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September to December, 1999

The Year of Living on the Edge
A Surprise Attack and an Unexpected Defense

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
8/20/99 In his daily fit of pique, Hawaii governor Ben Cayetano announced that he doesn't care if there are one, two or no newspapers in Honolulu. Perhaps Gannett took this as a covert signal to act. By this time, wheels were in motion -- and have been since 1993.
9/12/99 Gannett editors filled up the Advertiser Sunday editorial pages with a statement of Gannett's recently derived ethical standards, including

"Seeking and reporting the truth in a truthful way"
"Serving the public interest"
"Exercising fair play"
"Maintaining independence"
"Acting with integrity"

Before the week was out, all of these simple standards were violated by Gannett.
9/13/99 On this day, Gannett labor-relations experts debated how best to destroy the Star-Bulletin's news staff. A proposal to absorb the entire staff was scoffed at, and instead they decided to take a token number to lure Star-Bulletin readers to the Advertiser. They also decided that Hawaii's citizens are too dumb to understand the importance of an independent press and will not react at all to closure of the 117-year-old newspaper. This decision winds up costing Gannett millions in legal fees and alienating their reader base in Hawaii.
9/14/99 Hawaii Newspaper Agency maintenance workers pulled the Star-Bulletin sign off the front of the News Building and threw it into a dumpster. It was retrieved by a shocked printer.
9/15/99 Although Star-Bulletin executives were informed of the impending closure, they decided not to share this information with the staff. The Star-Bulletin staff instead learned of their planned demise on TV news.

One of the last photographs taken of Phillips.
9/16/99 Mystery bagman Rupert Phillips visited the Star-Bulletin newsroom to make it official. Sweating profusely, Phillips rambled oddly, then blurted out that he was making "only" a 12-percent return on his supposed investment and that he did not intend to seek a buyer. He blamed the decision on the other "investors" in Liberty, but when pressed, said their identities were top-secret. He also admitted he was getting a $26 million pay-off from Gannett to kill the paper. Phillips then fled, and has not been seen since. The newsroom was left in a serious state of shock.
9/17/99 A Hawaii-based buyer for the Star-Bulletin appeared and offered to write a check immediately for $50 million. Gannett -- curiously, now handling Phillips' financial affairs --refused. We also learned that the they intend to work us until Oct. 30, in order to cash in on the lucrative holiday ad-buying season. We had six weeks to live.

Gannett immediately tripled the number of uniformed security guards on the building, with orders to watch the employees rather than visitors. It's a clumsy psychological tactic, but it contributes to a bynker mentality.

Not many know that, within two hours of the closure announcement, our union representatives of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild and the heads of affiliated unions demanded an audience with Gov. Cayetano to protest the loss of the Star-Bulletin. Cayetano, as shocked as they, assigns the state's Attorney General to look into the matter. The Justice Department, stung by newspaper closures across the country and on an anti-trust kick under the Clinton administration, also become quietly interested.
9/18/99 We were highly annoyed to discover that Honolulu Advertiser stories about the closure were being doctored by Gannett editors over protests by their own staff. The spin insisted that Gannett is innocent, the Star-Bulletin staff should have known better and that closure was inevitable.
At this point, Star-Bulletin reporter Ian Lind began keeping an online diary called "Final Days?" to sort out his feelings on the subject. The short-term project took on a life of its own and became a clearinghouse for rumors and breaking news alike, sometimes angering staffers and often delighting them. Ian started out very negative about the Star-Bulletin's future but soon changed to cautious optimism. He also introduced the world to his many cats.

At left, Ian Lind looking suitably dour, as befits an investigative reporter whose hobby beat is his own newspaper.
9/20/99 The Honolulu Advertiser let it be known that they would take a token amount of the Star-Bulletin staff, a lifeboat that seats a dozen being swamped by a hundred. Gannett editors Jim Gatti and Jim Kelly -- we call them "The Jims" -- began interviewing Star-Bulletin employees for the few open positions. It's a deliberatelly demoralizing, divisive and inconclusive process. Some reporters are offered cookies by The Jims, others aren't. What does it all mean?
9/21/99 The Jims spiked a legitimate Honolulu Advertiser business story about customer reaction to closure, because their reporters were unable to find a single businessman pleased to pay same high rates for fewer circulated newspapers. Despite this incident and occasional sanitizing by Gannett editors, Advertiser reporters' coverage of the closure in the weeks to come is aggressive, thorough and in-depth. They have a lot to prove.
9/22/99 Gannett began yanking Star-Bulletin newstands from Oahu neighborhoods. They've been slow about stocking them for years, and HNA production managers are chronically late in printing the Star-Bulletin, bad habits that played havoc with circulation numbers, but now it began to look like an ongoing effort to deliberately sabotage the Star-Bulletin's readership base, which was certainly a violation of the JOA.

Star-Bulletin subscribers also began getting calls from Advertiser circulation boosters, claiming that "The best way to help the Star-Bulletin employees is to drop the Star-Bulletin and take the Advertiser."
9/23/99 I was infuriated by the completely defeated attitude of one of our government reporters, a guy who's usually cocky and on top of things. I just wanted to slap him. In order to boost folks' fighting spirit, I wrote an "anonymous" letter and posted it on the bulletin board. It's cathartic to sort out my feeling this way. I was thinking of the sort of patriotic speeches you heard in movies like "Casablanca," when the world was unprepared to meet the fascists but was determined to stick it out. Oddly, many co-workers were spooked by the tone. Others thought it simply nutty. It's a valuable lesson in how frightened the staff was of Gannett:
An open letter to my fellow workers

I've been seeing a lot of long faces around the Star-Bulletin lately. It's painful to witness. This thing that is happening to us is settling in like a cancer. There are moments when I'm full of seething rage. There are longer times when I overflow with despair, and it's hard to breathe, and panic grips me. I'm easily distracted these days. I don't sleep. My appetite for meals comes and goes. I am vaguely embarrassed by the notion that we are letting our readers down in some way. There are moments of dizziness when the world seems to shift underfoot. And there are the times when I look at my kids and wonder what kind of world is it in which owners of a business can claim it's "only business" to terrorize the very employees who made their industry not only hum, but sit up and sing.

I imagine most of you went into journalism for much the same reasons I did, beyond the inbred scrappiness. There was a genuine curiosity about the world, and about the way it interconnects. There is a willingness to shine a light in dark corners. There is a faith in the tenets of democracy and the power of free speech, and a belief that the world can be made a better place. That knowledge is freedom. There is a healthy skepticism of public officials, and a genuine respect for the average citizen. We?ve seen all the poor, mean behavior that eventually winds up as "news," but at the same time we've witnessed the unflinching good that people are capable of. We wind up cynics, but cynics tempered by experience, not damaged by it.

The expression of that faith is the daily newspaper. It is not a business to us. It is a mission. It is a trust, an implicit pact with the public.

Readers invite the newspaper into their home, and it becomes part of the family. It is the daily history, the one item that provides a running commentary on the ebb and swell of everyday life, and does so with objectivity, awareness, humor and passion, and asks only a few dollars a month in return. The daily newspaper is the chronicle of the present that puts the past in perspective and the future in focus. People have an intimate relationship with their newspaper, because it is a constant thread in their lives, a baseline to measure progress by, and because it speaks directly to both the intellect and the heart.

It is no wonder that our readers are reacting to the closure of the Star-Bulletin so personally. More than 67,000 readers voted with their pocketbooks to take the Star-Bulletin, against --- as we're constantly reminded -- all national trends and demographics. Why do they do it? Why do so many readers stay despite efforts by the competition to minimize and discredit afternoon delivery? It's because of loyalty. They have stuck with us. Not being able to return the favor, to be forced to cast them loose, strikes like a blow to the gut, and it takes all my effort not to double over. It feels disloyal. It feels dishonorable.

I would like to believe that the people running Gannett were once journalists, once were idealists, and I wonder what drove them away from the vision of a better world. I wonder how they sleep. I wonder about the nature of guilt, and the lack of it.

As good citizens should be, we are worried about our families and homes, and about being forced by economic circumstance to abandon everything about Hawaii we love, and flee to the Mainland. For most of us, this is our home, and the Star-Bulletin and our readers our extended family, and we have spent most of our lives trying to make Hawaii a better place to live, which is why we?ve stuck it out even though we've suffered income erosion over the last decade -- to the point where many of us are just a few paychecks away from suffering. We've had this mission to fulfill, damn it.

Which is why we know, down to our toes, that this manner of killing the Star-Bulletin is wrong. Deeply wrong.

This is not about "business." This is not about not making enough of a profit. It is about sheer, piggish greed. It is about malicious arrogance. It is about a fundamental failure to comprehend the democratic process. It is about "newspapermen" who shut papers down instead of opening them. It is about the dumbing-down of the United States. It is about creating voids where none existed. It is about stilling voices. It is about the utter disdain with which these people view the citizens of Hawaii, and by extension, all Americans.

There are moves afoot to keep the paper alive, or at least on temporary life support. It is hard to be enthusiastic about what seems to be a losing proposition. Particularly when the opposition is rapidly filling the too-few lifeboats. This is what it felt like in 1939, as the darkness of fascism fell over much of the earth. All I want to do is pull the covers over my head, and hope and hope and hope.

But how can we not fight this? How, in good conscience?

A decade from now, will I be able to look back and wonder if I did enough, or did I just cave in? Was there an effort to hold back the darkness, or did the slough of despair sweep us away, and with it, the readers who stuck by us?

The Star-Bulletin might be dead. It might not be. But that's not the point. The point is not to fold too quickly in the face of entrepreneurial fascism. Again, how can we not fight this? How can we not fight this, when it strikes us right where we live, at our core?

They are counting on us to cave, so we can be discounted. That is the nature of their arrogance.

We can't give in.

We can't give up.

We can fight the fight, and even though we may lose, at least we weighed in.
9/29/99 During negotiations with the Hawaii Newspaper Guild and other affected unions over the closure, Gannett mouthpiece John Jaske refused to extend dental benefits -- for fear that employees "will get their teeth fixed" before they're fired. Sitting in on the meetings, I was struck by Jaske's hubris in light of the plight of his fellow employees. There's a creepy moral disconnect in this man. After three days of negotiations with affected unions, Jaske announced he has better things to do and left town.

At left, Gannett labor negotiator John Jaske in a gleeful moment.
10/1/99 The Hawaii Newspaper Guild has been furiously busy behind the scenes organizing a legal challenge to the closure. There was a piece of luck: the Guild had joined the Communication Workers of America the previous year and the resistance funds were greater than we would have had with the Guild. As the Star-Bulletin guild rep, I'm involved in the planning, but we had to keep things secret, otherwise Gannett will create legal countermeasures. This rubbed some of the staff the wrong way, as they viewed any measure to stop the closure as pointless. Wayne Cahill, the Guild executive, was forced to give fuzzy pep talks when the staff wanted hard promises. Even so, the upcoming legal challenge leaked out.
10/5/99 The interview process was long over, but Gannett editors at the Honolulu Advertiser decided to let nervous Star-Bulletin employees swing a while longer in the wind -- in retaliation for the threatened public lawsuit.

The lawsuit was announced in the afternoon. Save Our Star-Bulletin, or SOS, is the citizens' group joining forces with the Guild and the Hawaii State Attorney General's office in filing a legal challenge to the closure. An injunction is granted to keep Gannett from harming the Star-Bulletin's ability to do business or destroy the newspaper's sale prospects.

By this time I had been drafted to maintain SOS' web site. Much of the material in this journal is taken from my periodic updates of the
SOS site.
10/6/99 Employees at Sun Auto were busy, busy, busy grinding the Star-Bulletin logo from our newstands. Gannett publisher Mike Fisch later shrugged it off as overeagerness on the part of excited circulation employees. Our staff viewed the action as long-planned sabotage. It would also be a clear violation of the injunction, not the first time Gannett would scoff at the law.

At left, at least our death provided work for others.
10/7/99 Advertiser editors began calling the lucky few at the Star-Bulletin with job offers. Choices started with management and followed a predictable Gannett demographic party line. Star-Bulletin staffers referred to the process as Schindler's List.
10/8/99 Star-Bulletin employees continued to sit by their phones, hoping to get a call from rival Gannett editors in lieu of sudden unemployment. So few positions were offered that tension rode high. The choice is likened to going immediately into the ovens or being a concentration-camp capo. "This is the most humiliating, degrading experience of my professional life," blurted out one staffer. "It isn't like going from the major leagues to a bush league," said another. "It's like hoping to go from the World Series to Little League."
10/9/99 Like an Israeli commando raid, Gannett lawyers began pouring off the corporate airplanes and into the news building in response to a Department of Justice legal teams subpoena. Gannett, Star-Bulletin and Advertiser financial records. As thousands of documents were placed in hundreds of boxes for shipping, blocking hallways, Gannett finance officers told staff that "This is just routine housecleaning."

At left, financial documents are bundled into shipping container for security purposes.
10/12/99 By this point, Gannett editors had spent nine days to contact only19 Star-Bulletin staffers about possible future work at the Advertiser, nearly a month after starting the interview process. All of the rest of the staff were left hanging, despite public promises to the contrary. In retrospect, it's clear that the interview "process" was simply a cynical ploy to gain intelligence about Star-Bulletin operations. The local word for it is "shibai." The Advertiser immediately began lame copies of successful Star-Bulletin features.

Where do these Gannett lawyers think they are? The Third World? The Wild West? Disneyland?
10/13/99 If there was a day in which public opinion turned firmly against Gannett, this was it. Gannett lawyers, laughing and dressed as if they were on mob holiday in Havana, trooped into Judge Alan Kay's courtroom and insisted the publishing empire had a First-Admendment right to kill off a free press. The utter cluelessness of this Bizarro-world defense surprised even veteran Gannett-watchers. Kay was not impressed either, and granted a temporary injunction against Gannett's buy-out closure of the rival Star-Bulletin, and also ordered Gannett to "cease tampering" with the afternoon newspaper's customers and staff. Gannett vowed to appeal the ruling. Star-Bulletin staffers, although subdued and wary of a possible reversal at a higher court level, felt cheerfully validated, with the exception of gloomy publisher John Flanagan, who called the action "just one of those, you know, lower-court decisions." In the meantime, the Justice Department continued to subpoena of financial information from Gannett."
Here's the gist of Kay's injunction, from the closing. This language will affect everything that occurs at the two newspapers for the duration of the battle:

From the date hereof and for the duration of this lawsuit, Defendants are hereby enjoined to preserve the status quo, including without limitation:

1. Defendants shall take no steps whatsoever to implement, or make any payments under, the Termination Agreement dated September 7, 1999, or any other agreement of like intent or effect;

2. Defendants shall take no steps that are contrary to, or inconsistent with, the stated purpose and intent of the Hawaii Joint Operating Agreement ó Amendment and Restatement of Mutual Publishing Plan Agreement of January 30, 1993 to produce high quality newspapers for their readers, improve acceptance for their advertisers, subserve public interest by maintaining the separate identities, individuality and editorial and news freedom and integrity of the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser;

3. Defendants shall refrain from taking any actions that may cause any material adverse change in the business, including loss of subscribers and advertisers, or financial condition of the Star-Bulletin as a viable going concern.
10/14/99 Nearly 200 protesters, including families with children, filled the streets around the News Building, bearing signs berating Gannett. Drivers-by honked continuously in support. Incredibly, Gannett executives gathered on the third floor and loudly hooted and jeered the uniquely Hawaiian protest. I overheard them discussing it -- they were convinced the car-honking was a gesture of contempt against the protesters. These Gannett people are so clueless and mean-spirited. This is getting personal, real fast.

At left, the family that protests together...
10/17/99 A weekend rally drew another couple of hundred people. SOS bumper stickers and buttons started to make an appearance.
10/18/99 Gannett editors appeared before the Honolulu Media Council for a discussion of how they mangled their Bishop Estate "Broken Trust" coverage. The audience is hostile. Despite excellent Bishop Estate reporting by Advertiser writer Sally Apgar and others over the last two years, it was apparent that public sympathy for the Star-Bulletin was boosted by initially breaking the story when the Advertiser refused to do so.
10/19/99 Gannett executives ordered circulation staff to stop wearing Save Our Star-Bulletin buttons, even those who deliver the Star-Bulletin. The ILWU filed an immediate grievance and pursued an unfair labor-practice complaint.
10/20/99 Although the court agreed to expedite Gannett's appeal, the 9th Circuit in San Francsico denied Gannett's request to lift the injunction. This certainly meant that paper would continue publishing past Oct. 30 as the legal case rolled onward. Hawaii Newspaper Agency retail advertising salespeople spontaneously bought pizza and soft drinks for the entire Star-Bulletin staff as a gesture of solidarity. While this occurred, the Honolulu City Council passed a resolution to stop closure of the Star-Bulletin. Although several community and labor leaders spoke to the council on behalf of the newspaper, Gannett could not dig up anyone to speak on behalf of Gannett.
10/21/99 The employment-assistance room, created by HNA to help Star-Bulletin staff find work elsewhere, was placed off-limits to Star-Bulletin staff by Gannett.
10/24/99 Star-Bulletin Managing Editor David Shapiro -- who, with publisher John Flanagan, would get a handsome settlement from Gannett upon the paper's closure -- ordered the removal of staff-job-wanted links from the Star-Bulletin website, plus links to investigative reporter Ian Lind's Shutdown Diary. Both Shapiro and Flanagan, long-time Gannett executives prior to the sale to Liberty, had been essentially invisible in the fight to save the newspaper. On the other hand, they could easily be be fired by Phillips and replaced with Phillips' relatives and henchmen if they speak out. I don't believe they're acting on their own. Both Shapiro and Flanagan were screwed badly by Gannett in the 1993 sale.
10/25/99 He's due, but he don't show. Gannett labor negotiator John Jaske didn't reuturn to Honolulu as promised to resume negotiations. Instead, incredibly, he spent his days enriching himself with insider-trading on Gannett stocks before news of Gannett's legal problems reached stockholders.
10/26/99 Gannett advertising executives were shocked -- yes, shocked! -- to discover a half-page ad on both newspaper op-ed pages from the Hawaii Government Employees Assocation lambasting Gannett's determination to kill the Star-Bulletin.
10/27/99 Gannett filed their appeal with the 9th Circuit, again citing a First Admendment right to kill newspapers. Several media chains disappoint us mightily by signing on their approval, including the Associated Press, whose own mission statement includes the directive "The AP seeks no special privilege beyond free access. It believes that the more journalistic voices the world hears, the better informed it will be." Money talks, ethics walks. However, several large media organizations don't fall for this hooey, even some in JOA agreements with Gannett. Were they approached?
Here's a readable version of the appeal document.
10/28/99 Department of Justice agents were quizzing major Honolulu advertisers about Gannett business practices. Since ad rates are influenced by subscription numbers, and it is revealed that the Advertiser's 60,000 subscribers aren't that much more than the Star-Bulletin's 53,000 subscribers (the rest of the numbers are based on unreliable street-sale figures) this could be crucial.
10/29/99 Security guards at the New Building were caught by surprise when told that the Star-Bulletin wasn't ceasing operations the next day. Up to last second, they had been told differently. Which begged the question -- if Gannett had been ordered by a federal judge on Oct. 13 to stop "tampering" with Star-Bulletin and Hawaii Newspaper Agency operations, why did Gannett continue to intimidate workers with an army of extra and unecessary guards?
11/1/99 Although the Feds have decreed that the Star-Bulletin must stay in operation past this date while investigations are conducted against Gannett and Liberty, many Honolulu residents didn't receive their Star-Bulletins -- because Gannett distribution executives have cancelled their subscriptions anyway.
11/2/99 A Xerox employee opened fire in the company's Honolulu office, killing seven, the largest multiple homicide in Hawaiian history, and then escaped for several hours before being boxed in by police. The Star-Bulletin's web site had photographs of the situation online before television stations can broadcast their signal, and several editions of the newspaper were issued through the day to anxious readers. The irony is that the Star-Bulletin was supposed to have been dead by this point. Although Honolulu Advertiser coverage of the incident was excellent, it didn't appear until nearly 24 hours later.
11/3/99 Gannett editor Jim Kelly mounted the steps of the Advertiser library and screamed "We're kicking their ass!" at his staff, apparently in reference to the newspaper's wall-to-wall coverage of the Xerox massacre. Many Advertiser staffers were appalled at Kelly's glee in the wake of this tragedy. He later sent out a staff-wide message claiming that the Star-Bulletin is so lame that it will be reduced to comparing the price of hibiscus flowers on the front page. At any rate, the next day the Advertiser ran a story about Bishop Estate in which, once again, the primary source was the Honolulu Star-Bulletin earlier coverage.
11/4/99 The Department of Justice filed an amicus curii on behalf of the state and SOS' suit against Gannett. It's a surprise! As the staff discussed this development, Gannett publisher Mike Fisch, in misdirected retaliation for the DOJ motion, banned all union meetings, gatherings and information sessions from the newspaper building, breaking a 37-year precedent. The ban was transmitted via Fisch underling Jo Kerns of Human Resorces, a sour-faced soul. Ironically, Fisch's head is likely to be first to roll when Gannett executives start blaming underlings for the DOJ fiasco.

At left, Jo Kerns.

11/5/99 Despite efforts by Gannett management to paint supporters of the Star-Bulletin as marginal troublemakers, they include many prominent people in the community, all of whom are beating the bushges for help. Here's an example from the minutes of the November 4, 1999 meeting of the McCully-Moiliili Neighborhood Board. The SOS person, Jean King, is a former Lt. Governor and member of the Legislature, and one of the plaintiffs in the SOS lawsuit against Gannett and Liberty Newspapers.

Presentation on Saving The Honolulu Star Bulletin - Jean King, member of the Save Our Star-Bulletin (S.O.S.), stated that their main goal is educating the public through various Neighborhood Board meetings throughout the island to gather community support and in raising public awareness of the importance for Honolulu to have two viable daily newspapers. Jean King stressed the importance of having at least two daily newspapers for these reasons; a healthy democracy requires competition - for reporters not to be complacent but in being thorough, and in challenging differing news editorials. Jean King cited the Joint Operating Agreement and the Newspaper Preservation Act, which exempted the two newspapers from the Sherman Anti Trust Act -- to prevent the establishment of monopolies. Jean King noted that the joint operating agreement between the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin expires in 2012. The decision by Gannett Pacific, owners of the Honolulu Advertiser and Rupert Phillips of Liberty Newspapers - owner of the Star Bulletin to shutting down the Star-Bulletin due to the fact that Phillips is only getting a 12%, not 26% return of his investment is a violation of the joint operating agreement. Jean King was pleased that the State Attorney General's office has taken legal action to stop the closure of the Honolulu Star- Bulletin, while the U.S. Justice Department has intervened as a friend of the court for S.O.S. The Courts have upheld the State's position. Gannett has appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where it is now pending. Jean King distributed a petition to avert the shut down of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Ka'apu moved and Aiona seconded to adopt the following resolution:

WHEREAS, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin was scheduled to close on October 30, and

WHEREAS, if the Honolulu Star-Bulletin is shut down, the Honolulu Advertiser will become Hawaii's only statewide newspaper, and

WHEREAS, we benefit from two or more independent news and editorial voices our community; and

WHEREAS, the closure of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin will result in the loss of over 110 jobs, along with hundreds of independent dealers and newspaper carriers;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the McCully/Mo'ili'ili Neighborhood Board support the efforts to maintain more than one statewide daily newspaper continues to be published.

Discussion. Torigoe inquired about the State's position of possibly buying the Star-Bulletin with bonds. King stated that it is not the case. Heinrich, Steelquist and Chang stated that their respective Boards have already passed resolution expressing similar sentiments. D. Chun commented that due to advances in communication, the press has become the fourth branch of government by protecting the freedom of speech.

The motion carried unanimously.

11/8/99 A New York Times story on Gannett's efforts to monopolize Hawaii newspapers noted that the "scrappy" Star-Bulletin was able to out-point the Advertiser on coverage of the Xerox massacre despite losses to the afternoon paper's staff caused by Gannett's actions.
11/9/99 Gannett editors at the Honolulu Advertiser held a meeting at the luxurious Kahala Mandarin Hotel for secret planning sessions, trying to figure out what to do in the wake of this public-relations disaster. In the meantime, few if any, Star-Bulletin newstands had been returned to the street.
11/15/99 On what was supposed to have been the last day of paid work at the Star-Bulletin, many staffers had by this time cleaned out their desks and cubicle walls of personal belongings and files, for fear that Gannett would suddenly lock the doors.

The front page told it all.
11/16/99 The Star-Bulletin survived to write another day! Surprising many by the quickness of the decision, the Federal 9th Circuit Court ruled -- within a few hours of appointing review judges -- that Judge Alan Kay's initial injunction against closure had complete legal merit. The Honolulu Advertiser's spin on events included broad hints from publisher Mike Fisch that Liberty and Gannett might drop the whole matter. The question remained what the Department of Justice -- which had a pocketfull of testosterone after the MicroSoft verdict -- will do. The decision will also become a mitigating factor in the San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner mess. The Star-Bulletin staff celebrated with three "banzai!" cheers at the City Desk and lots of pizza. The Gannett Advertiser responded sourly by returning the Star-Bulletin staffers' resumes and clips.
11/17/99 While Gannett editors assured the staff of the Advertiser that "it's all over," Gannett filed another appeal. It appeared that Gannett editors in Honolulu are kept out of the loop. The Star-Bulletin printed another price-comparison story by Rob Perez -- part of a series that won wide acclaim from readers -- and Star-Bulletin graphic editors jokingly placed a large image of a hibiscus plant on the cover. (See 11/3/99)
11/18/99 In a newsletter distributed to employees, Gannett publisher Mike Fisch asked readers to be patient while Gannett filed another appeal. He also stated, "To our advertisers, we pledge to continue to provide the same value they have always received from HNA." It's not clear whether this was a threat or a promise!
11/19/99 The Star-Bulletin's ad agency was wooed to the Advertiser, we discover. It's too bad, as we had a pretty good campaign going that readily pointed up the differences between us and them. In the meantime, banner advertisng appears on the Advertiser's web site, while Gannett ad-sales agents made no attempt to sell similar advertising on the Star-Bulletin's web site, a clear violation of JOA policy despite Judge Kay's instructions to stop tampering.
City editor Dan Woods left admidst leis and cakes to take another job across town. The number of staff was dwindling, and they weren't being replaced under the circumstances.
11/22/99 As if things weren't bad enough being under assault from the biggest, most ruthless newspaper corporation in the land, the midgets were swinging at us too. Bob Rees, columnist for the Honolulu Weekly -- who never met a stupid rumor he couldn't repeat, and a shameless apologist for the rich, powerful and thoroughly corrupt -- continues to support Gannett's efforts to kill the newspaper. Unhappy with their niche as a give-away publication filled with dating personals, Weekly publisher Laurie Carlson has always insisted the Star-Bulletin should suffer a messy death, and Rees is only too happy to serve as her bootlicking winged monkey.
11/24/99 To celebrate Thanksgivving, the outer glass doors of Gannett's upstairs offices were quickly given a mirror-like tint to prevent the curious from seeing inside. And why not? The place was bustling with high-priced lawyers, flown in on Gannett's corporate jets as if they are Israeli commandos. The window tint probably helped them feel safe in their warren. It's a real hunker-down, bunker mentality, and gave the third floor the gray brooding flair of the Reichschancellory in 1945.
12/1/99 All quiet on the appeal front. Advertiser staffers, however, had been informed -- or deliberately misinformed -- that THEIR jobs are on the block if Gannett decided to cut and run. We also discovered that, within a few weeks of refusing to return to Honolulu to negotiate, Gannett labor executive John Jaske exercised options on insider trading on Gannett stocks and made a fast $450,000. It was going to be a jolly Christmas in the Jaske household!
12/2/99 While the rest of the News Building were busy erecting their Christmas trees, there weren't any at the Star-Bulletin. That part of the promo budget had somehow evaporated.
12/6/99 The Star-Bulletin's Christmas card featured a photograph of the entire staff, taken originally for the planned last edition. "Ho ho ho..." it read "We're still here!"

Click on the small version at left for a larger edition.
12/8/99 Gannett's lawyers asked the state to delay the hearing on the motion to dismiss that state's lawsuit, pushing it from Dec. 13 to Feb. 7. The reason? Gannett's attorneys are too busy doing other things and can't be bothered to fly to Honolulu. The State agreed, provided that Gannett didn't use this excuse as a smoke-screen to slow discovery. It also signaled a retrenching by Gannett planners from the balls-out frontal assault they'd been conducting.
12/11/99 The Star-Bulletin's staff enjoyed a Christmas party that was not supposed to occur.
12/12/99 Gannett began selling its Sunday Advertiser for $1 on the streets, a bargain compared to the $1.75 they usally charged for the thin publication, but not such a good deal for the subscribers who were required to pay full price.
12/14/99 A mysterious series of technical problems within Gannett's Hawaii Newspaper Agency continued to abort Star-Bulletin deadlines, but curiously, not Gannett's Advertiser product. The latest denied overnight sportswire coverage to the Star-Bulletin.
12/15/99 Gannett executives continued to reduce the news hole in both the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin for December, probably the first time in history that American newspapers lost ground in the lucrative Christmas season. The obvious reason was that Gannett hubris had alienated Hawaii advertisers with their arrogant tactics, prompting many to seek alternate markets.
12/16/99 A Christmas tree and decorations were finally erected at the Star-Bulletin.
12/17/99 Despite orders from court authorities not to sabotage the Star-Bulletin's viability, newstands continue to disappear, even from the U.S. District court building.

This picture was taken at the News Building itself, where Advertiser newstands sit by themselves even in Star-Bulletin loading zones.
12/22/99 Gannett lost an important union court case in Detroit and was forced to reinstate 50 employees of the Free Press.
12/23/99 The agreement between Gannett and Liberty to whack the Star-Bulletin expired on this date, and the Star-Bulletin management quietly buried the story as a court brief. Too bad, as this was a signal date in newspaper history, the first time a newspaper was saved over the wishes of its owner by an outporing of support from the community -- and the simple notion that Gannett violated both standing law and basic business ethics in doing so.
12/24/99 This picture of newspaper racks in front of the Hawaii Newspaper Agency illustrated how Gannett set out to cripple the Star-Bulletin prior to selling it to Rupert Phillips in 1993. The Advertiser racks at left sell the daily and Sunday Advertiser, while the Star-Bulletin racks at right sell only a daily edition. At the time, Gannett deliberately cut back on Star-Bulletin delivery schedules and availability and stripped the paper's physical assets, and placed what can only be described as a stooge as the newspaper's "owner." It was a savaging of both the spirit and letter of the Failing Newspaper Act.
12/25/99 As Gannett executives beavered away in their bunker on the third floor on Christmas, the website mysteriously crashed, the result of outside computer hacking at the server. It's down for several days. Since about a third of the SaveStarBulletin readers had "" attached to their addresses, I guess the Gannettoids had put themselves off-limits.
12/31/99 I and many others were assigned to cover the New Year's celebration that might be affected by the Y2K bug. As I stood in the street in Waikiki, watching drunken celebrants stagger by, I wondered if the lights were going out all over the world.
NEXT! January 2000
Managing News and Threatening Attorneys

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