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December 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
Bouncing Berry

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
12/2/01 Alas, I haven't been able to update the site for nearly two weeks, thanks to the neighborhood phone lines being out of commission. Plenty to tell, and I'll add as soon as possible. Verizon keeps approaching us, trying to sell us their online service, but if it takes 12 days to repair a basic phone connection ...
12/3/01 Here's a note from a free-lance writer in Honolulu, about the way the Gannett Advertiser treats writers:

I think it's odd that the richest newspaper in hawaii has not paid me for two "Hawaii Ways" articles, one "For Better or Worse" article, and one "Fun House" article, whereas the Star-Bulletin has paid me $900 for nine "Goddess Speaks" articles. Maybe that's why the Advertiser is the richest newspaper in town. That is also why I don't subscribe to the Advertiser.
12/4/01 The Newspaper Association Of America is lobbying the FCC to end its newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. The organization, in its comments to the Commission in the review of the ban, says that the rule has been made superfluous by marketplace competition." Gannett has made the same arguments to justify anti-trust violations in establishing monopoly newspaper ownships. Do we want Gannett to own the airwaves too?
12/5/01 Green Bay Ray sends along this link to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding the Stevens Point newspaper in middle Wisconsin. It was locally owned, then bought by Thomson, which sold it to Gannett. Things aren't well in Stevens Point under Gannett.
12/6/01 Nation-wide, Gannett earned squeaks of outrage from journalists when the company abruptly fired three USA Today staffers -- Karen Allen, 46, sports writer and 25-year Gannett employee; Denise Tom, 49, special-projects editor, 25-year employee and a single mom; and Cheryl Phillips, 39, database editor and a Gannett Enterprise All Star last year -- for the crime of touching a gigantic blue bowling ball that the company is installing in the lobby of their new zillion-dollar corporate headquarters. It's an art work, apparently. Reminds me of the time when Al Neuharth had a golden stuffed sheep in his office and staffers would get into trouble for placing gold-wrapped Hersey's Kisses underneath, like golden turds. Poison Kitchen has a cute take on the situation, as well as an address for the "Blue Ball Three" Defense Fund. USA Today staffers are probably wishing they had a Newspaper Guild right now.
12/10/01 Boy, a lot to get caught up on. But first, here's some fan mail from someone on our own staff. You can take the boy out of Gannett, but you can't take the Gannett out of the boy:
Silence is golden. God, it is nice to have you shut down. I don't have to explain your stupidity to our clients!
12/11/01 As we distribute more papers on the neighbor islands, readers are discovering what they've been missing. Here's a note from Kauai:
I was just across the street at the ABC Store buying a Coke and the manager showed me the brand new five-shelf newspaper rack she got today from USA Today. The S-B was on the top shelf.
"I like your paper best, so I put it on top," she said.
(The Tiser was on the fourth shelf :)
12/12/01 It's certainly not good news for us that investigative reporter Jim Dooley is returning to the Gannett Advertiser, which he left in a huff a couple of years ago after being treated poorly by news managers there. He knows what he's doing, I suppose, and money talks. (What about this so-called hiring freeze they have in effect?) But the jury's still out on MidWeek publisher Ken Berry's defection to the enemy, along with a couple of sales cronies -- wife Karen and Screamin' Jay Higa -- where Berry will be coupled again with advertising swami Chris McMahon, whom Berry forced out of MidWeek a couple of years ago in a power snit. Berry used to whine constantly that employees hired away by the dailies were "traitors" and he'd hold grudges against them for years (I was one!). In other respects, Berry's a genial man and happily took credit for the success of MidWeek, has spent his life bending over for advertisers, and has extensive knowledge of local markets. But he's also a large, slow target. He doesn't deal well with change, bright ideas from underlings or being closely supervised from above. Tales of Berry's limitations are legendary among staffers, even those who genuinely like him. The office betting pool has moved from how long Berry would last under Black to how long he'll last under Gannett. But maybe, given the type of managment personalities Gannett attracts, he'll find a home there. It's rather sad. Berry's major accomplishment in life has been MidWeek and building a family of newspaper employees; now he's being paid to destroy his creation and betray his friends. I hope it's worth it.
12/13/01 If we claim that the Gannett Advertiser fell for our secret plan to take Ken Berry off our hands, would they believe it? Nah. Most Gannett staffers are crowing over the "coup," while others -- who know Berry -- just say quietly, "They'll find out." Myself, I hope they're paying Berry a million dollars, which, next year, they can claim as a charitable deduction. It's still money spent in Hawaii instead of being shipped off to Arlington.
12/14/01 One thing is obvious in Gannett's change of tactics in trying to raid our news and business departments ? it's a change of tactics. Which means their previous tactics have failed to kill the Star-Bulletin. One fellow who was aggressively courted turned them down, but reports that they promised him the moon and were "really nice" as they tried to seduce him. Cartoonist Daryl Cagle was treated the same way when he was hired away from MidWeek -- and Gannett fired him two months later with no explanation. It's not about recruiting talent for Gannett, it's about taking our talent away.
12/15/01 Approximately 80 of Gannett's top executives are not going to get a pay raise next year, and the company is letting the world know. The world's richest newspaper company, still having record profits, has already fired 3.5 percent of their full-time and 13 percent of their part-time employees. Read the fine print, though -- instead of cash raises, they're getting an equivalent amount in Gannett stock, and they're not giving up their bonusses.
12/17/01 The Gannett Advertiser staff held a Christmas potluck party in the abandoned thrird-floor cafeteria --- allowing them to hold it during work hours was the company's contribution. Gannett executives, in the meantime, held their own swank affair over the weekend at the Halekulani. This is nothing new. "Exempt" employees at the newspaper building have always had their own party, in places like the Halekulani or the Williows. The only time they didn't was last year, when the party was cancelled for fear Star-Bulletin executives would show up. They were disinvited.
The Star-Bulletin held a real employee party at the Hawaii Prince, even though moods were tempered by economic realities, and staffers had to contribute to the bottom line. The Honolulu Blue Devils came roaring back with the new line-up at the Bulletin party -- ironically, two years ago we played the Advertiser Christmas party for free to show there were no hard feelings amongst staffs, but Gannett management has poisoned that in the meantime -- and this last week we held TWO MORE parties at Murphy's and for MidWeek. Bottom line: The Star-Bulletin is simply more fun to work at than the dour, repressive Advertiser.
12/18/01 It's always interesting being on the other side of the interview. Last month, the Los Angeles Times interviewed some of our staffers at length about how we're dealing with tough economic times. A single quote was used:
In other instances, Sept. 11 was not a factor. That was true when the unionized newsroom employees of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper voted 70-0, with one abstention, to accept an across-the-board 11.5% salary cut effective Nov. 15 to prevent layoffs. Better to have everyone suffer a little than to lose anyone was the mantra at the paper.
"I make a pretty good living. I'm happy to shave a few bucks off my paycheck to make it easier for everyone here," said Star-Bulletin copy editor Nancy McNamee, who has worked at the paper for three years. "So, I won't order from Victoria's Secret this month. So what."
12/19/01 Hawaiian and Aloha airlines are trying to merge, leaving Hawaii with an airline monopoly, no competition, higher prices, decreased service, hundreds laid off and airline managers claiming it's good for us. There are scary parallels to what almost happened to the two newspapers here. The deal is contingent on the Justice Department signing off on anti-trust issues, but that's more likely to happen under the Bush administration than the previous one. More immediately, that means one fewer major advertiser. Or maybe two. Why would a monopoly airline service have to advertise at all? Take it or leave it -- you have no choice.
12/20/01 School's out. Our kids, Amelia and Kate, went to work this last week, selling Sunday Star-Bulletins as street hawkers. They did well, selling out and raising the Sunday Star-Bulletin's circulation by several dozen copies. Unfortunately, the Gannett Advertiser street hawker and the Gannett distribution manager went berserk, screaming at the kids and threatening them. We warned the kids ahead of time that this might happen and not to give ground, and they didn't. Good girls! The Gannett manager even began bellowing at Mary when she picked up the kids.
The manager's logic: It's a safety issue. When customers see two different papers at two different prices, the manager shouted, customers become confused and angry and stomp on the gas and weave all over the highway, so it's safer for the consumer to have only one Sunday paper. (Hah?) So it's come to this. They'll even bully children to maintain a monopoly, and legal charges were brought against Gannett distributors some time ago for stealing Star-Bulletins from kids. Our distribution people tell me such tactics are common, particularly on the Windward side.
12/21/01 Here's Sophie, our Christmas present to ourselves, a pound-puppy rescue. Sophie is part boxer, part something else, about six months old and very sweet. Also on this day, the Star-Bulletin hibiscus logo, stolen by the Gannett Advertiser, made a subtle return to our pages.
12/22/01 If you have nerves of steel, go to the bottom of this Washington Post coulmn and gaze upon the Terrible Blue Ball that Gannett Corporate used as an excuse to fire three middle-aged female employees.

A Gannett Christmas
12/24/01 Merry Christmas, we're still here, you bastards, despite everything Gannett and terrorists and the economy can throw at us. The Star-Bulletin as an independent publication is still less than a year old. And there's no better illustration of the difference between us and the Gannett Advertiser than these photos of an electric tree in Kaimuki, scanned directly from the printed pages of both papers. Ho ho ho!
12/27/01 Eagle Eye Ian has noticed that ex-Star-Bulletin bagman Rupert Phillips and son are combining their Gannett-bought papers in an effort to challenge the Washington Post in Virginia. Ryan Phillips is the charmer who bought Jewish Week and told the employees they shouldn't take Jewish holidays, cover major Jewish events and instead should focus on childrens' sports. He also got into hot water for running advertisements stating that Catholics were bent on world domination and has stated that he'd accept ads claiming the Holocaust was a fraud. But Ian didn't notice the story was bylined Sara Kehaulani Goo, Daily Trojan alumnus and business writer recently hired by the Post. There's your local connection!
12/30/01 I got carried away the other day and sent a note to Ian, after some knucklehead accused me of being clueless and blaming Gannett for the Star-Bulletin's problems (well, duh.) Ian ran it as a way of summing up 2001, so I might as well too:
I was somewhat puzzled by the reference to me in the note the other day, as I make it a policy to not mention the rank and file at the Advertiser on the Honolulu Newspaper War site unless it's in a positive way. Most of them are fine people and excellent journalists, and more than that, they have no control over who their owners are.
Gannett executives like Kelly and Montesino and Fisch are fair game however, because their purpose in life is to deprive the citizens of Honolulu of a choice in reading newspapers. Therefore Gannett's political and economic moves are open season. I don't mention -- or rarely -- their journalism gaffes unless there's heavyhanded Gannett spin control behind them. For example, their excessive, bloated Pearl Harbor history section was dreadful, filled with inaccurate illustrations that looked like they were pulled from a 1940s Popeye cartoon. So what? We laughed about it in our newsroom, but that's the best the 'Tiser could do, and you can't fault 'em for that. At least they made an effort.
Montesino and Kelly view themselves as tough guys in a competitive situation, and they're right. As "adversaries," they are worthy. (And they'll get bonusses if the Star-Bulletin disappears, while their own staff will get laid off piecemeal.)
On the other hand, Gannett as a corporate creature is something else entirely. Gannett has absolutely no loyalty toward its own workers, towards the communities it supposedly serves, toward the foundations of journalism and the traditions of a free press in America. It will screw its own employees and the citizen-subscribers of its newspapers in a heartbeat if there's a dollar to be made for the executives.
Gannett will lie, cheat and swindle the public to do so, and there's ample evidence of such behavior on the part of executives such as those in charge of the Advertiser. All we are doing in these little web sites isletting people know how unprincipled Gannett is. We're little yapping dogs. When cool customers like Fisch shriek that we're "despicable" it shows how close we're getting to letting Gannett's cat out of the bag.
The working stiffs at the Advertiser have no choice, and Gannett will eventually screw them badly, and blame us while doing it. Are the Gannett executives "evil"? Of course not. They're just doing their jobs as they see fit.
But they need to ask themselves -- am I doing this to serve my community, or am I doing this to screw my community? It should be no surprise to discover that Gannett executives are generally rootless and rove from paper to paper.
Our own executives at the Star-Bulletin are under great pressure and are on a steep learning curve, but at least they've never used their position and their newspaper to lie to the public the way Fisch has.
Lastly, it should be remembered that this situation in Honolulu was Gannett's choice. This is the way Gannett wanted it.They could have gone back to the Joint Operating Agreement right up to the last second, and continued making millions off of Hawaii and shipping the money back to Virginia, but no, in their hubris they chose the path of conflict and division. So when I hear
Gannett execs whining about difficult this has been on them, it's hard to be sympathetic.
New Year's Eve 2001 Out with the old, in with the new? That's not always a good thing. Ken Sakamoto, the last of the gentleman photographers, has retired from the paper after nearly three decades. Here he is waving byebye while simultaneously telling me that digital cameras suck. Ken is a Canuck, hailing from the same neck of the Great NorthWet that David Black does.
NEXT! January 2002
Gannett Blood

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