Hearst threatens to close Post-Intelligencer paper

NEW YORK, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Hearst Corp, one of the largest U.S. publishers, will try to sell the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and might shut down the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper if it cannot find a buyer in 60 days.

The privately held magazine and newspaper publishing company will seek a buyer for the 145-year-old daily newspaper, as well as its interest in a joint operating agreement that publishes the Post-Intelligencer and its competitor, The Seattle Times, Hearst said in a statement on Friday.

If it fails, it will pursue other options, including publishing the newspaper only on the Internet, or shutting it.Continuing to print the newspaper was not an option, Hearst said.

It would be one of the largest U.S. newspapers to close since advertising revenue began declining several years ago. Fitch Ratings, which assesses debt, predicted that 2009 could be the worst year yet for newspapers, and that some will die.

Hearst, owner of the Post-Intelligencer since 1921, said the paper has lost money since the turn of the century, $14 million in 2008 alone. It forecasts a bigger loss for 2009.

“Our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I,” said Hearst Newspapers President Steven Swartz in a statement.

In a separate memo to employees, Hearst Corp Chief Executive Frank Bennack, Jr said, “Nothing we are doing here today is meant in any way to suggest that we don’t believe in the future of print publishing in our other newspaper markets.” Hearst does not intend to buy The Times, he added.

Hearst also publishes the San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle and other large U.S. daily papers.

The Post-Intelligencer, with circulation of more than 127,500 Monday through Friday, is the 83rd largest U.S. daily paper as of Sept. 30, 2007, according to Editor & Publisher magazine. The Seattle Times, with more than 215,000 copies, is the 40th largest U.S. daily.

The Seattle Times, partly owned by Miami Herald publisher McClatchy Co MNI.N and also by the Blethen family, runs the advertising, production, marketing and circulation operations of both papers under a joint operating agreement.

The JOA’s were developed after Congress passed a law in 1970 that allowed two papers to operate together to keep weaker papers from dying. The papers run competing news departments.

Despite the aim of JOA's, more of them have failed than not. Others are teetering. EW Scripps Co SSP.N is trying to sell the Rocky Mountain News, which operates in Denver with MediaNews Group's Denver Post.

In Detroit, Gannett Co Inc GCI.N, owner of the Detroit Free Press, has said that it will stop home delivery several days a week in a bid to cut costs in its JOA with MediaNews Group, owner of The Detroit News.

Other newspaper publishers from News Corp's NWSA.O Dow Jones & Co and the New York Times Co NYT.N to Lee Enterprises LEE.N are slashing costs as ad sales deteriorate. Some, like Lee and the Times, face big debt loads that are getting harder to pay off. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)