respecting journalist should just give her up. May your lips (and fingertips) burst in to flame should you ever speak/write her name again.

  14. Some of us just don't miss the pressures of daily journalism, the second-guessing, the shrinking newshole, the uncertain future. Been a reporter for 25 years, that's long enough. I think of it as almost liberating, even as freelance work is catch-as-can.

  15. As Teichroeb's report and many of these comments make clear, journalism as we've known it is dying. Even so, there is a new journalism ecosystem coming to life. While it will be quite a while before new forms meet all our news and information needs, the Pacific Northwest is filled with experiments.

    On January 7-10, "Re-imagining News and Community in the Pacific Northwest" will be a great place to consider the challenges of the changing media landscape. Be part of a conversation among journalists, civic voices, academics, and others who care about the role of journalism in a healthy community. The Northwest is ripe for re-envisioning and creating the news and information ecology we need.

    For more information, visit

    Peggy Holman, Journalism that Matters co-founder

  16. Thanks for doing this, Ruth. Your survey bears out what I have heard from people. On the one hand, what former P-I staffers have to say is probably no different than what has been voiced by other categories of workers dumped by the economy over the generations, from various industries.

    On the other hand, these are information workers dumped in what is famously known as the information economy. Certainly, the captains of industry who owned newspapers share some of the blame, but not all of it. The biggest weakness of newspapers was not that the product was (is) printed on dead trees, but that it was (is) an industry that failed, nearly uniformly, to invest significant sums, or any, in research and development. Look at the budget of any company determined to survive, and it is plowing at least some money into R&D. Newspapers got so complacent as a monopoly interest raking in huge amounts of ad dollars that they never looked out ahead of the curve. The nature of the entire industry was (is?) reactive. Contrast that with the software industry.

    Where to now? I hope some P-I refugees continue to produce journalism. Sometimes, however, I have a vision of the ink-stained scribes of the past who sat in village markets hiring themselves out to write letters and other documents for the illiterate masses. See you at the marketplace. Liz Brown

  17. I miss the PI, and especially D. Parvaz. I wonder if the dreaded elimination of "net neutrality" might bring income back to the newspaper business.

  18. An update since this post was written: former P-I staffer Kery Murakami, who also started online non-profit Seattle Post-Globe, just accepted a job at the Washington State Budget and Policy Center as their PR flack. The status of the Post-Globe is unknown at this point, but as a sometimes-writer at the site, I know Kery poured everything he had into bringing another journalism source into the community. The money making model just isn't there yet.

    I don't blame him one bit. Until journalism can prove that it can feed us, how can we continue to do the job properly, even if we love it, love telling a community's stories, love digging into fleshy budgets, love writing the first rough draft of history? We have bills and houses and lives to live. Which is why I left my job at a newspaper in Florida to move to Seattle and just recently found an amazing job for an online tech/outdoors company. One that feeds me and gives me benefits.

  19. Too many posters letting their politics get in the way of the story.
    Try writing in the small-town press and see how far your bias goes. The folks will keep you telling the straight line, and they still like to read the paper!

  20. Getting paid for journalism isn't going to get any easier in thefuture.

  21. Hey Ruth, good story.

    There is a predictable grieving and loss of identity that comes after leaving such an important profession. It can take a long time to recover one's sense of self after working in a field whose professional ethics require us to remove our own perspective from our work.

  22. Try this website, I'm amazed at how many openings there are on a national level:

    AJ McWhorter, Honolulu

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