Life After Print: Seattle P-I Web Traffic Up and Down

In the three weeks since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer dropped its print edition and went to a Web-only format, the news outlet has seen a small rise in page views, but a slightly larger decrease in unique users.

Spokesman Paul Luthringer of Hearst, which owns the online news source, calls the data “above plan,” adding the company is “encouraged” by it.

The P-I’s last print edition was published on March 17. In the period from March 18 to April 7, the Web site had 1,253,964 page views, up by 1.2% over the same period in 2008, when page views reached 1,238,495.

Unique users, however, dropped about 10.7% to 199,001 during the web-only period, compared to 222,937 during the same period last year.

“This shows stability,” Luthringer said of the numbers. “You have to be heartened.”

The Christian Science Monitor, meanwhile, went almost entirely online about 10 days later, on March 27. But Monitor officials declined to provide traffic numbers, saying it is too early to compare, but noted they had not substantially changed.

In the P-I newsroom, meanwhile, editors and reporters are seeing a welcome change in their approach. Although news staff is down to about 20 from some 165, those handling coverage say they are ready to do a lot of different things without any print deadline demands.

“There are fewer people in the room, but they really are working like a news operation,” said Michelle Nicolosi, a former Web editor who takes the new title of executive producer. “It feels very familiar in a weird way.”

Nicolosi says the news is still covered with beat reporters and on-scene coverage. But she says links are used more, including to the cross-town Seattle Times, and nearly everyone is taking photos and covering a variety of events.

“We have assigned our reporters for all of the beats that are important,” she said. “They work in sync and they just fall in line.”

Beats merge the online blog approach with standard coverage, she says. There are police, city hall, politics and business beats, but also a “9/11” blog and the paper’s famed “Big Blog,” which opines on major stories.

A staff listing refers to reporters as “news gatherers” and editors as producers.

“It’s similar, but different,” says Scott Sunde, who has more than 18 years in the P-I newsroom and has written everything from a movie review to a story about recalled children’s shoes in recent weeks. “I like being busy. With newspapers, we had a tendency to sit on something for a while, there is more immediacy.”

Nicolosi says she is even taking photos when needed, citing a recent real estate story that had her out shooting the art, along with plans to take photos at an upcoming concert.

“There is a lot of original content on the site,” she adds, admitting more links to outside sources than in the old days. “The best way to serve the reader is to stay agnostic about where the content comes from.”

But even some major stories cannot be covered in-house, says Sunde. He points to the tragic shooting of five children by their father last Saturday in Graham, Wash. The P-I took wire copy. “We had to decide not to do it,” he says. “The wire services had it.”

But Nicolosi says investigative work is still being done, citing the P-I’s scoop on allegations that a player on the Seattle Sounders professional soccer team was being investigated for alleged stalking. She says the Times later linked to the story and followed it.

Luthringer says the web traffic and coverage is being carefully followed, but said no proposals are in the works to begin charging for the Web content, an idea that is being heavily debated throughout the industry: “Steve Swartz [Hearst Newspapers president] said early on this would be the best free site ever.”