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December 2003

The Year of
Switching Commanders
Banana Fever

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

12/1/03 It won't strike twice, will it?
Not my idea of starting off the day with a bang -- on this moring, the hard rains we'd been experiencing for weeks suddenly clustered over the Windward side of the island and lightning bolts began smacking down in Kailua. I returned from taking the kids to school and discovered the corner of the house blown out, electrical circuits dead and smoking, the smell of ozone and burnt insulation and a complete lack of response from most electronic tools, including our two computers. They were fried. Katie's bedroom had a hole blown in the floor and foot-long, blackened splinters poking out. The telephone lines were all charred and smoking, right out to the pole. The Hawaiian Electric guy who came out said it looked like termite damage!
Errr-right. We had no telephone or cable service for nearly two weeks, and, a month later, we're still discovering damage. A week later, we discovered that the rug in Katie's damaged room -- she's been sleeping on the couch ever since -- was becoming waterlogged, and that water was backing up in the showers. No amount of drain cleaner would dislodge it. A search for the water source determined that the shock of the lightning strike cracked the plumber's putty off the fittings in the adjacent bathroom, creating a slow leak, and that the shower drain system was possibly cracked. And so, the money we were going to spend on Christmas went instead for plumbing and other repairs.
An interesting discovery was that the computers weren't fried through the power ports. The surge entered through the Ethernet/cable connection to Roadrunner, which also burned up the family DVD player, but left the other home-entertainment equipment alone. So, surge protectors work, but remember to get one that also protects against cable surges as well.

12/10/03 The Flying Tiger is a Chinese 'aumakua, yeah?
I spent the Centennial of Flight weekend painting this P-40 replica with my pal Brad Hayes of the Hawaii Museum of Flying. I chose a scheme similar to Col. Robert Scott's when he was flying liaison with the 23rd Fighter Group, succesor to the American Volunteer Group in China and Burma. The air show didn't draw as many people as the state hoped, thanks to a lack of promotion, fears of parking, a rival event only a mile away and holding it on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. Still, the Barbers Point airfield proved that it is a terrific site for such large events.

12/12/03 If you don't like it, go firetruck yourself
Right about this time, I managed to get myself suspended for three days for saying naughty words in the newsroom, thanks to the stress of having to juggle simultaneous assignments. Yes, we have editors with delicate sensibilities. It's a measure of the Star-Bulletin's success that the paper's managers are now spending their time on, ahem, broader issues.

12/13/03 Merry Christmas, Saddam! Happy Holidays, Saundra!
Given the circumstances, I wasn't going to attend the Star-Bulletin Christmas party but Mary Poole and Nancy Christenson threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't, so I went, reluctantly. And it was fun. Owner David Black sought me out to chit-chat and publisher Frank Teskey was quite nice to me as well.
The real fun occurred about midnight. The newsroom was deserted and Mary, Nancy and I were packing it in when I noticed a breaking-news crawl on CNN. Something was happening in Baghdad. The three of us decided to awaken the publisher and bug him. Luck was on our side -- between the three of us still in the newsroom, we had all the neccessary skills to bust the front page and get the breaking news about Saddam Hussein's capture into the Sunday Star-Bulletin. When the publisher gave to go-ahead, we did so, and then did it again when Paul Bremner held his press conference and confirmed it at about 2:10 a.m. Hawaii time.
Our press guys were great, breaking into the run to switch plates. We were certainly the first paper in the country to print the news, and, best of all, the Gannett Advertiser had nothing until Monday. (The greatest fear of both papers is real news breaking late on a Saturday night. The print cycle means a 36-hour bump in coverage.) I was told by an Advertiser editor that they were aware of the breaking news, but that no one on duty respected editor Saundra Keyes enough to give her a call. So they ignored the story.
And so, irony on irony, we were commended in a message-to-the-staff the following day, but I wasn't there, because I was suspended for being a pottymouth. Stuff like that makes you think.

12/31/03 Aloha
Bounding around the house on New Year's Eve, here's Antone, the Star-Bulletin foundling puppy. Just a few months ago, he was not expected to live overnight. Thanks to some love and attention, today he's a healthy, tail-wagging rascal, fearless and friendly, and he's getting bigger all the time.
You can draw your own simile.
Four years ago, I started the Honolulu Newspaper War site as as a way of keeping track of the illegal shutdown of Hawaii's oldest newspaper. It was apparent to all that Gannett's tactics were at best unethical. Lucky for us, their arrogance cost them the attention of both the Communications Workers of America -- who funded a legal challenge -- and the anti-trust division of the U.S. Justice Department. Hubris has proved expensive for Gannett.

A simple way of getting the word out evolved into a near-daily record of the struggle. I wrote about it from the inside, while Ian Lind wrote about it from the outside. There was an interesting evolution that we had not considered at the outset -- that these "blogs" would become a resource for others facing similar challenges. Since having their asses handed to them by the 9th Circuit Court, Gannett's actions have come under increasing public scrutiny. Newspaper shutdowns have not become easy for them. Like a little yipping dog at the media giant's heels, we simply alert folks to their actions. Just Google a Gannett player's name, like Jim Gatti or Saundra Keyes or John Jaske, and you'll find links near the top either from Ian or myself. It's probably not Gannett's idea of good publicity, but then, they shouldn't do the things they do. Gatti couldn't deal with it, and ran away.
I should make it clear that, while Gannett's interchangable managers are fair game, I pretty much considered the staff of the Honolulu Advertiser to be off-limits. None of them asked to work for Gannett, it was thrust upon them. They have enough to deal with their own climate of fear and intimidation in their own workplace, not to mention a kind of "Stockholm Syndrome" in which they have no choice but to identify with their crazed captors. Oops, I mean their managers.
My own site also developed into a kind of homey appreciation for the extraordinary people who work in the Star-Bulletin newsroom. It became a chronicle or their achievements and changes. That was deliberate on my part. I believe that the public should know us as human beings, not as faceless "media." We are your friends and neighbors, your colleagues and fellow citizens, and putting out a newspaper isn't done by magic. It's done by a lot of hard work by people who care a great deal about their community.
But the time has come to pull the plug on Honolulu Newspaper War.
Why? Well, the Star-Bulletin won, frankly.All we had to do to prevail was to survive, and we're still here,despite all the efforts of the G-men to kill us. In fact, we're healthier now than at any point in the last three years.
I was also physically unable to update the site for most of December, thanks to the lightning strike. The responsibilty was irksome, particularly when folks assumed the worst.
There's also the matter of focus. The scope of Honolulu Newspaper War was laid down in the first desperate days of the takeover, but now it's rather confining. Gannett is less stupid and greedy -- at least, in public -- and I'm not going to waste bandwidth keeping track of Gannett Advertiser typos. We have enough of our own.
And there's the logistical problem. It's a very large site right now, and kept up at my own expense. Time to put a bow on this package!
As Honolulu Newspaper War spun out of SaveStarBulletin, a new site will be spun out of this one. I'm calling it Check6Honolulu and it's a blog devoted to somewhat wider issues of culture and citizenship and media. But that doesn't mean I'll be ignoring Gannett or their thugs in charge of the Advertiser. No sirree. If they do something petty or stupid or mean, this little dog will yip right up.
Thanks to everybody for this incredible ride.

NEXT! February 2010
A Great Leap Forward

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