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Originally published March 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 6, 2009 at 11:36 AM

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Hearst extends job offers for Web-only Seattle P-I

The Hearst Corp. is asking a small number of journalists at its Seattle Post-Intelligencer to work for a possible online-only successor if the print P-I shuts down as expected this month.

Seattle Times business reporter

The Hearst Corp. is asking a small number of journalists at its Seattle Post-Intelligencer to work for a possible online-only successor if the print P-I shuts down as expected this month, the paper reported on its Web site Thursday.

But the offers are provisional because the shift to the Web apparently still must be approved by Hearst senior management, the story on Seattlepi.com said.

A Hearst spokesman in New York declined to comment.

Hearst announced Jan. 9 that it would stop publishing the money-losing P-I unless it could find a buyer in 60 days, an extreme longshot. It also said it might keep the paper alive online, with a much smaller staff.

The 60-day window for finding a buyer closes next week. Hearst has not said when it plans to disclose the course it will take.

The P-I newsroom fell into two camps Thursday: those who would talk and said they had not been asked to be part of an online successor to the P-I; and those who declined to comment, prompting speculation they had been approached.

"I can't even discuss it in our newsroom," one editor said.

The second camp included several breaking-news reporters and editors, online producers and reporters with popular blogs.

The P-I Web site said one staffer indicated an online-only P-I would have a staff of about 20. The newspaper's news staff is about 150.

"We knew it was going to be a small team," said reporter Jon Naito, who said he was not among those approached by Hearst. "It looks like the site's going to be blog-heavy and link-heavy, with a couple breaking-news reporters."

Sports columnist Art Thiel said he had not been approached. Metro columnist Joel Connelly declined to comment.

Seattlepi.com reported that one reporter who rebuffed Hearst's tentative offer said the new job would have paid less and offered fewer benefits.

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It's still not known how Hearst would handle the non-news aspects of an online-only successor to the P-I. The company has said it would operate any such venture outside the joint-operating agreement (JOA) that has linked the P-I and The Seattle Times for 26 years.

Under the JOA, the Times and P-I have separate newsrooms, while The Times handles advertising, circulation, printing and other business functions for both.

That includes selling advertising and running the servers for Seattlepi.com. If the site operates outside the JOA, Hearst would have to perform those duties itself.

The JOA doesn't automatically expire when the P-I stops print publication. But even if The Times objects to an independent online-only P-I, it's losing money itself and may lack the resources to mount a legal challenge.

Hearst's moves with the P-I come as big papers across the U.S. are rocked by severe financial problems. Just last week, the Rocky Mountain News shut down, leaving the Denver market with the News' JOA partner, The Denver Post.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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