Hearst May Take 'Seattle PI' Online, 'SF Chronicle' Awaits Verdict

SPI and SFC newspapers Two print editions of two major West Coast newspapers are tottering toward oblivion, as Hearst deliberates over the fate of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Francisco Chronicle. For both newspapers, there's bad news and worse news. The Seattle P-I is definitely closing the print edition, and may also ax the Web site; the SF Chronicle is demanding that unions agree to deep cuts--but may shutter the paper anyway.

At Seattle P-I, the print edition is definitely closing, but the newspaper's Web site may live on, according to a report that the newspaper posted Thursday. The Seattle P-I blog said a relatively small number of reporters have received "provisional offers" to continue working for the Web operation if the newspaper ceases print publication. The online version would probably employ about 20 people--a fraction of the newspaper's current workforce of about 180.

But it's not clear that the plan to keep the Web site going will necessarily be approved by Hearst's upper management.

Currently, the print edition and Web site are both scheduled to close in the next couple of months if the newspaper isn't bought by March 10. It seems unlikely that a buyer will step forward, as the credit crunch has stopped banks from lending even to sound, profitable businesses. The chances of a borrower getting funds for a risky investment like a failing newspaper are close to nil.

The move to Web-only publication would clearly be a step down for many of the paper's reporters. Hearst is taking advantage of the transition to cut pay and benefits. One reporter who rejected the provisional offer said it included high health insurance costs and a lower salary, while canceling his severance pay and all of his accrued vacation.

Another troubled big-city Hearst publication, the San Francisco Chronicle, informed the Newspaper Guild--a union for newspaper workers--that it would have to cut at least 150 jobs, and possibly as many as 225.

In a bulletin, the Northern California Media Workers chapter of the Newspaper Guild said it volunteered to take cuts in vacation and sick time, but "we were told that even if they agreed to slash pay and vacations as we offered, it would make no difference: the devastating job cuts, affecting more than one-third of our members, most likely would happen anyway. And the paper might be closed anyway."

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