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April 2003

The Year of
Switching Commanders

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

4/1/03 Enchanted April
If this is an April Fool's gag, then it's on me. Not much to report as I've been shifted to nightside, filling in for the departed George Steele, while there's a war on. Still doing my regular feature duties, but with the addition of a full copy editing shift. Wake me up when the war's over, please.

4/2/03 April foolish
Web wizard Blaine Fergerstrom ran across a reference to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in a site devoted to the best 100 April Fools gags of all time: #38: Hawaiian Tax Refund
In 1959, as Hawaii was being admitted into the Union as the 50th state, a Hawaiian radio station announced that Congress had passed an amendment to the Statehood Bill refunding all federal income taxes that the Pacific Islanders had paid during the previous year. Thousands of people believed the announcement, and the backlash when they realized that there was no refund coming their way was enormous. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which had nothing to do with the hoax, took the opportunity to self-righteously declare that it would never publish an April Fool's Day story again.

Kind of a snotty reference. But on the other hand, we did publish April Fools stories afterwards. And therein lie the joke -- the pledge never to do it WAS the gag!

4/4/03 Military non-briefing #3,206
I'm just too frazzled this week to do much of an update. But apparently, the Pentagon is reading this site and took my advice of 3/20. They've taken Baghdad airport. And I just watched a live report from Baghdad where military "analysts" and excitable TV anchors discussed at length a mysterious formation of lights in the sky that hovered high over the city. Well, it was the constellation of the Big Dipper. Hey kids, follow a straight line from the mouth of the Dipper and you'll find the North Star!

4/6/03 Hot time in Kailua Saturday, except that it never happened

It was an interesting four or five hours late Saturday night when Honolulu Police Department officers, SWAT response teams and private security guards shut down Aoloa Street in downtown Kailua and refused to allow anyone in and out. The police are searching for three prison escapees -- they ran Thursday when a lightning storm released the electronic locks at the maximum security prison (I'm not making this up!) -- and who are considered armed and dangerous. A resident of Koolau Vista apartments reported seeing three armed men enter her building and called 9-1-1, and this was the quick response. Not visible in these pictures are the dozen or so SWAT snipers in flak jackets and AR-15s scattered along the road. At any rate, it all turned out to be a misunderstanding. Police representatives, however, the next day denied any of this actually happened. Maybe I dreamed it.

4/8/03 Aloha to our first independent publisher
Don Kendall. the feisty fellow who took over Star-Bulletin and MidWeek operations from the get-go -- and under incredibly hostile conditions -- said sayonara to the troops and is back in Canada. The new guy is Frank Teskey, a veteran with newsroom experience.

4/9/03 Goodbye, George, Goodbye
The Newspaper Guild organized a memorial service for George Steele yesterday at Waterfront Park, a few blocks from the Star-Bulletin office and brilliant, with the ocean rolling beyond and sunlight streaming hotly through the arbor. Mike Rovner and others spoke movingly about the great mystery of early death and the vacuum it leaves in the lives of others. And then we went back to producing Hawaii's best newspaper.
Thanks to Nancy Christenson for these photos.

4/10/03 Column as I see 'em
>> The American Society of Newspaper Editors convention is this week and editors were underwhelmed to hear media experts tell them that producing a quality product and doing good, competitive journalism is what actually attracts readers and brings in ads. Well, duh. The editors generally know that. It's the publishers who need that information.
>> Speaking of publishers who kill their own product, the Hawaii Tribune Herald staff has unanimously authorized a strike, due to Stephens Media's refusal to negotiate. In Guild news up our way, Gannett has backed off cutting salaries and now wants a wage freeze for four or five years, and they still haven't figured out how many pressmen they want to fire. Having the wages frozen will be a boon when Gannett places the Advertiser on the market. The Guild has also put Gannett on notice that their punitive actions against ad-sales personnel, in clear violation of the contract, is way, way uncool.
>> Like everyone else, I've been riveted by the images of Iraqis going Mardi Gras-nuts in the streets of Baghdad, and mightily impressed by the walloping spin the story gets from the TV folks. You'd think nothing else happened in Iraq yesterday other than a statue-pulling contest. Anyway. I've created my own little contribution, aimed at modeleers and historians, at the so-called Saddamarama and Saddamalamadingdong web sites yesterday, and already got an online review calling them "excellent and invaluable stuff." Wow!

4/15/03 Our sole ally is surprised that Gannett sticks it to British employees
Parliamentary observer Green Bay Ray has alerted us to this Early Day Motion, the British equivalent of a non-binding resolution, that passed through the House of Commons last week. Essentially, members of the British government are appalled that Gannett is wheelbarrowing huge profits out of England while simultaneously slashing staffs and underpaying employees. They're also dumbfounded to learn that Gannett is offering its British employees "only" a two percent wage increase. How does this square with offering Gannett Honolulu employees wage decreases? Welcome to Gannett World, Tommy.

4/21/03 Column as I see 'em
>> The Hostile Organization To Destroy All Media Now! (HOTDAMN!), oops, I mean Gannett, has acquired another Hawaii publication, a series of magazines called 101 Things To Do. They're now angling to purchase the University of Hawaii student newspaper Ka Leo, as well as several private-school mimeographs. BTW, the "101" link in the story leads to HTML gibberish.
>> The Gannett Advertiser has changed its public-corrections policy, from humiliating reporters and shielding editors, to requiring that reporters file piles of reports on each error. Apparently they have lots of file-cabinet space.
>> A Gannett Advertiser person assured me the other day that their new press in Kapolei is "a couple of months" away from going online. So when I was out in that area over the weekend I took a look and, hey, they're still pouring foundations. They're pinning a lot of hopes on this thing, but alas, the fact that they'll have less wastage in each print run is not going to attract readers.
>> Gannett's Nashville Tennessean sued the much smaller Murfreesboro Daily News Journal last week. Why? Seems the Journal put out an advertsing supplement that had "A.M." in the title, and the Gannett paper was planning something similar, although they hadn't done it yet, and so the suit claimed that Gannett had sole right to use the time-of-day phrase "A.M." That's the sort of hubris that makes you reach for the Tylenol P.M.

4/24/03 Column as I see 'em
As a "popular Star-Bulletin journalist" -- or so it said on the announcement, ha-ho! -- I was invited to address the Kailua Historical Society last night, talking about the Windward side of the island during the war years. Several people there were veterans, and so it was a lively discussion. The lady in charge of their publicity came up to me afterwards, looking quizzical. "I sent a press release about the event to the Honolulu Advertiser, and then called them up," she said. "And they said they will never print information about anything if a Star-Bulletin person is involved. Are they that petty?"
She looked more non-plussed when I laughed.
"If it's in the public interest, the Star-Bulletin doesn't care if an Advertiser person is involved," I said. "We've had notices of events at which an Advertiser person is speaking; we review their books; if they win awards, those are listed in our paper."
ARE they that petty? Here's a note from sportswriter Cindy Luis:
I was over at a friend's house the other night. Her son answers the phone.
"Mom, it's the Honolulu Advertiser."
"What do they want?"
"They want to know if we want their paper."
"Tell them no, we take the Star-Bulletin, have always taken the Star-Bulletin and will always take the Star-Bulletin."
Son comes back in. "I tried to tell them that, but they said 'We heard your Mom.' Then they said something rude, then hung up!"

4/27/03 You have to enter to win
It's pretty funny to see the spin both papers put on their stories about the Hawaii Publishers Association Pa'i Awards. Both ran straightforward lists -- the Gannett Advertiser even mentioned other publications! -- and their lede points out they won "more top awards" than any other publishing company in Hawaii, with seven first-places and 15 total awards. The Star-Bulletin won "more awards" than any other publishing company in Hawaii, with six first-places and 18 total awards. (Actually, when you include MidWeek, our score is seven and 20.)
Spin aside, it's pretty much a dead heat. Pretty good, considering their gigantic staff and enormous resources and their bloody-minded desire to crush all before them.
What I find interesting, however, is how well we did consideriing the number of entries. Despite the prestige of winning, it costs real money to enter the Pa'is, and we simply couldn't afford to enter more than a couple of dozen entries, half of which were privately paid for by staff members. For example, cartoonist Corky Trinidad can't afford to enter, and so nothing by Corky was in competition ? a shame, as he's absolutely the best by a long shot. On the other hand, the Gannett paper reportedly entered well more than a hundred entries, against way-slim competition.

4/28/03 Logo au-go-go
As a guy who has designed dozens of logos, I totally understand the University of Hawaii's desire to codify and streamline their logo system, to bring the school into modern times. Such icon design is an extremely serious business. On the other hand -- and I'm also speaking as the guy who headlined a column Those new university logos look like H! --the two finalists really don't cut it. Where are the other entries? But what's really annoying is that the school spent thousands having logos designed by private businesses when they could have had a design competition among their own design and art students, witrh the winner getting a scholarship or something. Waste of taxpayer money.
NEXT! May 2003
Fresh recruits

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