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February 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
Black Ops

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
2/1/01 There didn't seem to be much official notice given to the Star-Bulletin's 119th birthday today, so I brought in a pile of Portuguese pastries from Agnes's Bakery in Kailua to celebrate. Cindy Luis, the acting sports editor, suggested that the Star-Bulletin open a branch office in the vacant space over Agnes', and I must say I like that idea. At any rate, 119 years ago today, a Honolulu shopowner began posting a "Daily Bulletin" in his store window to attract customers.
2/1/01 Rob Perez, our award-winning financial writer, won a prestigious seat on the National Headliner judges panel, which is limited to 14 such winners from newspapers across the country. They're doing the judging at Atlantic City later in February, but unlike other newspapers, Liberty won't cough up the few hundred bucks it'll take to fly Rob there. Things like this indicate that Liberty really isn't in the newspaper business at all. It's just a cover to defraud the government. I guess we'll have to organize a charity fundraiser to send our boy to his reward.
2/2/01 Here's a small part of dozens of computers, scanners and printers being tossed out by Gannett. Even if the computers had failed, there were still pricey components such as hard drives, CD-ROM drives, motherboards and RAM that were still in good condition. They even sprayed paint on them to ruin them. At a time when Hawaii schools are crying for computers, such dreadful hubris seems either incredibly arrogant or simply knuckle-headed.
2/3/01 An emotional evening. The band played at a going-away party for our former drummer Craig Anderson, who's been stricken with brain cancer. We aren't going to see him any more, and Craig -- a sharp, hip, funny guy -- simply isn't here any more mentally. Lots of tears. A pointed reminder that life is short and we only go around once, so we need to do what we can while we're here.
2/4/01 Gannett keeps running full-page ads in the Sunday Gannett Advertiser -- which Star-Bulletin subscribers have forced upon them -- that tout the Gannett Foundation's contributions to Hawaii non-profits. Dozens of charities are listed. What's not noted is that virtually all of them received the bequests when the Star-Bulletin was the Gannett paper. Under the Advertiser, charitable donations to Hawaii have almost dried up from Gannett, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in profits they've made here.
2/5/01 To Rob Perez' bemused dismay, we organized an in-office fundraiser to help him with his expenses to go to the National Headliner Awards judging in Atlantic City. Unlike every other newspaper organization in the country, Liberty cheaped out on this honor, and we were damned if he was going to pay his own way. I brought in a box of Potato Cannon CDs and sold them for $2 each, and other folks simply gave out of their wallets, and nearly $300 was raised. Donations came in from all over the building, not just from the Star-Bulletin staff. Not a nickel was received from Liberty or Portner. So much for their professional contributions to the newspaper industry.
2/6/01 Many top-level ad-sales and circulation people are fleeing HNA and Gannett, more than anyone would have expected. People in Hawaii generally have a great deal of loyalty to their workplace, so this is saying something about the way Gannett has treated their own workers.
2/7/01 Some sour-looking knucklehead with a clipboard stuck his head in my cubicle, peered around, muttered "Shit!" and made a tic mark on his clipboard before wandering away. These jerks have been poking around the office for weeks, flipping lights on and off in meetings, walking on our desks while we're typing, opening our drawers and riffling through our possessions. These guys are simply planning for HNA's takeover of our side of the building, we're told, and mean no harm. The guy who measures you for your casket doesn't mean any harm either, but at least he's polite about it. This is petty harrassment. I actually chased one of these bozos out into the hallway and asked why he was being so rude. "Just doing my job, it's just business," he whined.
2/8/01 The ever-vigilant Ian Lind discovered that Gannett's big wheels were busy enriching themselves with insider trading on their own stocks as the year turned. Labor "negotiator" John Jaske cashed in $708,784; Tom Chapple, the company's general counsel, banked $558,980; Frank Vega, president of the Detroit Newspaper Agency, put $495,425 into his wallet. Profits were flat, even though revenues rose 30 percent. Gannett is predicting a tough year ahead. Looks like the top guys are cashing in before their stockholders find out how badly they've screwed up in Honolulu.
Left, John Jaske daydreams about his pocketful o' profits.
2/9/01 Quietly announced in the newspaper was the new executive line-up. It's largely familiar: John Flanagan, editor in chief; Frank Bridgewater, managing editor; Richard Halloran, editorial director; Michael Rovner, assistant managing editor; Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor; Ed Lynch, city editor; Cindy Luis, sports editor; Nadine Kam, features editor; Stephanie Kendrick, business editor. Missing from the list was Diane Chang, senior editor and editorial page editor. We're not sure what she'll be doing. Her wahine-centric column has a vocal following, however.
2/12/01 The Columbia Journalism Review took note of the upcoming newspaper war in Honolulu as a signal that newspapers might be reverting to private ownership.
2/13/01 The Black Ops team have arranged a partnership with local ABC affiliate KITV, which is quite good news. Literally. Their station is making serious inroads on KHON's local dominance of the TV-news scene, and will likely surpass them in this month's sweeps period. The Gannett Advertiser has a long-standing relationship with KHON for polls and debates, and they've announced a working relationship with the station -- which is pretty transparent so far -- but they've backed the wrong pony. Another example of Gannett having no understanding of local dynamics.
2/14/01 BaseView training started. We have to take time off or a vacation day to take the training, but the program -- which is database-driven -- is far superior to the SII system we've been using.

Note Gannett's solution to the permanent leak -- a five-gallon bucket emptied every few hours.

Water flows into the art department. Note soggy electrical outlet by artist Dave Swann's feet.

2/15/01 So much rainwater has fallen on the News Building that it's percolating through the structure and falling on our staff. Floors and electrical outlets are soaked, computers are short-circuiting and smoking, there's a permanent waterfall by Tim Ryan's desk that makes the place sound like a Japanese zen garden. It's highly dangerous, but it's also an ongoing situation that has never been fixed by Gannett, despite complaints to OSHA. When Gannett bought the structure in 1992, there were public statements that the charming and historic News Building would be restored. Nothing of the sort has occured, and the Gannett Advertiser staff even refuses to drink from the building's water supply, insisting instead on gourmet bottled water. What makes the situation doubly ironic is that it was Star-Bullein profits siphoned off by Gannett that saved the News Building in the first place.
2/16/01 The Kendalls, frustrated by timing and weather problems in organizing a staff beach party, instead hosted an informal get-together at Restaurant Row's open-air bar. I took the opportunity to bring down the wooden Star-Bulletin sign that Gannett workers had pried off the News Building and thrown away. I repaired it and it had been sitting around for more than a year. Flanagan took a shine to it and insisted we rush it right upstairs to place in his private office.
Here we are with the rescued sign in a staff picture last year.
2/19/01 My friend Craig Anderson, the best damn drummer I ever played with, passed away today after an intense bout with brain cancer. He sat in with us only two weeks ago and still found "one" on the count-off. A hell of a guy.
2/20/01 Letters began arriving today telling us whether we're in or out of the "new" Star-Bulletin after so long a struggle. Everyone got the same thing: a short form letter with a thumbs-up, a shorter form letter if it was thumbs down. Mary and I were lucky.
2/21/01 I also received a nice letter from the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, signed by both President Lucy Witeck and Administrative Officer Wayne Cahill, thanking me for serving as a Guild rep in the Star-Bulletin newsroom for two years, a post that ran its course on Jan. 1. "The last couple of years have been especially challenging ones for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild ... Keeping the Star-Bulletin alive, negotiating contracts for the Star-Bulletin editorial staff and for the Advertiser and HNA workers took a lot of energy and plain hard work" the letter began. It sure did! Without the Guild stepping up to the plate, there would be no Star-Bulletin for Black to buy.
2/22/01 The Gannett Advertiser is swarming with fresh bodies, so many there's no place for them to sit down. We hear most of these are on "loan" from other Gannett papers. Doesn't matter who pays their salary. Whatever the staffing levels they set, they'll have to become Guild members under the contract they agreed to, and when Gannett decides to discharge most of them in a few months, it'll get sticky.
2/23/01 While we're getting most of the blue Star-Bulletin street boxes from HNA as part of the deal, Gannett insists that the coin boxes attached to the top of the racks are a separate item and belong to them. If we bought our own pencils back from Gannett, they'd keep the lead.
2/24/01 Advertising for the Advertiser -- now there's an interesting term! -- is blossoming everywhere. TV commercial crews are in the building filming Tiser folks being groovy, concerned citizens. Radio spots are wall-to-wall. Gannett is also sending waifs from door to door pitching Advertiser subscriptions "so I can go to college" and calling people at home claiming that the Advertiser will be the "only newspaper printed in Honolulu." We are unable to counter-ad. And it does no good to point out that such antics are shameless -- if these guys had any ethics they wouldn't be working for Gannett Corporate in the first place.
2/26/01 In a lunchtime speech to the Hawaii Advertising Federation, new Star-Bulletin owner David Black reported that ad sales are going very well. Black promised "an exciting new product" with a morning edition added to the afternoon Star-Bulletin and a Sunday paper that will include Parade magazine and, as part of the business coverage, a four-page section produced by the Wall Street Journal that focuses on personal finance. Not surprisingly, the Gannett Advertiser declined to cover the talk.
2/27/01 Here go more computers to the dump, while lonely former Star-Builletin staffer Rod Ohira has his hourly smoke. To be fair, these are mostly way-old SII terminals. HNA was the last organization to buy SII hardware, and there was a good reason SII got out of that market. The stuff was junk.
2/28/01 It's the beginning of several frustrating days trying to get a vacation-scheduling snafu straightened out with Human Resources, who admit they bolloxed it, but are also incapable of explaining it the same way twice. I got a nasty note from Liberty executioner Al Portner, left, accusing me of trying to steal vacation days from the company and that my pay will be docked for the next two weeks, even though Human Resources had already explained to him there was no error. I suppose we can expect petty harrassment like this to increase, particularly since Gannett/Liberty are placing ten additional security guards in the newsroom to watch us.
NEXT! March 2001
Fix Bayonets!

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