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March 2002

The Year of
Sustained Casualties
Shifting the Deck Chairs

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

3/2/02 Hey, one of our copy editors is listed on Parade Magazine's "What People Earn" annual feature. Alas, the salary level was listed prior to the voluntary wage cuts to get us through the 9-1-1 off-season. And subtract the "Hawaii differential" of about 30 percent....sigh...

3/2/02 Editor & Publisher is reporting that Gannett and Internet linker WaveShift are coming to terms on an agreement for the coporate giant to use WS' fancy email-news service. I don't know how newsy this is -- since Gannett is one of WaveShift's owners, I can't imagine there will be a lot of haggling over terms -- but it does show that Gannett is finally getting serious about the internet.

3/3/02 Is it my imagination, but was this day's Sunday Star-Bulletin the biggest yet? It was not only chock full of news, it had plenty of advertising inserts, some of which were showing up for the first time.

3/5/02 You can rely on that ol' devil's advocate Ian Lind to take a potshot at us now and then, and we certainly deserve it more often than not. One of his current entries takes issue with the obvious bias in Pacific Business News' reporting and editing -- EXCEPT for their continual sniping at the Star-Bulletin's chances for success. I guess the kettle is only part-black, huh? A current PBN story by Debbie Sokei takes a snapshot of ad lineage during periods PBN chose, using criteria that PBN invented, questioning Star-Bulletin claims while accepting those of the Gannett Advertiser, and then -- then! -- they discover there's a few percentage points difference between the two weeks. Oh, horrors! It's impossible to get an accurate snapshot of a moving target. If, for example, they had chosen the week in February that our hugely successful Bidding Advantage campaign peaked, the numbers would have been much different -- just as misleading, but different -- but then that would not have suited their agenda. Even so, they grudgingly state we already have a solid third of the local market, and they do not claim that we are losing money. Any apparent bias from PBN reporter Debbie Sokei -- a former Star-Bulletin clerk who was not granted a full-time job with us -- or from PBN publisher Larry Fuller -- former Advertiser publisher and long-term Gannett executive -- should be obvious, and copped to by people who should know better.

Nora Okja Keller
Famous Author

(Click me!)
3/5/02 Welcome aboard -- actually, back aboard -- to Nora Okja Keller, who began writing the "Small Moments" column for us this week. Nora is a smart, funny delightful woman, but none of that matters. She's a heck of a writer. Her first novel "Comfort Woman" was critically acclaimed, and another novel is due momentarily. More to the point, Nora is family. She began her professional career as a Star-Bulletin clerk and has worked for us off and on over the years. We're happy to have her back.

3/10/02 There was a nice party on the Lanikai beach to say aloha to Don Moores, our advertising sales maximum leader. Moores has been promoted big-time and is back off to Canada to run one of Black's biggest paper chains. Moores wasn't supposed to be here anyway. He was part of the transition team last year, but had so much fun butting heads with the competition that he stayed on board for the whole year.

3/11/02 Now that the economy is rebounding -- supposedly -- will those newspapers that chopped so many heads re-hire and get back their quality? Not according to Editor & Publisher. Firing talent to boost the bottom line in hard times just means a fatter bottom line in better times, despite any credability damage a weakened product may suffer.

3/13/02 This and that:

This is the gigantic Honolulu Media League basketball trophy, getting smacked by Features editor Nadine Kam. Team leader Little Ricky Daysog refusedto be photographed with the hard-won award because of the disfiguring facial damage he suffered on the court. The Star-Bulletin beat out every other media team on Oahu. The Gannett Advertiser didn't field one, those wussies.

Debra Barayuga had a girl! Baby Joie Nicole Kalehua Agoo is nine and three-quarter pounds, 21 inches.

David and Annabeth Black are in town to check up on us, and this day held a staff meeting in the newsroom. This was private business, so you're not about to read the details here. This is sure to disappoint those thinly disguised Gannett jerkoffs who send us daily emails demading that Ian Lind and I -- if we were "real journalists" -- reveal confidential information about the Star-Bulletin's business strategy and profit/loss figures. I think not.

3/14/02 What a long, strange trip it's been

Has it been 12 months already? A year ago on this date, we were saying tearful goodbyes to the people we love who were staying behind under Gannett, grabbing our few things and marching down the street to our new offices, where we operated off cardboard boxes and sat on the floor -- and put out a daily newspaper on untried presses, with jury-rigged equipment, balky telephones and cranky computers, with a ground-up distribution system, with the added weight of Gannett sabotage of our circulation network. They call newspapers the "daily miracle," and it was certainly true that day. No other major daily in American journalism history has had to scramble so quickly, against such a ruthles and implacable foe, and succeed right out of the gate. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin was saved by the Hawaii Newspaper Guild and private citizens who didn't want a cheap, corporate-dominated news industry in Honolulu. The Star-Bulletin members of the Guild have had to endure unbelievable pressure and daily uncertainty for nearly three years now, and it's not over yet, not by any means. But killing newspapers in exchange for payoffs rubs us the wrong way, both as journalists and and believers in democracy. When there's that kind of venal nastiness afoot, what else can you do? Fix bayonets, grit your teeth and go over the top. We've had lots of casualties. Since David Black took over last year, we've taken everything the world's largest newspaper company can throw at us, plus the extra hit of the 9-1-1 assault, and we're still here. That's the bottom line. WE'RE STILL HERE. Despite it all, externally and internally, despite additional sacrifice on the part of the newsroom and -- after 9-1-1 -- sacrifice on the part of new employees brought on board by Black. It ain't easy, and it ain't over 'til it's over, and it never will be. The opposing forces have different goals and strategy -- Gannett wants to wipe out all competition completely, by any means possible, and then stick the knife into their customers. To prevail, all the Star-Bulletin has to do is stay alive, to co-exist peaceably in our market niche. And so, given the alternative, how can we not fight this fight against the tyranny of deliberate ignorance and corporate hubris? The foundation of democracy, an informed and educated electorate, rides on it. See ya in the barbed wire, G-men!

3/15/02 Our new Editorial Page Editor

Mary Poole, previously our Assistant Editorial Director, is our new ED, replacing Dick Halloran. Actually. she's the new Editorial Page Editor, or EPE, as the ED job went poof with Halloran. Copy editor Nancy Christenson McNamee becomes AED, er, AEPE. OK?

3/16/02 The other anniversary celebration

The Advertiser PM edition also celebrated it's one-year anniversary, and the staff had a little potluck and specially printed T-shirts to whoop it up. An amazing success story. The Advertiser PM edition went from zero circulation to tens of thousands overnight, and surely must be the world's largest free home-delivery daily, a public-charity move on Gannett's part. Their next goal, I guess, is to get people to actually request the paper and then maybe even pay for it.

3/17/02 Viva Las Vegas!

The Gannett Advertiser has teamed up with the state government (is that a good idea?) and is spending big bucks to promote Hawaii products at an expo in Las Vegas -- often called the "Ninth Island" because so many Hawaii residents either move there or gamble away their life savings there. Several dozen Hawaii companies will display their wares at the expo. I wonder if the Star-Bulletin can get a table? Why not?

3/18/02 So much for serving the public's need to know

I'm biting the bullet and having Roadrunner installed at home so I can join the groovy world of high-speed access. Maybe now the Gannett Advertiser web site will load at a reasonable pace. By the way, don't count on the Gannett site to do any reading -- they only keep stories online for two months, whereas the site goes back to the very first online edition, six years ago this week.

3/19/02 And our new Production Editor

Curt Brandao is becoming our Production Editor, a newly created position. All of our problems are solved!

Bob Rees
Smug Gadfly

3/20/02 Rees' pieces

We keep hearing persistant rumors that Honolulu Weekly columnist Bob Rees is in negotiations to write regularly for the Gannett Advertiser. Rees, a smug, overbearing gadfly who never heard a watercooler rumor he could resist repeating, would join alongside Dave Shapiro, who once called Rees a "trained attack monkey" in print, which sent Rees hurtling into a two-year snit. Strange bedfellows! But Rees is a former advertising executive who believes everything is for sale, and so he would be right at home over there. Let's hope he gets the gig.

Mike Fisch
Gannett publisher

(Click me!)

3/21/02 What a difference a year makes?

"We welcome and have enjoyed the competitive nature of The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin for many years. The new competitive environment is both exciting and exhilarating from a news-gathering standpoint and a commercial standpoint.... We believe in competing in a dignified, professional manner, not rolling around in the mud."
Michael Fisch, Mar. 25, 2001

"Police are investigating the theft of newspapers from two street vendors yesterday. The vendors, both minors, were selling copies of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser when a manager from the Advertiser informed them they could not sell both newspapers and confiscated their copies of the Star-Bulletin. A police report was filed accusing an Advertiser manager of fourth-degree theft."
Police news report, April 2, 2001

3/22/02 Gearing up for the spring offensive

Both newspapers have been surveying their own readers for demographic purposes, and unsurprisingly -- given the competitive climate that demands a quality product -- reader satisfaction is fairly high with both products. Given that the June deadline is approaching for the end of the Gannett Advertiser's Guild contract, and that more-accurate circulation numbers will be available about then for both newspapers, I expect that the Gannett ad-sales folks will soon be frantically beating the bushes, waving around the results of their in-house reader-satisfaction surveys, trying once again to lock local businesses into year-long contracts. Things have been quiet up the street. Too quiet, as they say in the movies. Time to put helmets back on and fix bayonets.

Doug McCorkindale
Gannett CEO

(Click me!)

3/27/02 Gannett is, like, totally rakin' in the dough

From the Radio Business Report Website, we discover that Gannett is still fat and happy, unlike other businesses in the country suffering from the afthermath of the 9-1-1 assault. In a message to shareholders, Gannett Chairman and CEO Douglas McCorkindale says the company's profits in the first quarter of 2002 will actually increase nearly five percent over last year's.
"The worst is in the past" for Gannett's newspaper division and it is expected to grow this year. That's good news for Guild employees at the Gannett Advertiser -- the company can't plead poverty while it attempts to lay off staff.
The increase in profits is credited to the Big G's television division, having a swell quarter thanks to the Winter Olympics and election-year advertising.

3/28/02 Survey this!

There has been some discussion in the newsroom and elsewhere about when -- or if -- it's OK to spill business information when it happens to be OUR business.Journalists by nature, temperment and training aren't inclined to keep secrets. We ask a lot of questions, sure, but we also blab blab blab. Particularly when it's good news, like we received last week on a couple of reader and circulation surveys.
I'm reminded of the Great Star-Bulletin Survey of the mid-'80s, when we were still managed by Gannett. The Big G paid for this incredible, massive survey of readers and non-readers, and the staff was told the results of the survey would change everything we did. At last, we'd have a road map to reader desires! The new managers were determined to shake things up.
But then the survey was delivered, a massive thing the size of a phone book. The Gannett managers had a closed-door meeting to go over the results, and emerged with shocked expressions. We were told that the survey results were top secret and would remain so forever.
Not in OUR newsroom, pal. Within a few days we had a copy and discovered what had bewildered the bosses so: In every department and category, readers were perfectly happy with the Star-Bulletin as it was. There was nothing to improve except in one area -- readers had trouble actually getting the printed papers.
It was the one thing that could not be changed under the joint-operating agreement. But they instituted some editorial changes anyway, in order to justify the survey, even though doing so went counter to the survey's results. Guess what? Our circulation began to slide.

3/29/02 The Mother of All Rejection Slips

Forwarded from lovely U'i is this writer's rejection slip, translated from a Chinese economic journal.

"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."

3/30/02 So long, Lorna?

There's word that the Gannett Advertiser's capable and talented -- and genuinely nice -- editor Lorna Lim is decamping for the Chicago Tribune. Will she be replaced? Gannett is still recruiting for the paper, and having a tough time because job continuity is pretty iffy over there.

3/31/02 What a Year!

In response to advertisers wishing to place congratulatory ads in the paper on our survival despite everything, we published a special section patting ourselves on the back and thanking all those concerned citizens out there who demanded more than one editorial voice in their community. I'll say it again: Thank You.

NEXT! April 2002
Here Comes the Cavalry!

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