News Releases

In Speech, Murray Mourns the Closing of the Seattle P.I. and Discusses the Struggling Newspaper Industry

Mar 17 2009

Murray: 'We need reporters to root out corruption, shine a light on the operations of government, and tell the people what's really going on in our communities'

Listen to Senator Murray’s speech on the Senate floor today.

(Washington, D.C.) – On the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s last day of publication, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered a speech on the Senate floor offering her condolences to the P.I. and its staff, and addressing the future of the newspaper industry.

For 146 years, the Seattle P.I. has investigated, entertained, and enlightened its readers, but today it is a victim of the bad economy and a changing business environment.  While the P.I. will continue to offer an online edition, Murray said in her speech that Seattle will miss being a two-newspaper town.

Highlighting the critical role newspapers play in keeping government and business honest, Murray said she said she worries about the future of the media if more newspapers close.  And she said she is hopeful that as the media evolves, it will maintain its vital watchdog role.

“At the end of the day, newspapers aren’t just another business.  And if more close – and there’s nothing to replace them – our democracy will be weaker as a result,” Senator Murray said in her speech.  “For generations, newspaper reporters have been the ones who have done the digging, sat through the meetings, and broken the hard stories.”

“What’s most important to me is that, if the media environment is really changing, someone will be there to step in and do the work newspapers do for our communities now,” Murray continued.  “I really hope what we’re seeing is just an evolution in the news business.  I hope that when it all shakes out, the media will end up as strong as ever.  But I know I am going to miss the P.I., and that all of Seattle is going to miss it as well.”


The full text of Senator Murray’s remarks as prepared for delivery follows:

Mr. President, we have a lot of interesting landmarks in my home state of Washington, especially in Seattle.   But one of my favorites has always been the globe sitting on top of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s building on Elliott Bay. 

The words “It’s in the P.I.” wrap around the globe.  And it’s more than just another quirky part of our skyline.  It has symbolized the importance of the paper to generations of readers.

For 146 years, the P.I. – as everyone in Seattle calls it – has informed, investigated, enlightened, entertained – and yes, sometimes irritated – the people of our community.

The P.I.’s staff has put politicians, businesspeople and bureaucrats to the test.  And their work has distinguished the paper and won them well-deserved awards – from cartoonist David Horsey’s Pulitzers, to a long list of prizes for public service journalism. 

But, Mr. President, today the P.I. published its last print edition.  Its owner, the Hearst media chain, put it up for sale, and hasn’t been able to find a buyer.  Hearst has said it will replace the paper with a smaller online edition.  But it won’t be the same. 

Newspaper Competition Has Made Our Community Stronger

We’ve been lucky to live in a two-newspaper town.  Two-newspaper communities used to be common, but they are rare these days.  In Seattle, the Times and the P.I. had a Joint Operating Agreement for 26 years, but they were always rivals when it came to breaking news.

Competition made both papers dig a little deeper, and push a little harder.  That competition meant everyone from corporate leaders to school officials to sports team owners were held to a higher standard.  And our community is a better place as a result.

Newspapers are Critical to a Strong Democracy

Unfortunately, the P.I. isn’t the first major paper in our country to stop publishing this year.  Last month, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News closed its doors.  And the P.I. may not be the last to close, either.

The reality is that newspapers have been struggling and cutting back for several years now.  Many of the major papers across the country are worried about whether they’ll make it through the economic downturn.  Like so many other companies, they are victims of the recession and a changing business environment.

The depth of the problem hit home for me earlier this year when I visited the press in Olympia – our state’s capital city.  In 2001, there were 31 reporters, editors, and columnists covering the state house there.  Now there are nine. Nine.

And we’ve all noticed the shrinking press corps here in Washington, D.C., too.  Not too many years ago, we had more than a dozen reporters here covering the Washington state delegation.  We’ve seen that number shrink to just a couple in the last year.

Mr. President, this is really troubling to me because at the end of the day, newspapers aren’t just another business.  And if more close – and there’s nothing to replace them – our democracy will be weaker as a result. 

For generations, newspaper reporters have been the ones who have done the digging, sat through the meetings, and broken the hard stories.

A newspaper broke the Watergate scandal – and the story about horrible conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center.  Newspapers have exposed graft and corruption at every level of government.  They’ve uncovered environmental threats posed by strip mining, hog farming, and contaminated waterways.  And they’ve used the power of the press to expose injustice, prejudice, and mistreatment of people who don’t have the power to speak up for themselves.

And most importantly, newspaper stories have led to real change.  In my community, the P.I.’s reports on asbestos led me to introduce my legislation to ban it.  And the P.I.’s investigation on the shortage of FBI agents in the Pacific Northwest has led to my work to increase the number of agents in Washington state. 

Mr. President, we need reporters to root out corruption, shine a light on the operations of government, and tell the people what’s really going on in our communities.  We need them to go to school board meetings, cover local elections, and attend Congressional hearings.  And, yes, we need them to push for information, to investigate, to request public records, and to fight when the government stands in the way.

We’re still working out what role the Internet will play in the Fourth Estate, and what role TV and radio have in the new media environment.  There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether online publications can – or will – adequately replace the paper editions. 

While there’s something comfortable about the fact that we can pick up a paper, spread it out on the kitchen table, and cut out articles to stick on the fridge – what’s most important to me is that, if the media environment is really changing, someone will be there to step in and do the work newspapers do for our communities now.

I really hope what we’re seeing is just an evolution in the news business.  I hope that when it all shakes out, the media will end up as strong as ever.

But I know I am going to miss the P.I. and that all of Seattle is going to miss it as well.