It’s In the P-I (In Memoriam)

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

We’ve been watching this for a week, and today it happened: the Seattle Post Intelligencer, after 146 years of publication, has silenced its presses.  There will be some sort of online effort; Hearst is a big company, and MBAs will no doubt be called in to poke at the corpse and apply the art of marketing galvanics to the still limbs; but the PI, the paper I grew up with, is gone.

The first thing I thought of (besides the necessity of going out to buy five of them) was an article I keep close at hand, from the Post Intelligencer of July 6th, 1918.  “Coast Shipping and T…” is the section, with First High Water at 6:37 am, 11.4 feet, and first low at 9:20 (1.7 feet).  The lead article is “Admiral Line Schooner Launched at Harbor Island Yard”. Below it is a picture of a great ship on the ways, and below that, a picture of my grandmother, at 13 years of age, most serious of mien, a little worried.  She had christened it that morning.  

It is easy to imagine the day, an early bright Seattle morning, surrounded by suited men of commerce, the smell of Elliot Bay, salt water and kerosine on wood.  Her kid sister, my Aunt Franny, was with her.  My great-grandfather was a larger than life fellow, whose attitudes toward work and right living were written about in self-help books on successful businessmen of the era.  She loved him fiercely, and always wanted to do the right thing.  

She told lots of stories from that time in her life.  Well, a few, anyway. One about the outbreak of the first war, running down the street to Volunteer Park to cry in the brambles.  She must have been about eight; and if you’d known her, you would know that was her, completely:  someone who took the world on and wanted it to be better, with all her heart.  You can sort of see it in the picture.  

A paper is also a window on the world, and the photograph making headlines today is the big, tacky, neon PI globe (the  NYT has pictures today), which has been a Seattle fixture my entire life.  It used to mock me, when I was a teenager.  Are you ever going to see the world, or are you going to be stuck here?  I’m still wondering that, but I’ve gotten to live in — and see — the places I only read about, long ago, in news stories.  

Both sides of my family go back between four and five generations, between Seattle and Vancouver.  Births and deaths and marriages have been recorded in this paper.  The opening and closing of businesses, successes and failures.  Someone was there to witness it, even as a bit item on a long page.  This happened!  It was important to someone.  It was — in it’s minutae and detail — our history together.

History is personal, your grandmother when she was young and beautiful on a long ago morning, launching one of the last sailing ships.

I first read Emmett Watson in the PI.  He was one of those crusty, angry dudes who reminded folks in the 80s that there used to be such a thing as wobblies.  And that they were fighting for the good.  He left the PI eventually, but without it I doubt his columns would have been around for me to discover.  

Though I’m basically atheist, I identify Wiccan.  There’s a saying in my religious tradition, young as it may be: “What is remembered, lives”.  Seattle today lost a method of remembering, a window on the past and future.  And we are all smaller for it.

If you are in Seattle, pick up a PI today.  They did a beautiful job, and the love shows…

8 comments

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    • jessical on March 17, 2009 at 7:56 pm
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  1. transitions like this. Beautiful obituary to your city’s and your personnel history on newsprint and held in hand. My first job after high school was a small town local rag, they still had metal Linotype. My job was pasting up the grocery page.  I loved to watch the old typesetters I feel in love with type. I eventually became a graphic artist in the phototype era before the days of the ascendancy of the Mac. I quit rather learn the technology required to stay in the field. I remember and what I remember still lives in all the forms from Gutenberg on that evolved and keep on evolving. May the PI rest in peace as far as paper goes but not in spirit or memory.    

  2. I’m not just saying that as a former print journalist. At the risk of outing myself, one of the P-I reporters had the exact same name as me. (That person is now a state government spokesperson.) Whenever I get on an ego trip and Google myself, I have to filter out Seattle, even though the closest I have ever been is Portland.

    I understand that the business model is going obsolete, but newspapers should be a community effort. Without local advertising and the resulting revenue, the local newspaper will indeed fold.

    Why is this important? Newspapers are a hard copy record of the community’s history. This applies to big events like how Seattle reacted to V-E Day and routine stuff like grandma’s obituary. Sure, the same information will be on-line, but a laser printer copy for posterity is not the same as a newspaper clipping. Consider which one you want to include in the family diary.

    Just one more point. I once had to write an extensive history of my undergraduate school. It would have been impossible without hard copies (which were actually posted on-line by the library) of the local newspaper.    

    RIP, P-I.  

    • frosti on March 18, 2009 at 4:58 am

    It and the elephant car wash sign have been with me since my family drove up 99W and Aurora Ave to see “the boys”, my great-uncles in Ballard.

  3. Cable “news” and 30 second soundbites have been the predominant way many people get their daily “news”.  

    The PI has done some wonderful investigative journalism.  I know they will still have the internet edition–but somehow, it’s just not the same…

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