The Last P-I

I had a paper route when I was a kid.  I delivered The Toronto Telegram, or The Telly as it was known, to about 25 homes in the subdivision where my family lived in Oakville, a bedroom community just west of Toronto. 

The Telly was an afternoon paper and it competed fiercely with arch-rival The Toronto Star.  Toronto also had a morning newspaper and still does; The Globe and Mail.  Oakville even had its own community paper, the Oakville Daily Journal Record, published three times a week.  I didn’t realize it then, but this must have been the golden age of newspapers if so many could thrive in one metropolitan area. 

I learned a lot from that first job; some basic financial skills like balancing a bank account and writing checks, managing receivables, and even a little bit about customer service.  It was a great way for 12-15-year-olds to earn a little pocket money.

I also learned that no business is permanent.  Golden age or not, The Telegram folded in 1971 and all its subscribers and delivery boys – I don’t remember any girls with paper routes – were transferred to The Star. 

Today, the same thing happened again.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The P-I, published it’s final edition this morning.  It now becomes an on-line only publication with an uncertain future.  Like other P-I subscribers, I’ll find The Seattle Times lying at the bottom of my driveway tomorrow morning.

I’ve subscribed to the P-I ever since we moved to the Seattle area from Toronto, and I must say I’ve always been rather disappointed with it.  Bluntly put, I think Seattle deserves a paper of greater stature and broader outlook.  As a center for aerospace, software and biotechnology, and boasting a world class university, Seattle is on the leading edge of emerging industries.  I always felt the city deserved a paper with the same forward-looking perspective and optimism. 

Instead, the P-I was relentlessly local and often mired in the past, incessantly wringing its editorial hands about the problems of growth and development, for example, problems that other cities would kill to have. 

To be sure, growth and development are important issues that need to be carefully thought out and debated by the community.  Newspapers have a vital role to play in this discussion.  It seemed to me though that the P-I, and some of its columnists were pining for the days when Seattle was an isolated lumber town, or when a Boeing strike could lay waste to the entire local economy.

I was too young to understand why The Telegram failed, but the causes of the P-I’s demise are well understood; declining readership, a shift in advertising to online media, and a weak economy.  Were it not for the Joint Operating Agreement with the Seattle Times, the P-I would likely have folded years ago.  I have to admit I get most of my news on-line myself these days. 

Still, I’ll miss the P-I.  As a lifelong morning newspaper reader, the paper is as much a part of my breakfast as cereal and orange juice. 

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