March 16, 2009

March 17, 2009: An excerpt from a story in the final print edition of the Seattle P-I:

The pioneering P-I slips into the past
Over 146 years, we grew up with Seattle

By CAROL SMITH

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the region’s pioneer newspaper and the city’s oldest continually operating business, a newspaper that both shaped and was shaped by the community it covered, prints its last edition Tuesday — nearly a century and a half after its forebear first rolled off a hand-cranked Ramage press promising to be “the best and cheapest promulgator of all sorts of useful information.”

The print P-I was irreverent and unpredictable, a long-shot survivor from the start. It persisted through 11 moves, and more than 17 owners. It didn’t miss an edition when its building burned to the ground along with its press in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. It outlived some 20 scrappy competitors before the turn of the 20th century, an era described by Clarence Bagley, one of its 19th century owners, as a time when newspapers “lived hard and died easy.”

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….The P-I has been a common denominator not just in our lives, but in hundreds of thousands of others for more than a century.

Print is what we posted on refrigerator doors, and hung on walls — tangible documents of our rites and passages, of what entertains, informs or outrages us. Clippings of births and deaths — and the deeds and misdeeds in between — fill thousands of family scrapbooks.

Now, like Polaroids and slide projectors, Kodachrome and coin phones, we slip into that foggy part of memory reserved for things whose absence we haven’t really registered yet.

The print newspaper is going away and with it, its varied afterlife. You can’t sop up your basement with your computer, or wrap a fish. And what is the paper mache — that miracle sculpting media that must have launched a million budding elementary school artists — without newspaper?

Beyond the actual, physical newspaper, however is the newspaper as an institution, or more precisely, as the people who put it out. This newspaper was still the place many people contacted when they didn’t know where else to call — to right a wrong, to find a phone number, to get someone to listen to their stories.

We know because we picked up the phone.

And when our lives changed overnight — when President Kennedy was slain, or the Twin Towers fell, or President Obama was elected — it was the next day’s newspaper that people thought of saving.

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