Tuesday, March 16, 2010

One Year Ago: Shutting Down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

My phone rang as I walked into the empty newsroom before 9 a.m. on March 16, 2009. It was a New York Times reporter fishing for confirmation -- about something he wouldn't reveal. That is never good news.
My heart pounding, I ran to the managing editor's office but stopped short. The publisher was already there. I tracked down an assistant managing editor. The look on her face said it all: We were finished. Tuesday, March 17th would be the feisty, 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer's final edition.
What I remember most that day is feeling numb. It had been two roller coaster months since Hearst put the P-I up for sale. Yet I still could not believe this was happening. Condolence emails and calls poured in as I cleared out my desk and packed up three boxes of documents and unfinished work. 
 Reporters from other news outlets gathered in our lobby, clamoring for comment. A TV reporter couldn't resist asking, "Are you scared?" I stared into the camera. 
Damn right I was scared. Not just of losing my job -- but of losing journalism's heart and soul. Of the erosion of a profession that is paid to question authority and tell the truth. Of being left with reporters who do little more than wield microphones and ask "How does it feel?"
The dismantling of the newsroom went fast. Recycling bins filled to overflowing with stories that would never be told. Desks were swept clean for the first time in years. Everything about it looked wrong. 
The year since then has been a blur of survival strategies and piecing some kind of life back together. I got lucky and found work for a good cause. 
But it is not journalism. I still miss the newsroom like a lost friend. I miss uncovering and telling stories that matter. I worry about talented former colleagues who have still not found work.
Journalism is struggling mightily to remake itself. I'm cheering each new development. Getting rid of jobs is one thing. Getting rid of journalists--not so easy.
In my basement, the three boxes I packed on my last day at the P-I are stacked up on a chair, unopened. Waiting.