‘The P-I staff relished its uphill fight’

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer possessed a ragamuffin toughness. Like a two-fisted street kid, it earned its share of battle scars and wore them proudly.

While at the P-I – those of us who worked there rarely called it the “Post-Intelligencer” – I found my ideas about visual storytelling shaped by people like Robert McClure, Ruth Teichroeb and Andrew Schneider. Not to mention Mike Urban, Dan DeLong and Paul Joseph Brown.

These aren’t graphic artists or page designers. These are reporters and photographers who realize that content comes first. They are solid journalists who think it is a big deal to tell newspaper readers about a big story.

Nine years ago, I coordinated a project that created much of the design the P-I took to its grave. Throughout the redesign, I kept a case study by Roger Black on my desk: “A Newspaper Should Look Like a Newspaper.” Perfect advice for the P-I.

And consultant Kelly Frankeny, the creative force behind the redesign, was quick to inform me that the paper’s typographical look would need to be “muscular.” Exactly.

The P-I went through a lot of changes in its final two decades. It became a place where visual journalists came to do great stuff. It would be easy to recite an honor roll of those who left lasting marks on the paper. The broad-shouldered, workaholic Ben Garrison would head the list. And, personally, I will treasure my dealings with illustrators like Stacy Innerst, Guillermo Munro and Wendy Wahman.

It was almost impossible to replace the lively touch of a page designer like Kurt Schlosser. Or the steady instincts of a photojournalist like Kurt Smith. Or the warm heart of Phil Webber – who was a photographer by trade and, more profoundly, a willing friend to all P-I colleagues, attractive women and sorrowful beagles.

And, of course, there were many others.

The P-I staff relished its uphill fight. It was proud to show what the smaller paper could accomplish in Seattle’s two-newspaper market. But as Hearst continued to make concessions in the Joint Operating Agreement with the competition, the uphill fight started to look like a no-win situation.

So the real heroes of the P-I are not those who honed their talents and moved on. They are the journalists who stayed until the end, determined to remind the city that a newspaper should look like a newspaper.

Neal Pattison is a former assistant managing editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
and a former SND president. He is now executive editor at The Herald in Everett, Wash.