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Michele E. Buttelman: Goodbye, P-I

Posted: March 22, 2009 12:54 a.m.
Updated: March 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

My love affair with newspapers is a life-long obsession that runs deep. All I know is newspaper work. I've managed circulation drives, operated a Compugraphic typesetter, sold advertising, done layout in the days of waxing machines and pica poles, been a news system IT trainer and now - a journalist.

I was born in Seattle, so the news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer - or the "P-I" as the locals call it - has ceased publishing its print product is like an arrow through my heart.

I grew up with the P-I. Everyone I knew read the P-I. When I moved to Eastern Washington during my junior high and high school years, I pined for the P-I.

When I ended up at Washington State University (the opposite side of the state from Seattle) I bought the P-I every day.

It was in the pages of the P-I that I first read about the abduction of heiress Patty Hearst (the P-I was a Hearst newspaper) and of the unknown serial killer (later identified as Ted Bundy) who terrorized college women throughout Washington state.

I read about the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew and about the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon in the P-I.

I followed the latest news about the war in Vietnam and countless airplane crashes and other disasters in the P-I. Yes, "It's in the P-I" was more than the newspaper's motto. It was true.

The P-I was "my" paper.

But on Tuesday, after 146 years serving the city of Seattle, the P-I became the latest victim in what has been a newspaper bloodbath across the country.

In addition to the P-I, other recent newspaper casualties include:

n The 167-year-old Putnam County Courier in New York folded in February.
n On Feb. 27 the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News published its final print edition.
n The 138-year-old Tucson Citizen closed Saturday.

These are just a few examples of newspapers that have met the financial ax. Hundreds, if not thousands, of small weeklies and other publications have also ceased to exist in the last 10 years.

The budget ax is also poised to fall on many other publications, as well.

The year 1950 marked the high point of newspaper penetration in America - when 100 percent of American homes reportedly took one or more daily newspapers. Now, fewer than half of American homes subscribe to a newspaper.

It is a troubling trend for many reasons. Newspapers create a shared sense of community. Community newspapers bring communities together, either in celebration, or in a joint sense of purpose.

Where else but in your community newspaper will you find listings of births, obituaries of local notables, photos of a school assembly, in-depth high school football coverage and a review of the latest community theater production?

Your community newspaper keeps tabs on City Hall, school boards, water boards and other elected officials.

Your community newspaper provides a forum for issues to be debated and discussed in the community - the community that will be most affected by city council elections, new roads being built, the latest developments approved by planning officials and the Byzantine workings of California water politics.

The founding fathers of the United States knew how important newspapers are to our freedom. They included "freedom of the press" in the First Amendment to the Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Without a free press there is precious little to keep the weasels and scoundrels among us from running wild. A free press is not perfect - nothing in life is - but what's the alternative?

Think of the first moves that all tyrants and dictators make - they take over the media. Ever heard of a free press in a communist country?

Who should pay for this free press? I think it's the people who benefit from the freedom we all share, a freedom too often taken for granted. Advertise, buy a subscription, show your support for freedom.

Despite the death of my beloved P-I, there is always a silver lining. The P-I has been reborn as an online newspaper. Taking a lesson from its community newspaper cousins, the P-I said it will concentrate on "local" coverage.

"Local" coverage - that's something The Signal has known about all along. I'm glad to see some of the "big guys" are taking notice of the concept.

If you are reading this, you are most likely a subscriber. Do your friends and family a favor. If they are not subscribers, give them the gift of community. Buy them a gift subscription to The Signal.

If you are reading this online I would ask that you support the hard work of the people who bring you this newspaper every day. Subscribe to the print edition. Think of it as your contribution to your community.

A healthy community newspaper benefits us all.

Michele E. Buttelman is the features editor of The Signal. She can be reached at


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