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March 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
Fix Bayonets!

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
3/1/01 Former TV personality Bob Jones, now a MidWeek columnist, launched a bizarre attack on new editorial page editor Richard Halloran, which was quickly rescinded. Jones' motivation for this professional meltdown remained the only question.

3/2/01 In an effort to make the look of the Star-Bulletin reflect its Hawaiian roots, graphics editor Mike Rovner has, over the years, introduced several design elements that embrace our heritage. This includes tiny triangular "tapas" as space breakers and items such as hibiscus flowers in the banner. The Gannett managers at the Advertiser have made vicious fun of this look, but that hasn't stopped them from outright theft. They "appropriated" the tapas some weeks ago and today they introduced a new banner that -- surprise! -- contains a hibiscus. In a staggering display of craven sleaze, they even have started referring to themselves as "Hawaii's Newspaper" and sprinkling "aloha!" wherever there's a hole in the product. It's all part of a desperate effort to hoodwink the public. Stealing directly from the Star-Bulletin is an Advertiser tradition, but their execution of stolen creativity is generally lame. Compare these two banners, and then tell the Advertiser graphics editor to go back to Layout #101.

3/3/01 Since we're not allowed to pack up the office and personal items during "working" hours, we're seeing a lot of staffers in during the evenings and weekends. Here, Tim Ryan and Betty Shimabukuro sort through the debris.
3/4/01 In cheerful defiance of the court-ordered injunction, Gannett workers are busily eradicating all references to the Star-Bulletin from company equipment, including the signage on cars, trucks and vans.
3/5/01 On March 11, bombastic Gannett Advertiser editor Jim Kelly, already passed over to replace Jim Gatti, is holding his own "secret" version of the Nuremberg Rallies for the Tiser staff, to fire up their bloodlust. Gannett Uber Alles!
3/6/01 Rupert Phillips gave Portner orders to snatch something "historic" from the Star-Bulletin as a souvenir of his ownership of the paper. How about a copy of a federal subpoena? Portner also refused to allow the City Desk to run a story informing subscribers what will happen to their subscriptions after March 15. Portner is fond of claiming to whoever will listen that he's "not such a bad guy," however.
3/7/01 Reminding me of MacArthur's comment about the invasion of Korea in 1950 -- "A last-minute present to an old warrior" -- investigative reporter Ian Lind's early queries into union head Gary Rodrigues' financial dealings results in a massive federal indictment. Lind's story about the indictment was his last for the old Star-Bulletin.
3/8/01 One traditional aspect of life at the Star-Bulletin has been fond aloha parties for those retiring, complete with snappy caricatures by our world-class cartoonist Corky Trinidad. On Thursday night we bid farewell to retiring sports copy editor Dick Couch and sports columnist Bill Kwon, both of whom retired on the eve of the paper's transfer. The food was good too! There is a possibility that Kwon will be seduced by the Gannett Advertiser in the days to come. While this occured, Black held an exclusive blessing of the new offices at Restaurant Row.
3/9/01 Intimidated? Not us! Here are a portion of the security guards assigned to watch us in the final countdown. This is what life is like in a world dominated by Gannett. We are assured the guards are also keeping an eagle eye on the Advertiser, but there is no evidence of that.

We are required to sign out our own photographs from the library these days, even Star-Bulletin photographs of Star-Bulletin staff. This is despite the ownership transfer still being nearly a week away. By the way, the gold-painted "Honolulu Star-Bulletin" letters on the wall above the security girl, left, are considered valuable Gannett property, to be retained under guard.
3/9/01 This day also saw a bizarre "preemptive" announcement by Gannett's Mike Fisch that the media giant plans to build a new printing plant in Kapolei. Since Gannett's subscription people are pitching the Advertiser as the "only newspaper printed in Honolulu," this is pretty amusing. The news is treated as a done deal when it is actually speculation. Fisch also has a history of using the Advertiser to simply mislead the public.

3/10/01 Trini shows off a couple more items considered incredibly valuable assets to Gannett and placed under guard -- a bolt of Star-Bulletin aloha-print fabric and a 40-year-old display of newspaper front pages. Neither of these Gannett "properties" were looted by Al Portner for Rupert Phillips' trophy room -- he was after the pocketwatches.
3/10/01 The print edition of a Pacific Business News interview with Black and Fisch revealed some interesting nuggets. Black, for example, cannot get the keys to access subscribers on Star-Bulletin delivery routes. These keys are "Gannett property." And the Advertiser suddenly has $10 to $12 million to promote itself every year. The source of such funds? The money Gannett won't be spending every year to pay Liberty to support the Star-Bulletin. Armchair anti-trust lawyers will recall that Gannett testified in federal court that these monies were a "loss" that prompted Gannett to pay off Phillips. Somebody's not telling the truth here.

3/11/01 Gosh, my desk hasn't looked like this since -- well, it's never been this uncluttered. At right, my boss Nadine Kam doing desktop-archaeology excavations.
3/11/01 This was also the day of Adver-editor Jim Kelly's "Gannett Uber Alles" rally, held at the boomingly empty Hawai'i Convention Center. The Gannett Advertiser Sunday newspaper, the very last to be distributed to Star-Bulletin subscribers, contained a pandering we-welcome-the-competition column by the Advertiser's freshman editor, Saundra Keyes. In it, she claimed that the Advertiser was the only Honolulu newspaper or web site to provide coverage of the Army Blackhawk crash, June Jone's car crash and the Ehime Maru ship crash. The column is called After Deadline and is a direct steal from ideas lifted by Advertiser editors during the initial closure interviewing process.
3/12/01 On the eve of the ownership transfer of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Gannett payoff to Rupert Phillips of approximately $25 million, Phillips continued to nickel-and-dime the newspaper, ranging from refusing to pay severance to employees losing their jobs, to churlishly seizing a box of Star-Bulletin pocket watches normally given to 25-year employees.
3/13/01 We had a lunch party for Star-Bulletin employees who are no longer employed, including, from left, Diane Chang, Ian Lind, Harold Morse, Pat Bigold, Bill Kwon, Dave Shapiro, Trini Peltier and Carl Zimmerman. Lots of swell potluck food. That night, the last in the News Building, we held a smaller version, with the Blue Devils providing music. Looking a little anxious, Gannett Advertiser editors Saundra Keyes, David Montesino and Lorna Lim brought over platters of great sushi, which was a nice gesture on their part that took some guts.
3/14/01 The Gannett Advertiser prepared a story predicting that the Star-Bulletin's chances of success are slim. It was written by Bob Golfen, a one-month Gannett loaner from the Arizona Republic and author of Vespa scooter maintenance manuals. The last edition of the "old" Star-Bulletin finally contained some subscription information, as well as another staff photo. On these last days of their obligation to live up to the court-ordered terms of the JOA agreement, few if any Star-Bulletins were delivered to newsracks, which might seem to be an underhanded Gannett send-off. Nominal control of the boxes was transferred to Black a day prior to the separation. However, only one key was provided for hundreds of boxes, and Black's circulation people had to make hundreds of keys in one night. As it was, Gannett had been stuffing Advertisers intoStar-Bulletin boxes all week.


The Last Chapter of Closure

March 14, 2001

3/14/01 Tears started to flow as we said goodbye to co-workers.

3/14/01 Truly, this was the hardest moment so far in this 18-month ordeal. As we prepared to leave the building where we have spent a good part of our professional lives, suddenly friends and colleagues appeared out of the woodwork to give us leis and wish us well, to hug us one last time. As we marched out of the News Building, spontaneous applause erupted to send us on our way. I burst into tears, I admit it. Nothing will be same again.

Conspicuous by their absence were Al Portner or anyone else from Liberty.
3/14/01 We trundled down South Street five blocks to our new offices, kept in step by a pipe-and-drum band playing "Scotland the Brave" and "Garryowen," suitably martial airs to fix bayonets and go over the top into battle. As I was walking out of the newsroom for the last time, I spotted a newsrack that had not yet been monkeyed with by Gannett, and on impulse grabbed a hand dolly, hoisted the rack on it and wheeled the damn thing all the way down to Restaurant Row. There we were met by the new owners and bosses. That's Don Kendall, right, reviewing the troops as the event was blessed.
3/14/01 And then, within an hour of leaving, we were down to business in the largely empty newsroom while the two Star-Bulletin news racks that were in front of the News Building for nearly 40 years vanished.
3/15/01 Honolulu became a two-newspaper town today. Despite incredible obstacles, including a press that was still being assembled as the first issue rolled off, the new Star-Bulletin was on the streets in the morning. A number of subscribers, however, missed out on the first day. The Gannett Advertiser's coverage of the first effort was pretty desperate to paint a negative picture. Here's an example:

"The Star-Bulletin had hoped to get 33,000 copies to readers on O'ahu yesterday for its new morning edition, but delays allowed it to print and distribute only 31,000 yesterday, Black said."

The change included new looks for both the and the websites. The Advertiser site is very slow-loading, so go get get lunch while it's hogging your bandwidth.
In the evening I got drafted to be the press liaison in Kaneohe while the second day's paper was printed. It was later than we wanted, but earlier than the day before. When the big press finally got cranking like a locomotive and spitting out thousands of good-looking newspapers, David Black enthustiastically punched me in the arm in his glee. I've never seen any of those poker-up-the-ass Gannetoid execs having that kind of joy in their profession.
3/17/01 We're having some circulation problems, due, apparently, to an incomplete subscription list provided by Gannett. Gannett also didn't cough up any route information.

Adam A. "Bud" Smyser, 1920-2001
3/19/01 Bud Smyser passed away this morning at 4:25 a.m. Hawaii time. He apparently suffered a fall at home Saturday and lapsed into a coma. During emergency surgery, a clot formed in his brain and wiped out the higher functions. Bud was a long-time advocate of physician-assisted death with dignity, and his doctors and family agreed no heroic measures would be taken, in accordance with Bud's wishes.
By the greatest of ironies, his column for today's Star-Bulletin will be his last, and deals directly with the subject of passing on as a matter of choice. It's even headlined "A Better Way to Die."
Bud, 80, recently celebrated his 55th year at the newspaper, and typically did it by feeding all of us. A Navy officer in World War II, Bud was passing through Honolulu and was offered an immediate job by the legendary Riley Allen. He returned to Hawaii in 1946 and worked as a reporter, city editor, managing editor, editor-in-chief, editorial page editor and, as a contributing editor, offering insights into the state of the state via his "Hawaii's World" column.
Bud was also the most upbeat guy I've ever met in the newspaper business, and believed strongly in the newspaper's role as a community advocate. In addition to everything else, Bud contributed time and money to an incredible array of public interests. He had an amazing ability to cut right to the fundamentals of public service, to the heart of why we do what we do for our fellow citizens.
The picture above is as I first remember meeting Bud, back in the '60s, an energetic, smiley little guy who combined both compasion and intellect. I was working at the Radford High School newspaper, and he saw my work and went out of his way to give me a pep talk about going into journalism. You can't imagine the effect such professional kindness had on an impressionable teenager.
I loved this old guy. Bye, Bud.
3/20/01 I'm somewhat disracted this week by an ongoing 30th high-school reunion (Radford rules!) and by office construction that requires us to shift constantly. There don't seem to be enough phones. These are in-process problems, though, and are sure to be ironed out as the work flow gets on track. It's not like we had a real "transition" period. We had to hit the ground running, with the first edition coming off a press that was still being unpacked. It's a miracle there were as few problems as there were.
3/21/01 Just as an experiment, every day for the last week I stop-watched the download from the and the web pages on a standard 28.8 modem. The Star-Bulletin averaged about 50 seconds, while the Gannett Advertiser web site took over two minutes. Sloppy coding, tsk tsk. And the site pulled in more than a million hits the first day under Black.
3/22/01 There are definite circulation problems, as evidenced by the high volume of phone calls both to the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser. Several hundred people are having trouble getting their paper. Many are old-time subscribers who for some reason were not on the lists provided by Gannett. But just a few days into the transition, and despite Gannett's efforts, virtually everyone is getting their paper. The calls aren't all complaints, not by a long stretch. Most are from people trying to subscribe for the first time, or -- and this is interesting -- calling to complain about the "free" Gannett Advertiser PM editions being delivered. Here's a hard fact: A week ago, under Gannett, we were selling 57,000 papers a day and slipping. In the last week, under Black, it has risen to 71,000 and is still climbing. At least we're not at the San Francisco level, where the Examiner is having dog crap jammed into their newsracks. The Chicago Tribune also had a tough week on the telephone switchboards, as they unveiled a redesigned paper for the first time in 20 years. More than a third of the Trib's complaints were about the new body-copy typeface, when it hadn't changed at all. Point is, even the perception of altering the product can rile the readers.
3/23/01 In setting up my desk, I have a phone number (808-529-4779) and an email address finally, And for the first time, I wore my Star-Bulletin Christmas present, a black polo shirt with the company name embroidered on it. I'd sort of avoided it for the last week, under the circumstances. The shirts were purchased for the staff last November, but then Rupert Phillips and Rupert's ambassador-of-ill-will Al Portner decided that the staff Christmas presents belonged to Rupert. The day before transition, probably upon discovery that most of the shirts wouldn't fit the portly Rupert, the gifts were grudgingly given out to the staff, and the spares shipped to Rupert. This was incredibly petty and vindictive, but completely in character. Portner showed up in the new offices since, probably looking for more knickknacks to loot for his master. That's Nancy, at left, in The Mystery Shirt.
3/24/01 The previous night and the a good part of today were spent playing music, but the evening was devoted to a memorial party and wake for Bud Smyser, which was about as emotionally difficult as you could expect.
3/25/01 It just hasn't become Sunday any more without a Gannett executive delivering a reeking load in the Sunday paper. This time, Gannett publisher Mike Fisch, left, used the last solo Sunday paper in Honolulu in a desperate attack on Black. Fisch has lied to the public before. "But I find myself needing to stand up and set the record straight because the reputations of our nearly 900 loyal and dedicated employees are being assaulted," insisted Fisch. Some of these are the same employees Gannett scheduled to lay off if they had succeeded in making Honolulu a newspaper monopoly. We'll see if they still have that many employees down the line.
His points were three-fold:
Black's complaints about incomplete subscription lists aren't true. Fisch goes on to make the repeated point that the transaction was supervised by a federal judge, and that Black had four months to prepare for the responsibility. But then he says that the first round of subscription lists were delivered Feb. 21 and the second on March 14, the DAY before transition. "We fulfilled our contractual responsibility," Fisch dissembled. He didn't reveal that Gannett fought this every step of the way, and that it was as a condition of the settlement to cough up even this much. If even one name is missing from the list -- and there seem to be hundreds -- then Fisch isn't being honest with the public or the feds.

Black used his business wiles to try and get a better deal for newsprint and didn't want Gannett to control his printing cycles.
Well, duh.

Black claims that Gannett doesn't want a competitive newspaper environment in Hawaii.
This deserves a ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa! Woody Woodpecker laugh. But then Fisch wrote something that's absolutely true. He said that it was Gannett's own idea to spend millions of dollars unnecessarily and give up a near monopoly on the Hawaii market and have that dominance slide to a lesser market share and also Gannett prefers to lose millions of dollars in ad revenue, just for the heady excitement of level-field competition. Let's make the point another way, in red type so no one misses the big picture:
Everything that has occurred in Honolulu's newspaper market since 1992 is a result of Gannett scrambling to avoid having their business practices made public. Gannett corporate policy has always been to ruthlessly dominate non-competitive markets by any means necessary.
In other words, Gannett would rather lose Honolulu's lucrative market and flush millions down the toilet than let the Justice Department's anti-trust division put them under oath. "We believe in competing in a dignified, professional manner," high-roads Fisch, "not rolling around in the mud." My ass, pal.

It's beginning to look like a newsroom.
3/27/01 The dozen or so Gannett "volunteers" from other corporate papers, brought in to flesh out the Advertiser staff, are beginning to disappear. Their company simply wasn't taking care of them. Requests went 'round the Gannett Advertiser newsroom to provide these folks with basic amenities like blankets, toothpaste and soap, as if they were Balkan refugees.
3/28/01 True to form, Gannett bought the PMP community publishing company, which prints three free community newspapers and a variety of trade journals. Gannett's strategy in these acquisitions so far has been to pledge initial support for the product, and then eventually fire everyone and kill the papers, creating a competition-free zone for the Gannett product.
NEXT! April 2001
Over The Top

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