A Journalism Teacher reflects on the Seattle P-I

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: On March 17, 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its final print edition, completing a more than 145-year run. Its online presence continues. We at The B-Town Blog, while excited about the future of neighborhood blogs such as ours, lament the folding of great US newspapers, particularly those with such rich histories and stellar legacies as the P-I.

Scott Schaefer and Mark Neuman, of The B-Town Blog, worked together on their high school newspaper, The West Seattle High Chinook, a few decades back. They were fortunate enough to have as their advisor and journalism teacher a lady who truly is one of the very best in the state of Washington, Miss Dorothea Mootafes, known a little better as Dorothy, and affectionately as Miss Moo. Miss Moo has been retired from the Seattle School District for over twenty-five years, lives in the Roosevelt area of Seattle and is quite active in her church and various teacher organizations.

We recently asked her to reflect on the passing of the P-I, and let us in on her P-I memories. And so today we begin a four-part Sunday series by Miss Moo.]

by Dorothea Mootafes

When Mark Neuman asked me to recall what I remembered about The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he mentioned the visit of West Seattle High School journalism students to the P-I building on Sixth and Wall Street in the mid 1970s. In the lobby were the words of Thomas Jefferson, which continue to imply what the role of the newspaper should be in a free society:

“If it were left to me to decide whether to have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson’s words are also on one of the four panels in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D. C. The P-I always could be counted upon to investigate excesses in government when they occurred and to keep demagogues in line when the occasion arose; but in my more than a half a century of reading The P-I, it has been more than a watchdog of my rights. It has been a source of information, a means of entertainment, and, at times, a needle instantly raising my blood pressure.

No part of any Seattle-area person’s existence was untouched by The P-I. The news pages, women’s pages, sports pages, opinion pages, special features, and even the comics have affected us all. Through the years, the women’s pages were transformed from strictly society news/weddings, engagements, club news time/date place events; who, what, where, when; into a department exploring significant and controversial issues, adding the why and how to coverage.

Nancy Hevly, a women’s page staff member, recalls it was Susan Paynter who wrote the first stories of the new type. Among the first articles were those on a woman’s right to choose and on a lesbian couple.

Sally Raleigh was editor of the traditional society page and also guided it through its changes. “Lifestyle” was one of the subsequent titles which mirrored the change in content. Sally’s staff included Laura Emory Gilmore, Jean Lunzer and Nancy Hevly herself. Edna Daw edited the club news. If there was a PTA meeting, sorority gathering, etc., members would find the time, date and place in the club column. Groups chose publicity chairmen whose job it was to send notices on their meeting, guests, speakers, or special program to the newspaper.

Prudence Penny was the early title of the Home Economics Department. Food editors later began using their own names and their food pages continued to be popular and useful. Nancy Beardsley sometimes covered special community or church events showing an ethnic or historical specialty the public might enjoy.

Gradually women’s news blended into the rest of the newspaper. Articles under Lifestyle, for example, could be on either men or women. Until World War Two, women did not cover hard news. Lucille Cohen and Eleanor Bell were the first to break the sex barrier.

The name Royal Brougham was synonymous with P-I sports. He was not only the sports editor for so many years; he was also the cheerleader and promoter of every Seattle-based team and outstanding athlete. “The Morning After,” his daily sports column, opened with sections on sports personalities or current happenings, and closed with a final “Chitter-Chatter,” sometimes with an other heading, composed of a miscellany of sports news. Everyone learned much about Husky sports and particularly Al Ulbrickson’s crews, hometown baseball hero Fred Hutchinson, and the Seattle Rainiers. Naming the street across from Safeco Field for Royal Brougham was well deserved as the P-I sports editor long touted major league baseball for Seattle. Like the rest of us, he survived the short stay of the Seattle Pilots in 1969. The Mariners began in 1977, a year before Royal Brougham’s death in 1978.

It was Royal Brougham who started the annual Man of the Year Sports Award and Banquet at the beginning of each calendar year. I attended the event in 1957 because my St. Louis Cardinal hero, Stan Musial, was the special guest. When golfer JoAnne Gunderson was named “man of the year” that night, she turned to Royal Brougham and said, “Royal are you sure you’ve got the right man?” Pat Lesser, another woman, had won the award two years before. The problem was solved in recent years with the selection of one man and one woman.

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One Response to “A Journalism Teacher reflects on the Seattle P-I”
  1. Jack Mayne says:

    The early-mid 1970s was a great time for the PI. I was the city editor most of those years, working with a great staff and a controversial but a great editor, Jack Doughty. We had Shelby Scates and Mike Layton who were not only political reporters but great investigative reporters (I remember the Sunday I spent at the PI with Shelby and Jack tying to find then Speaker of the Washington House who was in New Guinea trying to sell a state computer system). There was Jack O'Ryan who walked the entire length of the Alaska pipeline construction project and plying poker — he came back with more money than he left with.

    There was surly Don Page covering the Port (some thought he was also on the Port Commission), and the first woman assistant city editor in the history of the P.I., Lettie Gavin (nee Gudmestad), once a Highline Times writer. Letter was better than modern e-mail for getting the word out to the staff.

    My pal was Sally Raleigh, and we used to love our two and three martini lunches (I would be dead if I did that today). It was the only paper I worked for where I got to Stop the Presses when the Posse Commitatus bombed a power station in Bellevue at midnight on New Years (and the night Doughty ripped open my shirt pocket trying to get my cigarette package because he wife was trying to get him to quit.

    Now I am finding some fun in writing for the B-Town Blog. I will not make the same mistake I made in 1978 when I left Seattle for the Arizona Republic. I still remember the day in Phoenix when a group of reporters gathered at the newsroom window and told me they were watching it rain. I told them we did that in Seattle when the sun came out – some things never change.

    The PI will be missed, but so also will the other two papers here I was editor of, The Journal American in Bellevue and the Valley Daily News in Kent.

    Jack Mayne

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