HonoluluNewsBlues March 2010 The Year ofReunification
A Tale Of Two Situations
Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
03/03/10 Money talks Rick Daysog, who formerly worked at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin before noisily defecting to the enemy, reported that a Toronto insurance firm is the moneybags behind Black's acquisition of the Honolulu Advertiser. I'm taking that as good news, because it isn't some flighty junk-bond investor. We're also hearing that Gannett needs a quick infusion of cash to avoid creditorship.
03/04/10 Giving up I'm covering a large event this evening, seeing many people I know, and almost all of them are congratulatory about the newspaper sale. They prefer the Star-Bulletin and are glad to see us "win." It's way too early to know that, however …
More bothersome is when a flack asks me "what's up with the Advertiser?" Say what? It turns out that when the Advertiser was invited to cover the event, the editor's response was "Why bother? Doesn't matter any more."
03/06/10 Guild slippage Ian Lind noted that the Newspaper Guild lost about a quarter of its Hawaii membership in the past few years. That was probably inevitable, given the layoffs and buyouts at both papers, and also because employees with manager status are now doing the work formerly performed by Guild members.
03/07/10 The party of no There was a Newspaper Guild meeting largely for Honolulu Advertiser employees anxious about their future. Whether anything can realistically be done is still up in the air, but it should be remembered that the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America almost single-handedly saved the Star-Bulletin until David Black was able to buy it.
The economic situation is not the same as it was a decade ago, however, and many Advertiser employees seem to be in a state of denial. One employee didn't do herself any favors when she said she might be working as a janitor in a couple of weeks. Hey, there are a lot of unemployed people out there who would love a janitor job. Some of them are ex-Star-Bulletin employees.
03/08/10 Kick 'em while they're down Interestingly, laid-off Gannett employees are not allowed to submit freelance stories to Gannett publications. Company policy. This appears to be spottily enforced, however. Will the same rule apply here?
03/10/10 The paper trail begins Honolulu Advertiser employees received official notices of termination from Gannett's stewardship, effective some time in April. A holding company will operate the paper until a consolidation can be made later this year. Ian Lind provides a pdf of the actual letter. We received several similar letters when Gannett was trying to close the Star-Bulletin, but in that case, Gannett was trying to scare us away instead of responding to a fait accompli.
03/11/10 The Newseau Riche How much did Gannett executives earn last year? The numbers should be available next week. In the meantime, ----.
03/14/10 Losing $50,000 a day, or losing one's mind According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's operators, the paper has been losing around $50,000 a day for the last decade. Ouch. No wonder we pay for our own parking!
Meanwhile, over at the Honolulu Advertiser, fundamentalist editor Mark Platte knocked out a bizarre column that insists that the Tiser isn't afraid to kick butt: "Will the editorial pages name names and call our elected leaders on the carpet, as The Advertiser has recently been doing ..." says Platte, naturally implying that the Star-Bulletin is the town's weak sister. The key word is "recently," it seems, as the Advertiser is about the only newspaper in the country that was afraid to endorse in the last presidential election, even though one of the candidates was born here. Or maybe some of the top people over there are birthers?
Platte also says the reason Black wishes to buy the Advertiser is because that's where the talent is. His take on the two organizations is that "one that is committed to continuing the quality that made us an industry leader (the Advertiser) or one that is looking to cut itself into profitability (the Star-Bulletin)."
Well, he's a Gannett guy through and through. And Gannett is all about the bottom line. Now hear this: Gannett makes money by killing newspapers, starting with any competition in a market, then by strangling their own product, and then by dumping their own product at a fire-sale price.
03/15/10 Get your newspaper company, right here! The advertisement putting the Honolulu Star-Bulletin up for sale began running today. Here, you can get your own copy at the .pdf link.
03/15/10 The Great Parody Whoever did this masterful take on the "Downfall" meme certainly knows what's going on. Did the Advertiser really get iPhones for the staff?
03/16/10 Down by two The Star-Bulletin news staff held a union meeting yesterday with Newspaper Guild rep Wayne Cahill. Many concerns were addressed, which I won't go into here. Except to say that Cahill said that in the last decade, while he's been a tough cookie and not exactly pro-union, David Black has never lied to the Guild or gone back on his word. As for Gannett, dudes, that's another story.
Without much warning, at least on our side, two Honolulu news people have jumped ship and signed on with the Punahou Club at the nascent Peer News. The Honolulu Advertiser has lost Treena Shapiro and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin has lost Katherine Nichols. Well, that's two jobs we don't have to worry about.
03/19/10 Out of the Woodwork The Honolulu Advertiser's Rick Daysog reports that at least three parties have expressed interest in purchasing the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. They do not include car dealer Mike McKenna, who feigned interest back in 1999 as well. The informational packets that have gone out to these unknown parties, according to Daysog, states that the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's paid circulation is "only" 37,000 a day, although he doesn't include street sales. The same packet provided to the Newspaper Guild is heavily redacted.
03/20/10 Layoffs expected on both sides On Friday, the staff of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin was issued a formal notice of potential layoffs should the newspaper be sold to a third party. The notice, dated March 19, is a legal 60-day notification due to the Dislocated Workers Act, which must be issued if a business sale might result in layoffs. Projecting forward 60 days, the notice predicts everything will settle into place on May 19. A Honolulu Advertiser story two days later intimates that Star-Bulletin layoffs are likely, not possible.
In the meantime, we're hearing about Honolulu Advertiser employees already papering the town, looking for work.
Also in the meantime, Honolulu wild card Peer News editor John Temple gave a talk at something called the NewsMorphosis Conference about their plans, which, judging by the content of his talk, will depend on "hosts" as community forum wranglers, and also dispense with the kind of daily reporting that provides a factual context for the bigger stories. Sounds like a lot of blue sky so far.
03/26/10 David Black: Facing future David Black gets an interesting profile in the Toronto Globe and Mail about his commonsensical approach to newspapering.
03/26/10 Is that an ad or are you unhappy to see me? Editor and Publisher's renewed online publication makes fun of Black's tiny ad offering the Star-Bulletin for sale.
03/28/10 Or maybe "Platte-itudes"? I don't usually agree with Advertiser editor Mark Platte, but his After Deadline column this day is on the mark -- hey, there's a column title for Platte! -- about how the erosion of newsgathering resources is threatening the concept of an informed electorate. Those who think part-time opinion-bloggers will take up the slack created by disappeared professional journalists haven't really thought the concept through. I mean you, Linda Lingle.
03/29/10 A second "editorial voice" that would be singular State senator Sam Slom and his buddy, conservative online-opinion writer Malia Zimmerman, express some interest in acquiring the Star-Bulletin. They intimate that they would focus on "investigative" journalism. It remains to be seen whether or not these investigations would be polemics, or even if they would stoop to the kind of daily recordation that would give their publication legitimacy. But it will all boil down to dollars. If they have a couple of million dollars a year to spend on a hobby, go for it!
03/31/10 Let's see those books All six unions represented at the Honolulu Advertiser met with company managers, seeking to restore all cut wages and benefits so that separation packages will be sweetened. Gannett convinced the unions last year that the company was running at a deficit, demanding wage and benefit concessions, which were supposed to be rolled back should the company return to profitability. Gannett has so far refused to divulge updated financials.