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May 2002

The Year of
Sustained Casualties
Damned Lies

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

5/1/02 Rollback is being rolled back

The Star-Bulletin's increased financial stability is showing up in our paychecks, starting this day. A portion of our wage cuts in the aftermath of the 9-1-1 attack have been restored.

5/2/02 Monkey see, monkey doo-doo

Earlier this week, Advertiser editor Saundra Keyes wrote a little public lecture on newspaper ethics that began "Like most newspapers, we take pains to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest ..." It''s always a good thing to make the process of journalism more transparent, to let the public know how and why we do things. Plus, Keyes needs to pimp the paper's damaged credibility.
Alas, while she was doing that, Gannett Advertiser sales reps were busy bombarding legislators with pitches to buy ads, using state-government computer equipment. This is a direct contradiction of the Gannett paper's previous editorial position. Rep. Joe Gomes -- brother of former Star-Bulletin reporter Lee Gomes -- even sent a note to Gannett complaining about the effort:

From: "Rep. Joe Gomes" <>
To: "'Zuehls, Glenn'" <>
Subject: RE: Honolulu Advertiser Political Campaign Opportunities
Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 12:23:31 -1000
Dear Mr. Zuehls:
As an elected official, I find it quite odd to receive through the legislative email system your solicitation, on behalf of the Honolulu Advertiser, to learn about the "many advertising options . . . to promote your candidacy."
Please correct me if I am wrong, but as I recall the Advertiser has long been concerned about the inappropriate use of government resources for clearly political reasons. Unless it has reversed this position, your unsolicited "opportunity" on behalf of the Advertiser is clearly inconsistent with that view.
Is it now the Advertiser's view that the use of state resources for purely political purposes is an acceptable practice? If so, then is it OK for me to use the legislative email system and state resources to "accept" your emailed offer and make the necessary arrangements (copy proofs, payments, etc.) for the purchase of a political advertisement?
I don't think so.
As to your offer, no thank you. As to your selected means of solicitation, I suggest you employ another.
Joe Gomes
State Representative Joe Gomes (R)

Zuehls is a Gannett sales rep. Maybe, of course, the Advertiser will soon run an editorial stating that it's still not OK to use government equipment for private purposes, unless that purpose is giving money to Gannett.

5/3/02 A-B-C, easy as 1-2-3

Thanks to what we perceive as unfair treatment by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, known in the newspaper biz as ABC, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin has hired an independent firm to handle our circulation calculations. Nobody is quite sure if this is good or bad, but it's certainly an interesting twist.

5/6/02 Lies, damned lies, statistics

It's not often you see a full-page advertisement that makes a reader cry out, "Bull-shit! Who do those mofos think they're jiving?" but that was the case with Gannett's response to our local-investment news. Complete with scary bar charts and a smug assertion that you can trust only Gannett numbers, they made the claim that the Advertiser is reaching nearly 300,000 readers while the Star-Bulletin has slipped to about 40,000. That's right, their readership doubled, while ours halved. The average person might think this means circulation, but no, these are "exclusive readers," people who take only one publication. That's right, one in four people in the state of Hawaii read ONLY the Advertiser, and nothing else. (Maybe the Advertiser is really printing only one paper, but it's passed along 300,000 times.) If this were true, we'd have been out of business long ago. If this were true, newspaper publishers from across the country would be flocking to Gannett to discover the secret of doubling readership overnight. If this were true, our folks upstairs would be trying to refute it instead of giggling at it. If you're going to lie, lie big. The source of such numbers? Not the Audit Bureau of Circulations, even though ABC was having Gannett and Black play by different rules. No, in microscopic type on the ad the source was revealed as one of those private survey firms who djinn up numbers, and if you like what they say, you buy them. Gannett bought them. The legal term is "deniability." Hey, Gannett, I've got a survey right here showing the Advertiser has millions of readers and the Star-Bulletin only has a dozen. Let's talk terms. Six figures, or I'm walking.

5/7/02 Goodbye to you

I get occasional harrassment emails from some scared little weasel in the Gannett Advertiser's ad-sales department (with enough detail to show that this skulker is a ex-MidWeek employee) using an assumed name. One of his favorite rants concerns what he calls Black's lies about end-of-the-year bonusses. Well! Bonusses were distributed yesterday, pal.

5/12/02 Aloha Scott

Due to a variety of family- and financial-related circumstances, feature writer Scott Vogel is moving on. Part of his aloha note to the staff read:

Everyone has a reason why they think the Star-Bulletin will succeed and eventually prevail in Honolulu. Some believe that Gannett will tire of losing its millions or that maybe its dirty tricks will backfire as a benighted public becomes wise to them. But I think the Bulletin will win because of the generosity and essential goodness of the people who put this paper to bed every day, especially as they do so while laboring under tremendous liabilities. Being able to claim the moral high ground is an asset that ought never be taken lightly.

Scott was a tremendous asset to the staff and will be missed.

Ken Berry

Gannett ad sales

5/13/02 Jag off, Jag on

Former MidWeek publisher Ken Berry -- who quietly padded his MidWeek expense account with a leased Jaguar and then abandoned the car when he sold out to Gannett -- is driving Jags again for Gannett. Are they paying for it while pleading poverty during union negotiations?

5/14/02 Taking on the G-men

Talk about an uphill battle! In rural Appleton, Wisconsin, a grouip of businessmen are starting a daily newspaper to compete directly with Gannett's local monopoly. Fox Valley businessman A. John Wiley and bank executive Steven N. Osterhaus intend to play up their local roots against the Gannett Post-Crescent's chain ownership.
Wiley says the area now has a newspaper that takes profits out of the community "while reducing what it is giving back," and also claimed the paper's annual subscription price was among the country's highest, that its advertising prices often froze out "the little guy," and that nearly half of its "local" reporting came as feedbags from other Gannett papers. Sounds familiar.

5/17/02 Mr. Zuehls' proper title revealed

In response to the item below that revealed the Gannett Advertiser's Glen Zuehls was soliciting government advertising by e-spamming legislators, this note was received:
Aloha, By now someone must have told you that Glen Zuehls is not an ad rep. He is an ugly ass, ass-lickin, full-a-shit Gannett sales manager. A gentleman like yourself shouldn't read these things ... but since you are a professional journalist and all ... hey, it is the truth.
Always good to clear these things up!

5/19/02 Every office needs a bomb dog

Some excitement over the weekend and Monday morning. On Sunday afternoon, a "homeless and crazy" man approached the Gannett Advertiser with a battered briefcase. Security guards -- there are many -- at the Advertiser demanded he open the briefcase, and when he did so, they spotted something that appeared to them to be a "bomb." A hoo-rah erupted, and the chap ran away with his briefcase. Police notified the Star-Bulletin in case he were to stop by our office, which he did Monday morning. Upon learning that the "bomber" was at the front desk, Star-Bulletion staff went forward to check him out instead of fleeing out the back the way they were instructed. Security was called, and the briefcase was discovered to contain cans of Play-Doh and a pair of broken headphones. This incident was a misunderstanding created by high tensions. On the other hand, some imbecile in a local public-relations firm mailed us a package with the wording CONTAINS EXPLOSIVE MATERIAL! written on it. The police bomb squad was not amused; nor were we.

5/20/02 What's that stuff that rolls downhill?

Gannett Advertiser publisher Mike Fisch circulated the scary memo below to his employees on this day. You certainly can't blame Gannett management -- or any management -- for trying to negotiate the best deal they can. That said, this note is a typically clumsy attempt to intimidate already-scared employees. I'll comment only that even Fisch admits the company is making money (just not enough!), that the "competitive market" is one entirely created and chosen by Gannett, and that when he says "we," he means "you." Gannett executives will continue to enjoy high salaries, free mortgages and perks such as company-provided Jaguars while the staff takes it in the gut.

TO: Advertiser employees
FROM: Mike Fisch
DATE: May 20, 2002
RE: Labor Negotiations
As you know, we are currently working to renegotiate our labor contracts. The current agreements expire June 9. We do not traditionally produce negotiation bulletins, but I feel it is important everyone understand the problem we must all face.
These negotiations are difficult because they focus on basic issues -- wages, benefits and work rules. We are asking for reductions in many key areas that affect all employees. As we have told the union negotiating teams, there are several key reasons:
* Hawaii suffered a severe economic downturn in the 1990's which continues to this day. As a result, companies have reduced their spending which then impacts our business. Local economists do not anticipate an improvement in the economy any time soon.
* The retail advertising environment has changed. Big box retailers and other retail chains are overtaking local retailers, some of whom were major clients of The Honolulu Advertiser (Gems, Liberty House, Holiday Mart).
* Competition for every "advertising dollar" has also increased. Advertisers are being courted by television, radio, internet and print media which provide lower pay scales than the Advertiser. As a result, advertising rates have fallen and will probably continue to fall.
* The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has received major concessions from the Newspaper Guild. The Star-Bulletin's other departments have no union contracts and far lower pay and benefits than we provide. Again, this puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.
Our compensatuion levels at the Advertiser have always been great. Our wages and benefits are, on average, about 30% higher than the market rates for similar jobs. This means our employees are paid far more than our competitors pay for similar work. We need to address this issue, as it is our principal cost. Our bargaining proposals still provide quality compensation and benefits compared to other Honolulu employers, but they do require reductions.
We have already taken many other steps to reduce costs and increase revenue by investing in new technology and new ventures such as Soon we will have to make another major investment to replace old presses and equipment, which date from 40 years ago. We simply have to spend this money to remain competitive. These investments add up to nearly $100 million dollars.
We have also trimmed management positions over the last year and reduced other expenses of all types. All of these efforts have been done in order to offset declining revenue and higher costs for wages and benefits. While we are still profitable, we have reached a critical point where we must lower our operating overhead further to remain competitive witrh other media which do not have our cost levels. This requires hard choices to roll back wages, modify benefits and achieve flexibility in work rules.
The management negotiating team has made numerous proposals to union representatives on various ways to address these difficult issues. We are serious about making substantive progress and achieving a fair and equitable solution. As Publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, it is difficult for me and other memebers of management to propose wage reductions, benefit modifications and other changes that affect our employees' standard of living. However, we simply have to do it.
We are Hawaii's newspaper, with 146 years of proud histyory. We have had good times and bad. I know working together we can achieve contracts that allow us to invest in the future and grow and prosper so we can achieve the needs of our readers, advertisers and employees.
It is our firm intention to complete negotiations in time to have contracts ratified by June 9 so that we can focus on a competitive environment in which we do business.
It is importatnt that our employees keep informed on and understand the issues being presented in negotiations. There will be a lot of negotiation activity between now and the end of the month as we try to come to agreement on our future. It is our desire that there be meaningful and realistic dialog leading to solutions to assist us in going forward together as a company. If you have any questions please feel free to see me or your department head.

John Jaske
Gannett Vice-President for Union-Busting

(Click me!)

5/21/02 Snakes biting their own tails

It's getting down to the wire for the Gannett Advertiser's union contract with their employees, whiuch expires June 9. In the past, when the contract ran out -- and it always did because Gannett deliberately dragged its feet -- the "evergreen" clause in the contract provided that work would continue until an agreement was reached. This time however, that creepy Gannett negotiator John Jaske is insisting that the Advertiser's employees make major concessions -- to the point of making lower salaries than Star-Bulletin employees -- and that June 9 is a drop-dead date. Probably explains why Gannett editor Saundra Keyes is stalking around muttering about "return on investment -- or else!" Jaske, whose usual trick is to set up negotiation meetings and then not show up -- last time, he had an emergency mansion renovation is progress -- appears to be deliberately pushing for a strike in order to have a union-free paper, the same tactic he used in Detroit that cost Gannett nearly a billion dollars in lost revenue.

5/23/02 Across the table

Negotiations are negotiations, after all, and both sides ask for the moon. There are some interesting wrinkles, however, in Gannett's demands on the Advertiser this session, beyond the the take-it-or-leave-it deadline of June 9. They want to add 13 managers (after claiming to have trimmed management positions during the last year; see the Fischnote below). Believing there is still parity, somehow, between the two newspapers, they want permanent wage and benefit rollbacks (ours were temporary, and are normalizing, BTW). Counting benefit cuts, these amount to between 13 and 15 percent for newsroom employees and six to eight percent for other positions (and zero percent for Gannett management). Most creative is the notion that journalists are "professionals" like doctors and lawyers (and Realtors?), and therefore cannot be paid overtime or have a maximum number of work hours a week. Hmmm. Doctors and lawyers can become associates and partners and get a piece of the company pie, right?

5/27/02 Good taste is in your mouth
From reader Kerri Rawlins comes this observation based on another reader's description of Gannett sales rep Glenn Zuehls on 5/17:
I understand that even though you may not have made that statement, for you to have printed it on a public forum was in very bad taste and shows the kind of morals you possess.
I understand Miss Rawlins' point. However ... I used the quote precisely because it was crude and to the point. It illustrates the kind of high feelings running in Honolulu these days. The gloves are off, lady.
And this site is not a public forum. Says so right at the top.

5/28/02 'Professional journalists' are like 'military intelligence'
Word come from the estimable Rich Somerville, former Star-Bulletin editor, and now a scholar and journalism-practices researcher at Northwestern University
I've enjoyed keeping track of the adventures at the S-B through your site. Keep up the good fight, and all the best to friends there.

It's interesting to read on your site that the 'Tiser is raising this old "journalists as professionals" issue in their contract negotiations ... This was the subject of a flurry of lawsuits in the early '90s to try to press the issue, the outcome of which was that while it was applicable in some cases, there were no clear tests, and the Fair Labor Standards Act was not changed.

Four your interest, perhaps, see these links: The first article is from CJR in 1992, outlining several pending cases. The second, from the Editors Only newsletter in 1996, discusses two contradictory rulings about newspaper reporters in 1994 and 1995. And the third, which came after an appeal ruling on the last pending case in 1996, contains a legal analysis done for the NAA about the status of the issue. In other words, the courts and the feds weren't buying the argument. I'm not aware that there

5/29/02 Walk in our shoes
Looks like Gannett is waffling on the June 9 Advertiser shut-down date. When it comes to losing income, Gannett will always blink first. In the meantime, staff up the street are fretting about their jobs and potential turbulence of a newspaper shutdown simply because the Big G is greedy. We've been there, man. Try feeling that way for two-and-a-half years.

5/30/02 Timely updates, ha ha ha
I'm trying a new method of updating this site, which will -- I hope! -- be more timely. In the meantime, I've been head-down on a major project.
NEXT! June 2002
School's Out, Forever

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