By Athima Chansanchai
Athima Chansanchai was a reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until the newspaper published its last edition March 17, 2009. She is currently working on freelance and consulting assignments. She is a graduate of AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program and serves as a representative of the AAJA Seattle Chapter on the National Advisory Board.
She submitted the following essay to AAJA national within days after the P-I closed.
The death of my newspaper, the death of my mother
We put the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to rest a week ago. The newspaper managed to survive for 146 years. I am mourning the loss along with my 170 or so colleagues who also worked there, and the city we served.
I have known for months this would probably happen. As a Buddhist, I was raised to believe nothing lasts forever.
Now that the end has come, I am grappling with the challenge of rebuilding my life without something that was dear to me.
I moved across country four years ago to work at the P-I and I loved every moment of it — almost. I was encouraged to be creative in my writing, to be dogged in my reporting, and to find new ways to use technology to reach readers. This was a writerâ€™s paper. I became a blogger.
The death of a newspaper is hardly the same as the death of a person. But as I reflect on my experience at the P-I and the emotions it brings out in me, I find myself drawing on some of the final lessons my mother taught me last year before she lost her last battle with cancer.
In some ways, I see parallels between these two losses. From the time of her final prognosis to her death, it was about two months. From the time Hearst announced the sale of the P-I to the last print edition, it was about two months.
But in many ways, the P-I â€“ like my mom â€“ will always be with me.
My mother taught me the value of diversity and working at places like the P-I reinforced that value. The paper employed nearly 20 journalists of color, including two national officers of the Asian American Journalists Association. I am one of them. It was a place that treated people well — like family. I heard about how P-I management welcomed back employees who had gone out on strike. Later as an active Newspaper Guild member and a member of two negotiating teams, I saw first hand how civility ruled in the outcome of contract and severance talks.
The P-I was a place where I felt appreciated.
It took me a while to find a workplace where I was as comfortable as I was at the P-I. I went to high school in Florida and I earned a degree in history and East Asian studies from Oberlin College, and a masterâ€™s degree at Stanford University. I left California without a job. I found one in New York, where I worked at the Village Voice. A couple years later, I moved to Baltimore, where I became a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. I was there for 5 years, and left to come to the P-I in 2005. I worked first on the news side before finding a home in features.
Until the P-I closed, I was invested in its success, and the success of Seattle. I hope for the best for my colleagues who remain with seattlepi.comam and I am still invested in the cityâ€™s success. I bought my first home here — a home my mother thought suited me. She also liked that I was so much closer to her home in northern California.
In October, my mother died.
My mom, a physician and lifelong newspaper reader who subscribed to three daily newspapers, imbedded in me the value of being informed by fair and accurate coverage. This would be an ongoing theme in my life, especially with the mission of AAJA. She gave me my curious nature and passed on her appreciation for public service and good writing — even though English was not her first language. She also instilled in me drive and determination — especially when it came to the nobility of purpose in a profession. It was interesting that she as a healer and I as a journalist would both hold high the ideals of comforting the afflicted.
Taking care of her in her last 2 months of her life I did things I never did before: I learned how to test blood sugar and inject insulin, administered several medications on a schedule and re-taught my mother how to swallow water. It was painful for me and my family to watch her wither away.
It was painful watching the P-I die too.
And now Iâ€™m doing other things I never thought Iâ€™d have to do, like applying for unemployment and counseling colleagues and friends who havenâ€™t had to submit a resume in decades.
At the same time, when my mom died, there was â€“ as there is now with the end of the P-I — a sense of relief, liberation and release after months, then days, of uncertainty.
I canâ€™t begin to tell you how much I miss my mom. I had to learn to live without her.
But she taught me not to be afraid of the unknown. She taught me to believe in myself. Caring for her those last two months of her life taught me that the best parts of her will always live on in me, that nothing can take those memories away. She gave me her thoughts in scrapbooks she made, stories she told, e-mails and letters. The P-Iâ€™s family and training stays with me the same way: in stories and meetings, in writing coaching sessions and the freedom of writing features that took me all over Seattle. Nothing can take those experiences — or friendships — away from me.
I will have to learn to live without my P-I, too, but thanks to my mom, I know it too will live on in me and my former co-workers.