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HonoluluNewsBlues
January 2002

The Year of
Sustained Casualties
Gannett Blood

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
New Year's Day 2002 Nothing fancy, just some navigational tweaks being added to this site. It will take me a while to convert all the pages. Goodness, we're going into our fourth year!
1/2/02 It must be good these days to be courted by the Gannett Advertiser. They pouring millions into, essentially, a massive campaign of sucking-up, brown-nosing and friend-buying. Here's an invitation to join the 'Tiser swells at a golf tournament. Get it while it lasts, Honolulu.
1/3/02 Dave Kennedy, ex-Gannett Advertiser sales exec, is joining our staff to replace Jay Higa, who dutifully followed ex-MidWeek publisher Ken Berry up the street, wagging his tail. Higa told co-workers here as he left that he wanted to go to Gannett so he wouldn't have to work so hard, which is fine with us. To civilians this must look like musical chairs.
1/3/02 Henry Rollins once said of Madonna, "While we're sleeping, she's working." Gannett's been busy over the holidays. Now they're entering into a pact with Donrey Media -- who, along with Singleton in California (and another Gannett crony) -- are about the most unpleasant places to work in American journalism. The Gannett Advertiser is partnering at the Hawaii.com web site, a Donrey production. What will be their contribution? "I do know we will share a lot of content with The Advertiser that will give us a lot more depth," (Hawaii.com general manager Sheri) Rolf said. In other words, Advertiser writers will be propping up Hawaii.com at no benefit to themselves. This is an illustration why Gannett was so hell-bent on taking away Guild members' resale and copyrights in contract negotiations two years ago.
1/4/02 Smells Fischy in the halls of state government. Since Gannett hasn't killed the Star-Bulletin in a timely manner, they're going after MidWeek. Get this: Three years ago, the state legislature, desperate to take away legal-notice display advertising from Gannett's Hawaii Newspaper Agency, modified state law so that MidWeek would be eligible. MidWeek won the contract because HNA's bid was four minutes late. At the end of November, a State comptroller, all on his lonesome, decided that MidWeek was no longer qualified and unilaterally changed the rules so that only Gannett fit the bill, and then promptly resigned and fled to a desk job at the Public Utilities Commission, traditionally a safe haven in election years for those about to be deprived of their patronage jobs. He is likely carrying water for someone else. How ridiculous is this? For example, the new rules state that the qualifying papers must have a circulation of 60,000 on Mar. 14, 2001, and on that day -- the last day the Star-Bulletin was under Gannett distribution control -- the Star-Bulletin's circulation was 59,782. Midweek was removed from consideration because of unspecified -- and undocumented -- "complaints" from other government agencies that once-a-week was too slow, even though the dailies traditionally run the legals once a week. Once we get beyond the incredible miracle of a state-government worker actually making a decision that can be traced back to him, we should keep in mind that the state government has a Rules Commission that interprets how state law is carried out. It doesn't fall to individuals who then vamoose to skip the consequences. This reeks.
1/6/02 What's this I hear about Cutter, the giant Hawaii car dealer, severing it's display contract with the Gannett Advertiser? Stay tuned ...
1/9/02 There's a classic National Lampoon cover that featured a puppy with a gun to her head. BUY THIS MAGAZINE OR WE'LL SHOOT THIS DOG! it said. I'm reminded of that every time I see creepy Gannett rack cards and stickers like these. If you don't buy the Advertiser, then you refuse to "help a child" or "save a life." How come they weren't interested in children or life-saving last year?


Mike Fisch
Gannett publisher
(click me!)
1/10/02 The bloodletting has begun over at the Gannett Advertiser. A number of advertising and marketing types, including the popular Jim George, have been told to hit the bricks, effective immediately. George has been there three decades.
"There were no layoffs," Gannett consigliere Mike Fisch said in fluent double-speak. "We eliminated several positions."
Their ranks will be filled with the talents -- ha ha! -- of Ken Berry and friends, who are busy creating a Gannett clone of MidWeek. Oops, that's supposed to be a big secret.
Also coming on board is former Ala Moana Center Advertising and Marketing Director Dexter Suzuki, to transform Gannett into the Lords of the Internet. Judging by alamoana.com, good luck.
1/15/02 Publisher David Black is back in town and reports that now that the one-year exclusive contracts the Gannett paper signed advertisers to are ending, many are jumping ship and moving over to the Star-Bulletin, as they perceive a product that better suits ttheir demographic. The Cutter car contract was a huge loss for the Gannett Advertiser -- we're talking millions a year in lost revenue -- and there are others, such as Papa John's pizza, that carefully studied the two papers and chose the Star-Bulletin as the flagship product. It's not jut the big boys. A friend stopped by the office yesterday to place a display ad and complained that the "people up the street" were still rude and demanding, and that their rates weren't going down.
1/18/02 Our kids are doing OK selling papers on the street on Sunday morning, adding close to a hundred to our circulation by themselves. Certainly the Gannett Advertiser is taking them seriously -- they've beefed up their saleskids on that corner from one to six! Apparently, bullying and threatening our kids didn't work. Having that many competitors on the corner hasn't cut into our sales at all, but I wonder if it's worth the 'Tiser kids' while to compete against each other that way.
1/19/02 Also leaving the Gannett Advertiser is production guru Rayburn Freitas, taking his retirement option. Rayburn, a real gentleman, ran the backshop that composed the newspapers. John Simonds, the Gannett Advertiser's ombudsman and special-promotions guy, is retiring as well. Simonds, who devoted his life to serving Gannett, was the Editor and Op-Ed Editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin until Rupert Phillips "bought" the paper in 1993 and uncermoniously fired Simonds and publisher Arlene Lum. We used to joke that the scratches on the lobby linoleum at the old address were made from Simonds' fingernails as they dragged him out. At any rate, Simonds either played some hidden-closet cards or Gannett had a fit of conscience because he went to work for the 'Tiser soon after, and out from under the daily pressure of the news side, actually thrived.
1/21/02 It's Martin Luther King Day!


Jo Kerns
Gannett Human Resources lady
1/22/02 The Gannett Advertiser is continuing to hemorrhage staff. The most interesting, we hear, is Jo Kerns, the snippy Human Resources lady who was given one day to clear out. Kerns was the epitome of the loyal Gannett soldier, and there was no water too foul for her to carry for her Gannett bosses. Kind of makes you believe in karma. Also gone are Leonard Rapoza of imaging -- a three-decade veteran -- and Ferd Borsch of Sports, whom I often witnessed drinking ranch dressing like it was a milk shake. John Simonds' replacement will be hard-working Anne Harpham, placed in a position where they can fire her if she doesn't smile. More people have left the Gannett Advertiser in the last couple of weeks than we've lost all year.
1/23/02 Apparently, Jo Kerns was fired after embarrassing Gannettoids in the company's swank sky box at the Sony Open golf tournament last week -- not once, but twice. Speaking of which, while Gannett is hosting these expensive seats for the executives at golf tournaments, the news side can't afford to send their sports reporters to cover major neighbor island tournaments. They are instead sending freelance columnists, who have to bear their own expenses.
1/24/02 How's Gannett doing in Honolulu? At left is one of their own charts, showing how income has declined here more than any other part of the country. (It's still lower than their profit margins.) It's from Gannett newspaper division's Gary Watson show'n'tell at a Credit Suisse media conference in Boston. Watson noted, however, that ad revenues generated by shoppers, weeklies, niche products and online ads were up, which explains Gannett's Honolulu acquisitions over the last year. Maybe they're getting out of the newspaper business. The real question, of course, is why they would so publically reveal negative numbers unles they're trying to stir the market.
1/25/02 After giving it the old college try for a year, editorial page editor Richard Halloran has decided full-time writing is really his game, and he's going back to the field. His column, "The Rising East," will continue in the Star-Bulletin.
1/26/02 This site went down for a few days, thanks to some "mystery coding" added to the server by persons unknown. Cleared up now, thank you.


Ken Berry
Gannett Special Projects employee
1/27/02 The Gannett Advertiser announced in a teeny story that they have won the contract to print the Navy News, a military publication formerly handled by us. It would be interesting to know the terms of that contract. It would be more interesting to know the terms under which the terms were hashed out, as the guy handling the negotiating for us was none other than Ken Berry, who at the same time was negotiating a quick stab in the back for his employees and a cushy job up the street at Gannett for himself. No wonder the Navy -- sensitive to public scandal -- kept this under their hat for more than a month.
1/27/02 Police were called Sunday when Gannett Advertiser street-sale folks threatened kids selling the Sunday Star-Bulletin in Kaneohe. The Tiser guys defense was that the phrase "Next week we're bringing in big Samoans and you're not going to survive," when made to a 12-year-old, shouldn't be considered a threat.
1/28/02 I've had a running dialogue with a reader over the meaning of the Gannett losses in retailing advertising in Honolulu (see the chart for 1/24/02 below). He suggests strongly that I'm an economic nincompoop, and he may be right. I don't know. He says if Gannett's retail-advertising loss last year was 12 percent, then the Star-Bulletin's share couldn't possibly be the 35 to 40 percent of current advertising. My response was that advertising revenue and market share aren't exactly reflective of each other -- there's no strict quid pro quo -- and people are spending more on advertising than they used to. No, he says, advertsing outlay is exactly the same for Honolulu businesses today that it was a year ago. Clearly, no one knows for sure at this point. And there are statistics, and there are damned statistics. So I asked some folks who know better than I what's going on. Two points were explained to me: Put a ruler on the papers and measure all the paying ads, excluding the house ads and charity giveaways, and the Star-Bulletin's ad lineage is regularly 35 to 40 percent of the Gannett paper's (and we're not mentioning MidWeek). And, more to the point, Gannett isn't including the loss of the Star-Bulletin's former ad-sales contribution to their bottom line, which was about 30 percent when the Joint Operating Agreement was in effect. That leaves Gannett with about 70 percent TOTAL of what they made last year, minus 12 percent of that 70 percent, which adds up to between 35 to 40 percent -- which is right in the ballpark of what we think our current market share is. The bottom line, though, is that we're making enough to survive, and they haven't killed us.
1/29/02 Eagle Eye Ian has noticed that the Hawaii.com website, now a partnership between Gannett and Donrey, has links to every online news site in Hawaii ? except StarBulletin.com, which is ironically, the most-visited news site about Hawaii. Doesn't sound like much of a partnership when Gannett can dictate your content. But then Donrey can't much like our expanding circulation in their Big Island backyard. And Gannett needs a happy partner in the wings when they decide to offload the Advertiser.
1/29/02 A thought -- how can Gannett's Anne Harpham be both the Advertiser's ombudsperson AND the editor of their PM edition? Isn't that a built-in conflict?
1/31/02 One of the newer tactics Gannett street sales folks are trying, at least on the Windward side, is to coerce kids into switching sides. Our area distribution manager says this is becoming common. As for my own kids, an Advertiser salesperson approached one of them on Sunday morning and told her she'd make more money selling Advertisers, to which the 13-year-old replied, "But I've sold eight papers in the last hour and you've sold one. How can I make more money?"
NEXT! February 2002
Street-Fighting Man

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