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May 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
Money Ill-Spent

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
5/4/01 Additional addendum to the cafe item below. When the gas bill for the cafe skyrocketed last year, Chris asked the Gannett landlords to look for leaks. They refused. This went on for months. He kept complaining and they finally checked, and they did discover a gas leak in the building. It was fixed within a few hours. Besides the notion that Gannett deliberately ignored an explosive safety issue (literally!) in their own workplace, they also want the cafe to pay for the higher gas bills, and are threatening to cover the bills with privately owned kitchen equipment auctioned off after the cafe closes.
5/7/01 While we're excited to finally get a sign by the front door, below, (all we had before was a note taped to the glass), the Gannett Advertiser commissioned this sculpture of a screaming paperboy for their lobby. Scary, yeah? It's made of shredded Advertisers. Gannett is so psyched about it they don't want pictures taken and there are security chains around it. (The Chain Gang?) Gannett also evicted their in-staff hula halau from the building; no room for them. Aloha also means goodbye!
5/11/01 There's this bizarre junk-mail thing called "Island Weekly" that's being shoved in our mailbox. Turns out it's the Gannett Advertiser's effort to compete with MidWeek. It's full of small ads, and the cover even proclaims it has INSERTS INSIDE! which turned out, this week, to be a KMart one-pager. This thing appears to be a way of hanging on tho the small advertisers who were hoodwinked into signing long-term contracts with Gannett promising full-market coverage.
5/12/01 More evidence of Gannett attempts at defrauding the government surface in a Curt Sanburn column in Honolulu Weekly, a give-away publication also targeted for extinction by Gannett. After entering into litigation with the City to have a fair shot at occupying City-owned newsracks in Waikiki, the Weekly agreed to participate in a lottery among competing publications. However, the Gannett Advertiser claimed to be be 11 different publications among 30 total entries. Once they won, Gannett discarded the pretense and filled the 11 slots with Advertisers. Well, duh.
5/13/01 At the two-month mark, our business columnist Erika Engel provided an overview of the battle for circulation, plus a look at the pure meanness employed by Gannett, which included threatening children. Even the Honolulu Weekly's Bobby Rees got into the act with an analysis that was -- for him -- pretty accurate.
5/13/01 I created another bright little continuing feature that looks like it will be a success. So what? That's what we do. The only question will be how long we wait before the Gannett Advertiser copies it. And they will. They copy everything else we do. They are absolutely shameless. I recall when one of their graphics editors in the Midwest won a Best-Of-Gannett award for Xeroxing the San Francisco Chronicle's movie-review ratings system. The good news is that even though they ape others, Gannett editors invaribly screw it up and make it lame.
5/14/01 Like the washing machine repairman, the loneliest job in town is the Gannett Advertiser "spy" who sits in his truck and notes down doings at the Oahu Publications press at the top of the hill in Kaneohe. The vehicle is registered to Larry Leanio of Kapolei, the 'Tiser's PM edition circulation manager.

And a few months after hiring cartoonist Daryl Cagle away from our sister publication MidWeek -- at an elevated salary -- the Gannett Advertiser fired him to cut newsroom costs. Now he can't work for either paper. Cagle's pre-'Tiser cartoons were right-on, another reason for Gannett to have him vanish. Hire-aways like Rod Ohira, former Star-Bulletin staffer, ought to be nervous as they approach the end of their Gannett probation.
5/20/01 The kids that are pitching Gannett Advertiser subscriptions door-to-door are being coached to say the money is for charity, such as their school or church groups. They're also told that part of the pitch is to claim that Star-Bulletin subscriptions are no good, because the paper is folding soon, ha-ho!
5/21/01 The Nashville Tennessean, where Gannett successfully pulled off the same monopoly hustle that fizzled in Honolulu, is posting profits of close to 40 percent, despite stagnant circulation and steadily declining newsroom quality.

David Black shows his sharky teeth.
5/22/01 Owner David Black is in town, doing the mystery-meeting thing with assorted suits. Word has filtered down that the Honolulu Star-Bulletin may already be in profit after two months of independence. Ad lineage grows daily, and this last Sunday paper was pretty beefy. When was the last time an afternoon daily in the United States gained circulation and reversed declining revenues? Not recently, I'll wager, probably not in 50 years. A recent National Post article on Black characterized him as a "nice guy who's a shark underneath." Good! That's just what we need.
5/23/01 I think my life will be divided into pre-"Pearl Harbor" movie and post-"Pearl Harbor" movie. We sure are covering it. David Swann's special graphic, released this week, is fab.
5/26/01 It's one thing to focus on Gannett as mean-spirited and cheap, but we shouldn't forget there are other outfits and individuals out there who aren't too honorable either.
Take Robert Ballard and National Geographic -- please!
Some years ago I wrote a book about the Japanese submarine attacks on Hawaii and the West Coast. "Advance Force - Pearl Harbor" became required reading at the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center, won awards, broke news when a computer-enhanced photograph in the book showed a submarine intruder in the harbor, and started appearing in the bibliography of serious books about the attack.

Ballard consults my book.
It will be reprinted soon by the prestigious Naval Institute Press, yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah.
To date, "Advance Force" is still the primary reference on that aspect of the attack, so I was interested in how National Geographic and Robert Ballard would interpret the events in their "Pearl Harbor" special airing Sunday night on NBC, because it's one of the few things I know anything about.
To my astonishment, I heard things I wrote or expressed falling from the lips of those in the show. And Ballard used the book in the show as a prop, pointing out things on the pages as coming "from experts." My book is almost always in his hands or perched behind his head.
Do they acknowledge their sources here? Nope. The impression given is that Ballard did all the research himself.
Last fall, National Geographic pressured the University of Hawai'i's undersea lab program to find the midget submarine and keep it secret until Ballard could arrive and take credit. Lab leader Alex Malahof said he declined the offer. He said Geographic also tried to get the university to loan them the use of lab personnel and their submarines for free, in exchange for the "prestige" of working with Ballard. The lab also declined that offer.
About that time, researchers from NatGeo bought a couple of books from me and demanded I supply them with free photographs. I directed them to the National Archives and never heard from them again. I hadn't thought of National Geographic as an el-cheapo outfit, but I guess they are.
Ballard and crew showed up in Hawaii and poked around in the same part of the ocean that had already been explored by the UH. They found nothing. If Ballard had checked with Malahof or other experts familiar with the subject, they wouldn't have wasted their time, or NatGeo's money.
What's the lesson here? Watch out for them East-Coast city slickers, I suppose. And while you can't copyright facts, it wouldn't hurt to extend a little professional courtesy while lifting someone else's scholarship to flesh out your show-biz production.
NEXT! June 2001
The First Casualties

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