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May 2000

The Year of
Stalemate and Sitzkrieg
The San Francisco Solution

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
5/1/00 The final legal challenge to the Examiner/Chronicle deal got underway in San Francisco. Almost immediately, the bombshell about editor Tim White sucking up to Mayor Willie Brown flashed across the country.
5/2/00 Gannett honcho John Curley, whose annual take-home is more than the Star-Bulletin's entire operating budget, announced he's retiring soon, likely before he can be subpoenaed in Honolulu. In the 1970s, Curley was the best man at Star-Bulletin publisher Arlene Lum's wedding, and later engineered her removal when thenewspaper was "sold" to Liberty. Taking his place would be Doug McCorkindale, a newspaper executive with no newsroom experience. McCorkindale, is, however, tight with the Dan Quayle newspaper-publishing family in Indiana.

John Curley
5/3/00 The courtroom shenanigans of newspaper executives in the San Francisco Examiner case are making it obvious why Gannett's legal team is frantically stalling in Honolulu. The battle over the papers' future also had citizens thinking about the impact the papers had on their lives.
5/4/00 The court settled on the newspaper brokers of Dirks, Van Essan and Murray of Santa Fe, N.M. to handle the forced sale of the Star-Bulletin. Buyers must submit by the end of the month, a ridiculously short time. They are also free to cut off the sale if there's no obvious interest in buying it, although who decides when to cut it off isn't clear. After all, in 1992, the newspaper's employees worked up a reasonable ESOP offer for the paper that was rejected by Gannett out of hand. But Liberty is free to sell off their share of the JOA, and Gannett -- according to the JOA agreement -- can't squawk too badly who it's sold to. Unless, of course, they and Liberty have a private agreement not to sell.
5/7/00 Newspaper executives are sweating bullets in the docket in San Francisco, as their testimony begins to smell more and more like an anti-trust conspiracy. This had serious implications -- and precedent -- for us in Honolulu, and gave the federal court here muscle to lean on Gannett.
5/8/00 Circulation pitches are getting weird, courtesy HNA. They're hurling everything at propping up Advertiser sales and giving lip service to their other client, the Star-Bulletin, in spite of the injunction.
5/10/00 Testimony in San Francisco sounded like a dry run for Gannett's pitch here -- having only one editorial vovice is GOOD FOR YOU.
5/11/00 Denver, home of the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, announced they are forming a Joint Operating Agreement just like the one falling apart in Honolulu. The are even calling the partnership Denver Newspaper Agency, or DNA. And appearing on the application on behalf of the Post publisher was anti-labor thug Alan Marx, who fouled up things so badly for the Hilo Herald-Tribune's owner.
5/15/00 There are several "interested" parties looking into purchasing the Star-Bulletin. I met privately with one of them, a local hui, and they're serious. Since Gannett was counting on there being little interest in the newspaper, their next move will be to poison the product as much as possible.
5/17/00 Susan Kreifels from our staff and David Montecino from the Advertiser staff both resigned.
5/20/00 Gannett Advertiser publisher and HNA president Mike Fisch posted a memo warning of impending layoffs and severance packages, a result of the proposal to sell the Star-Bulletin. The notices also went up at the Advertiser and the HNA sides as well, causing mucho heartburn over there. Our version of the letter was signed by Liberty publisher John Flanagan.
5/24/00 Liberty and Gannett have decoided to terminate their JOA agreement on Dec. 31 whether or not the newspaper was sold by then. A newsroom meeting revealed that this may work in our favor, as it allows an upset price for the paper, and no haggling. And here's an online ad for the product!
5/25/00 Gannett Advertiser editor Jim Gatti was putting his Hawaii Kai mansion up for sale. Maybe it was too hot in the kitchen?
5/26/00 As we looked into the process of forming a staff ESOP, Gannett's newspapers were given orders to run front-page advertisements. I guess their response to the Millenium was to go back to 1900.
5/28/00 Closing arguments in San Francisco by the newspapers' lawyers claim there is no ant-trust violation because the JOA there eliminated competition, and you can only collude in anti-trust if there is competition in the marketplace. As soon as your head stops spinning, not that thios argument was already made in Honolulu by Gannett and roundly tossed out of federal court.
5/29/00 It became known that Gannett's contempt for the public spills over to their own advertisers. A group of local business people were told by Mark Adkins, Gannett's VP of advertising at the Hawaii Newspaper Agency, that "I've told our people that we can't be bothered with people who only want to spend $300 to $400 a month. It's not worth it. If you can't afford it, you shouldn't be a player."
5/30/00 We have to keep ESOP preliminary planning sessions quiet, as they have to take place outside of the building, and a planner is being sought by the Guild. Since we were still Liberty employees, such planning had to take place "off the record." This didn't sit well with some employees who wanted to know everything NOW!
5/31/00 Gannett Advertiser editor Jim Kelly mounted the steps of the joint library and screamed, "Here's what we think of second place!" and flung the Advertiser's Hawaii Publishers Association awards in the trash. "I got nothin' but net" on the throw, Kelly smugly explained later. He's sore because they got skunked in the competition by us.
NEXT! June 2000
The ESOP Is No Fable

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