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February 2002

The Year of
Sustained Casualties
Gannett Blood

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
2/1/02 It's our birthday! The Honolulu Star-Bulletin turned 120 years old today. On Feb. 1, 1882, the first printed copies of the Honolulu Evening Bulletin were distributed, making us the oldest daily newspaper in Hawaii and one of the longest-lived west of the Mississippi. Several months later, the weekly Pacific Commercial Advertiser went daily as well, starting a trend of Advertiser "sincere flattery" that continues to the present day. Ironically, this has been the toughest year of the Star-Bulletin's existance. At this time last year, Gannett's Liberty representatives were systimatically looting our office of "assets" -- even carting away pocket watches and a bolt of fabric, for Chrissakes -- harrassing us with gigantic security guards, locking up our archives and engineering mysterious data crashes. They were also strong-arming local merchants into exclusive year-long contracts, promising that if they did so, they wouldn't get hurt when the Star-Bulletin died. Well -- to quote another correspondent who used to live in Honolulu -- reports of our death were greatly exaggerated. We're still here, you bastards! And to celebrate, this week we signed big advertisers like Mazda and Sears and Office Max, and more to come next week.
2/3/02 City Editor Ed Lynch was hospitalized with appendicitis. I've been trying to figure out how to blame Gannett for this, but they're in the clear on this one. THIS TIME!

Ken Berry
Gannett Special Projects employee
2/5/02 Did Ken Berry sabotage our Navy News contract and behave unethically as he simultaneously negotiated both the contract and a job with the enemy? Looks like that question may be headed to court. A formal complaint has been filed with the General Accounting Office. Among the issues -- Berry withheld information from Midweek, weakening its bid, and the Navy changed the conditions of the contract to suit Gannett AFTER the bid deadline. It's interesting that the Department of Defense would place itself in the midst of a potential scandal like this. In the meantime, we have advertising contracts to fulfill and we're doing it with a start-up publication called Navy Star. It looks real good, thanks to Mike Rovner's design sense.
2/8/02 Irony! After a state worker suspiciously modified the rules for bidding on government legal ads so that MidWeek no longer qualified (and then promptly fled his job), the Gannett Advertiser crowed over what they thought was a shoo-in. But the new rules also made it possible for the Star-Bulletin to bid (once the new rules were made retroactively inclusive), and today we were awarded the contract.

It was Editorial Director Dick Halloran's last day. The guy gave it a year and decided he liked being a writer better. Over the last year, though, Dick made mighty changes in the OpEd section, making it rigorously thoughtful, and a bustling "marketplace of ideas." Here he is being casual.
2/8/02 We heard from Green Bay Ray about the Star-Bulletin winning back the government legals conract:
"Hmmm...trying to horn in on the legal ads huh? They pulled the same thing on the News-Chronicle a couple of years ago, trying to get the money away. That time, their trick was to post a lower bid for the Green Bay Press-Gazette by not putting the ads in all editions, and saying they would still be accessible to all readers because the editions included would be those going to county libraries (but not in outlying areas and probably not to most home-delivered copies. In short, they were willing to go through the extra work and expense to segregate the ads to keep the N-C from getting any money at all."
Don't gloat. What this means is that Gannett is willing to lose money in order to deny money to the competition, and that is a standard business practice for them.
2/10/02 Gannett's earnings fell 15.8 percent. Somehow, that's a good thing, according to market analysts.
2/11/02 We're finally running out of the too-thin Asian paper we've been printing the Star-Bulletin on for the last twn months. Starting today, the paper will feel thicker and more opaque. When we were trying to set up last year, Gannett blocked North American paper sales to us, but that's been resolved in our favor.
2/12/02 One little corner of the Honolulu Newspaper War is being waged at the classic Kalapawai Market near Lanikai, on Oahu's windward side. According to owner Don Dymond, this skirmish is being repeated in small venues all over the island. You can get the gist from the sign Dymond placed in the store (That's Dymond, left, with the sign, and the front of the store, with a Gannett Advertiser street hawker sitting forlornly on the curb). Says Dymond, Gannett leaned on him more than a year ago -- well in advance of the sale -- to carry only the Gannett product and demanded he place a rack in his store. They also guaranteed that the Star-Bulletin would be out of business by Jan. 1 this year. When he recently tried to carry an equal number of Advertisers and Star-Bulletins, Gannett's distributors insisted that they alone determine how many papers were to be dumped in his store. If he didn't like it, they threatened to pull out completely. See ya, said Dymond. "I figured it out this morning," said Dymond. "They think I'm one of their employees! Well, I absolutely refuse to be treated that way."
On February 6th, in an effort to run our business, we asked the HONOLULU ADVERTISER (shrinking in circulation) to reduce the number of papers they bring to the store everyday so that we have more room to display the HONOLULU STAR-BULLETIN (growing).
The Advertiser's response was ... "If you cut back on our papers in favor of the Star-Bulletin, we will not bring you any papers beginning tomorrow (02-07-02)"
This sounds like extortion, arrogance and predatory to me. The BULLY ADVERTISER pushing around this small neighborhood market and trying to keep the Star-Bulletin from growing.
If you would like to complain to the ADVERTISER, call 808-525-8033.
If you would like to subscribe to the STAR-BULLETIN, call 808-529-4848.
Thank you for your patience.
Don and Staff of Kalapawai Market.
2/13/02 I got chided for not reporting here that our press set-up in Kaneohe acquired four new units, which will help us get the papers out on time, coupled with the sturdiness of the new paper. Does anyone really care about such technical details? But it also shows we're expanding and investing.
2/14/02 Ian is repeating the rumor that Advertiser staffers believe that Star-Bulletin circulation director Mark Lewis left last week "because he was uncomfortable signing on any kind of circulation audit." This notion is, of course, nonsense of the highest order. Circulation directors have no pull with the independent Audit Bureau of Circulations, except to make sure we're getting the papers out there. What's more interesting is the nature of the rumor. It reminds us that the Advertiser staff has their own culture of denial, and -- like any embattled group going stir-crazy in a bunker -- give credence to any excuse for their failure to kill us by Jan. 1 but the obvious -- we're still here because the population of Honolulu wants us here.
2/15/02 Given the discussion over at Ian's site about newsrack stocking, here's something I forgot to add to the note below about Kalapawai market. One reason that owner Don Dymond wished to give the Star-Bulletin more space was that our distributors are monitoring sales very closely, and actually reclaiming the unsold papers. The Gannett Advertiser, on the other hand, was dumping a big pile and abandoning them, leaving any left over for Dymond to get rid of. Makes you wonder how they're claiming these in distribution figures.

The Gannett Advertiser is now using toddlers to sell newspapers
out on the highways. Good thing she's wearing a high-visibility vest.
2/16/02 Does the world need the invention of a portable newstand?

Here's what I came up with to keep our newspapers dry, out of the wind, off the dewy grass and highly visible, plus pockets to stash your lunch, change and jacket in. It's made of PVC pipe, ripstop tarp material in Star-Bulletin blue and is held together with tent-bungee. It assembles in about two minutes and is light and strong. That's Cassie and Katie showing it off at left.
2/18/02 And all this time we thought Debra Barayuga was smuggling basketballs! It was a baby shower this day for our most excellent reporter, of whom the ex-Advertiser ombudsman said he was sorry the 'Tiser didn't snatch her up when they had the chance. No word yet on whether it's a boy or girl, but by the look of things, we'll know soon.
2/21/02 Sad and sobering news at the Wall Street Journal when the murder of Dan Pearl was revealed this day. The WSJ also had an informative piece about Gannett's wholesale distribution of "free" papers to college campuses. It turns out that the schools pay for them -- and it's reflected in an increase in student fees -- and that they're claimed as paid circulation. The "free" papers in schools and hotel count for as much as a fifth of USA Today's circulation claims. Gannett pulled pretty much the same thing here at the University of Hawaii. Other schools, however, are fighting back to preservethe individual voice of their student papers.
2/21/02 Time for a Blue Ball Three update: You might remember that three of Gannett's USA Today staffers -- all women in their 40s -- were unceremoniously fired for -- get this! -- daring to touch a sculpture of a gigantic, swollen blue ball in the Gannett paper's lobby. None have yet found work in journalism, and two are living with their aged parents to make ends meet. This week, Gannett is - or was, until it became public -- appealing their unemployment benefits. Said an attorney for one of the women, "To go after unemployment benefits -- that's a level of malevolence I don't often see." The case made comment in Jim Romanesko's MediaNews column earlier in the week, but curiously, references to it have since disappeared. Even so, Gannett PR types loudly blasted reports that the corporate giant was contesting the benefits, and then quietly backpedelled when they discovered that they had done exactly that. Gannett now claims the filing is "a clerical error."
2/22/02 Legendary Washington Post reporter and editor Bob Kaiser, co-author of the recent "The News About the News," was interviewed in The Phoenix about the failings of corporate newspaper ethics and said this about Gannett:
The same is true with the Gannett newspapers. You and I could spend the afternoon drawing up a business plan to turn the Gannett newspapers in a different direction and have them try to sell quality in their communities. But they don?t have the people to do that. I genuinely believe that, if I live long enough, I will see the Gannett corporation fail.

And this from someone who's not a legend; just a working stiff who still has ideals.
A note from ex-Gannett reporter Tye Wolfe in the MediaNews columns points out:
"I lasted barely eight months at a Gannett paper in Broome County, NY as a naive 24-year-old unprepared to be so disillusioned by the wasteland that is corporate journalism. Eight months is not a long time, but long enough for me to see how Gannett is failing its readers, its community, and its own staffers ... Perhaps the saddest thing for me was that, in all my time there, not once did I hear anybody talk about the importance of the newspaper serving its community, or of the joy of writing a story that could affect a lot of people for the better."
2/23/02 Double-dealing ex-MidWeek publisher and Gannett special-projects employee Ken Berry is no longer driving in style. Turns out that under original MidWeek owners RFD Publications, Berry leased a Jaguar and charged it to the company, hiding the expense. The day he left MidWeek for Gannett -- and how did he get there, in retrospect? -- he tossed the keys to the startled receptionist, laughed "It's your problem!" and abandoned the car. Maybe he's now driving one of theose VW bugs with 32 Gannett Advertiser stickers plastered all over them.
2/25/02 Someone's been stealing the Star-Bulletin signs used by kids to sell Sunday papers on the street. This Sunday alone in Kailua, eight vanished.
2/26/02 That Advertiser street-sales guy pictured below in the Kalapawai Market item has quit the Gannett paper and is now selling Star-Bulletins. Seems he didn't like the way he was being treated.
2/27/02 It's official now. The Department of Defense has reopened the bidding process for the Navy News publication a month after announcing it had gone to the Gannett Advertiser. It seems there are questions regarding the ethics of how it was acquired in the first place. Doesn't mean we'll get it, but at least the playing field is leveled, and that's all we ask. It's clear, though, that Ken Berry was a primary reason that Gannett nailed the contract in the first place -- when he was "working" for us -- and that Ken Berry is the primary reason the month-old contract was scuttled. He's managed to go from an asset to a liability at Gannett in a very short time.
NEXT! March 2002
Shifting the Deck Chairs

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