As the Post-Intelligencer's print edition headed towards its last press run in 2009, the hopeful search for a white knight who would swoop in with a last-minute bid and cash infusion came down to David Black, the Victoria newspaper magnate.
He puts out print like no one else, observers noted. His operations included dailies and weeklies in British Columbia and Hawaii and 33 regional papers from Bellingham to Bonney Lake and Whidbey Island to Wenatchee under the Sound Publishing/Reporter newspapers banner. Maybe he could pull the P-I back away from the fire Hearst had set, perhaps turning the daily into a money-growing tabloid.
As you can tell by the dead space where P-I newsboxes used to stand, it didn't happen. But maybe now we have a better concept of what Black would have done if he'd bought the P-I: Dump it and clear the halls. That's what he did yesterday at the Honolulu Advertiser, the venerable daily he bought a few months ago. In a blink, half the daily newspapers jobs on O'ahu Island - 430 of them, more than double the print P-I's staff - disappeared, along with a newspaper that was actually making money.
The Advertiser and the surviving Star-Bulletin (renamed the Star-Advertiser as of next week) employed roughly 880 people .The new paper will employ about 450 workers, just 28 of them coming from the the Advertiser's 120 newsroom employees.
There's clearly no newspaper Santa Claus, not in an industry faced with the realities of a lousy economy, the Web challenge, and declining advertising and readership.
Still, the Advertiser was profitable - with a weekday circulation of about 115,000 - while the Star-Bulletin (circ. 37,000) lost $100 million since Black bought it in 2001. He thus closed the larger, more successful of his two properties.
You have to wonder, if Black had invested in the P-I and also snapped up the dominating Seattle Times when it was worried about failing as well, would he similarly have closed it, kept the P-I, and issued the Post-Times? That was another possible scenario here, too, but among the least likely.
In Honolulu, Black's strategy was to downsize in the greatest way possible while also lightening his load of union employees and potential job disputes. With a monopoly on advertising and readership, he could shut the big paper and build on the small one.
Just business. Or, as Hawaii Newspaper Guild leader Wayne Cahill put it, just "a catastrophe."