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The Last Days of P-I

Today won't be the last day of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a daily newspaper, as it had been widely speculated. The parent Hearst Corporation said in an e-mail to the P-I staff that: "We are still evaluating our options. Timing of the decision is uncertain."

But make no mistake, the end is near. By all indication, Hearst intends to turn the P-I into an online-only operation with an emphasis on aggregation and blogs. When that happens, the P-I would become the second major U.S. metro daily newspaper to fold following the demise of the Rocky Mountain News on Feb. 27.

As if to perform the last rites, the P-I employees were allowed to pose in front of the paper's iconic rooftop globe yesterday for posterity.

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Ken Lambert, Seattle Times

In the past two weeks, Hearst has courted selected writers and editors for the proposed online-only P-I. Assuming those ranks were filled, the site will continue without a hitch while the print edition shuts down. In any event, the morale in the P-I newsroom could not be lower, with the minds of the employees already elsewhere:

There's also an emotional and group-think element that's making people agree that this week will bring the last-ever print P-I--or, at least, should. First of all, what kind of employer tells a group of 170 competitive journalists that they're about to lose their jobs, then picks about 20 of them to stay employed in an online-only project ..., then throws the chosen back into the general population, and then lets that stew of jealousy and resentment simmer for a week or so? Not a good idea. As one reporter put it last week, the current vibe in the newsroom is: "Put us out of our misery already."

While Hearst cleans out the P-I, it continues to work on saving its flagship San Francisco Chronicle. Management has tentatively agreed to a deal with the guild, with concessions granted to keep the paper operating. A bigger obstacle, however, remains the Teamsters, who represents the non-editorial staffs including truck drivers. Teamsters may yet to decide to scuttle the negotiations and dare Hearst to shut down the paper.

Members of the guild are expected to ratify the agreement, as outlined in the memo below obtained by Media Watch:

BARGAINING UPDATE
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE UNIT
MONDAY March 9, 2009

Tentative Agreement in Chronicle-Guild Talks


Negotiators for the Guild and the San Francisco Chronicle reached a tentative agreement Monday night on proposed changes to the collective bargaining agreement in connection with cost cuts planned by the company.

The agreement will require approval by Chronicle Unit Guild members. A ratification meeting will be scheduled as early as Thursday of this week. Time and place will be announced on Tuesday as soon as a large enough facility can be secured.

In view of the latest terms agreed today, the Guild Negotiating Committee recommends membership approval.

The terms reached late Monday include expanded management ability to lay off employees without regard to seniority. All employees who are discharged in a layoff or who accept voluntary buyouts are guaranteed two weeks' pay per year of service up to a maximum of one year, plus company-paid health care for the severance term, even in the event of a shutdown - which today's agreement is designed to avoid.

Guild membership will remain a condition of continued employment for all employees. However, new hires in certain advertising sales positions will be given the option of membership, even though they will retain Guild protection under the contract.

On-callers will be limited to no more than 10 percent in any classification or department.

Pension changes are not part of this agreement, but are being discussed by pension authorities and must be implemented under terms of the Pension Protection Act, due to the recent declines in investment markets. Because those changes may affect the decisions of many members concerning buyouts, we are attempting to reach some key understandings now as to the nature of the changes and when they will take effect.

A lunch-hour meeting on Wednesday March 11, with our pension plan's lawyer will be held at the Guild Office, 433 Natoma, Third Floor Conference Room.

A bulletin summarizing all the proposed contract changes will be issued Tuesday. A set of the complete proposed amendments will be available on the Guild's Web site (mediaworkers.org) as soon as possible.

Management is seeking to change the union contract as part of an attempt to cut costs and keep the paper operating under the ownership of the Hearst Corp.

The company said Feb. 24 it would sell or close the paper unless the Guild agreed to changes in the labor agreement in effect through June 2010.

Just up the road in Sacramento, the union accepted a severe paycut so the troubled parent company McClatchy may continue to keep publishing the Bee. Nevertheless, McClatchy, which also owns the Miami Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Kansas City Star, is expected to slash 15% of its workforce, or about 1,600 jobs.