Hearst Corp., which owns the 146-year-old P-I, said Monday that it failed to find a buyer for the newspaper, which it put up for a 60-day sale in January after years of losing money. Now the P-I will shift entirely to the Web.
"Tonight will be the final run, so let's do it right," publisher Roger Oglesby told the newsroom.
Hearst's decision to abandon the print product in favor of an Internet-only version is the first for a large American newspaper, raising questions about whether the company can make money in a medium where others have come up short.
David Lonay, 80, a subscriber since 1950, said he'll miss a morning ritual that can't be replaced by a Web-only version.
"The first thing I do every day is get the P-I and read it," Lonay said. "I really feel like an old friend is dying."
Hearst's move to end the print edition leaves the P-I's larger rival, The Seattle Times, as the only mainstream daily in the city.
"It's a really sad day for Seattle," said P-I reporter Angela Galloway. "The P-I has its strengths and weaknesses but it always strove for a noble cause, which was to give voice to those without power and scrutiny of those with power."
Seattle follows Denver in becoming losing a daily newspaper this year. The after its owner, E.W. Scripps Co., couldn't find a buyer.
Former staffers of the paper plan to start an online version if they get 50,000 paying subscribers by April 23 - what would have been the News' 150th anniversary.
The founders of InDenverTimes.com said Monday the site will go live on May 4 if they meet the subscription goal.
The Web site would be free but subscribers who pay $4.99 a month would get extra content, including interactive chat and columns.
The site says, "It's an investment, one worth $4.99 a month to encourage a bold, creative effort to continue a vision based on a 150-year Denver tradition."
In Arizona, Gannett Co.'s Tucson Citizen is set to close Saturday, leaving one newspaper in that city.
And last month Hearst said it would if the newspaper couldn't slash expenses in coming weeks.
The newspaper industry has seen ad revenue fall in recent years as advertisers migrate to the Internet, particularly to sites offering free or low-cost alternatives for classified ads. Starting last summer, the recession intensified the decline in advertising revenue in all categories.
Four newspaper companies, including the owners of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer, have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in recent months.
While the P-I's Web site ensures it a continued presence in the Seattle news market, it will likely be a pared-down version of its former self - with a heavy reliance on blogs and links to other news outlets.
The P-I had 181 employees, but Managing Editor David McCumber said the Web site would employ about 20 in the newsroom operation and another 20 to sell ads. He said he would not be working on the new site.
Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said the online P-I would not just be "a newspaper online."
"It's an effort to craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information Web site at its core," Swartz said.
Hearst said the online edition will include some of the newspaper's marquee names, including sports columnist Art Thiel, political columnist Joel Connelly and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey. Horsey also is under contract to continue drawing for Hearst's other newspapers.
In February, the P-I Web site had 1.8 million unique visitors and 50 million page views, according to Nielsen Online. Meanwhile the newspaper's print circulation was down to 117,000, from nearly 200,000 in 1998, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
It's unclear how the online-only venture will affect the Times, which is controlled by the Blethen family and has a circulation of 199,000. The Times has had severe financial troubles of its own and has cut 500 positions in the past year.
Since 1983, the P-I and The Times have shared business operations in a joint operating agreement in which The Times handles advertising, printing and other business functions for both newspapers.
The P-I has had a feisty rivalry with The Times, which intensified when the Times shifted from afternoon to morning publication in 2000.
The P-I's roots date to 1863, when Seattle was still a frontier town and James Watson founded its precursor, the Seattle Gazette, as a four-page weekly.
The newspaper changed hands, names and offices several times - including when the 1889 great Seattle fire destroyed its office - before newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst bought the P-I in 1921 through a representative. Hearst later revealed his ownership of the newspaper in an editorial, according to the P-I archives.
"Every idea, every movement, every debate in Seattle's civic life was reflected on the front page of the paper," said Leonard Garfield, executive director of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.
Some of the newspaper's more famous employees over the years included novelist Tom Robbins, columnist Emmett Watson and Frank Herbert, author of the science fiction novel "Dune."
Former P-I columnist Susan Paynter, who retired in 2007 after 39 years at the newspaper, said the P-I pushed the envelope on stories, running early pieces on abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment.
"The P-I was really on the forefront of telling the average person's story and why it mattered," Paynter said.
Horsey, the cartoonist who won the newspaper's only two Pulitzer Prizes in 1999 and 2003, said much would be lost when the print product ceases publishing.
"A daily newspaper tells the stories of a community and lets the people of a city know who they are, who their neighbors are, and the life and issues they share," Horsey said. "When you lose any one newspaper, you lose a piece of that."