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HonoluluNewsBlues
November 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
More Casualties

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
11/7/01 Annoyingly, the company that provides the Star-Bulletin and other companies with email routing broke their computer or something, and the paper's email capabilities are down. A widget has to be ordered from the Mainland.
11/8/01 Debris from the 9-1-1 attacks continues to rain down across America, and today we got hit. Oahu Pulications, our parent company, announced both layoffs -- 17 so far -- and wage cuts, which are supposed to be temporary. The cuts affect all the top pay scales, from the publisher on down. Publisher Don Kendall remarked on the equinimity with which the newsroom took the news, that we seemed remarkably tough and resilient. Well, we've had these meetings before! It's a rocky road to recovery. In an interesting inversion of values, TV news covered our 17 layoffs in dramatic fashion, while ignoring the news that United Airlines was laying off 171 Hawaii employees at the same moment. Something like 25,000 Hawaii citizens have been laid off since 9-1-1. And there was certainly dancing in the Gannett board rooms up the street at our misfortune, with public statements by Gannett Advertiser executives smugly asserting that they planned no layoffs. With a no-layoffs clause in the union contract they rushed through a year ago -- and still haven't signed -- that would be tough. When the contract expires in June, expect a bloodbath.
11/9/01 In case you missed them first time around, here are links to a couple of columns by Nevada labor writer Andrew Barbano, concerning Gannett's nastiness in the Detroit strike -- a telling detail; Gannett's t-shirts reading "International Brotherhood of Replacement Workers" and "I'm not a scab, I'm a scar, and scars are permanent" -- and the Gannett Reno Gazette-Journal's shameless sucking-up to casino operatives and mob "families."
11/11/01 I bought a Sunday Star-Bulletin from a girl working the left side of the highway, and asked her why she wasn't on the right, where it was there was easier and safer to access to cars. She said the Gannett Advertiser street hawker had informed her that the Advertiser had exclusive rights to the left side of Hawaii's highways. Pretty good deal! Sure enough, the Gannett hawker had spread bundles of papers up and down the road and sat there glaring at us.
11/12/01 Thanks to a heads-up from Green Bay Ray of the News-Chronicle, here's a link to the first of a four-part series by Richard "Chain Gang" McCord on how Gannett has defrauded the US government into allowing anti-trust issues to blossom in two-newspaper towns. The first part deals with the sweet deal Gannett created for itself in Nashville. Ray also notes that Gannett's Green Bay Press-Gazette writer Tom Murphy has moved his popular business column to Ray's News-Chronicle. Murphy was squeezed into retirement by demographic-mad Gannett managers. One of the problems with creating newspaper monopolies is that the remaining paper doesn't have to compete for experience and talent. Why run "Calvin and Hobbes" when you can get "Garfield" cheaper?
11/13/01 Wow! Green Bay headlined this part of McCord's series Honolulu's courageous Star-Bulletin thwarts predatory Gannett. Cool. McCord does a nice package summary here. It's about time he got started writing Son of Chain Gang. Call it "The Empire Strikes Back."
11/13/01 Suddenly, there we are on CNN, the Star-Bulletin's layoff plans featured on national television. How bizarre! With companies around the country laying off tens of thousands of workers, how do our 17 discharged employees rate such coverage? It makes sense, though, when you realize that CNN's feeder station in Hawaii is KHNL, which has a business and promotional arrangement with the Gannett Advertiser. It's disturbing that KHNL is determining news value based on Gannett's financial self-interest.
11/14/01 McCord's series continues with America's other "newspaper war" in Denver: It ended last year with both papers in a hastily approved Joint Operating Agreement, and subscription rates going up 2,000 percent. That's not a typo! "These guys are bullies and are playing hardball," one advertiser said upon filing a lawsuit to scuttle the JOA. "They tell one lie after another." Although Gannett had an even cushier arrangement in Honolulu, instead they conspired to create a monopoly, and then panicked when it blew up in their face, agreeing to sell the Star-Bulletin rather than have the government look at their business practices.
11/15/01 And the last part of McCord's series goes back to Green Bay, where the Gannett competition hugely undercuts legal-ad rates in order to sew up the market.
11/16/01 An extraordinary day. The Star-Bulletin's newsroom Guild employees voted 70-0 to take deeper pay cuts so that no staff would be laid off. It's for a limited time period, and the Guild's auditor had access to financial records. This sort of realistic and helpful cooperation between newspaper management and the Newspaper Guild would never happen up the street at the Gannett Advertiser, and a primary reason we're still alive. It was the Newspaper Guild, after all, that saved the Star-Bulletin two years ago this month when union lawyers went to court.
11/17/01 I really can't recommend you go there, because the online Gannett Advertiser is the world's slowest-loading web site, but it cracks me up that their standing banner ad says "The Honolulu Advertiser -- SUBSCRIBE NOW!" ... Who is this being pitched at? An online reader is unlikely, at best, to pay for something they're getting for free, and the 'Tiser's balky, annoying site certainly isn't going to impress anyone into buying the paper version.
11/20/01 Star-Bulletin reporter Gordon Pang shared this conversation with University of Hawaii Journalism Prof. Bev Keever:
"Bev said she was very moved and awed that our union members would even be proposing the step of accepting deeper cuts in exchange for saving the jobs of all colleagues.
"She said it was unprecedented for a group of our size and that its approval would send a message to both newsrooms around the country and companies of all sorts around the state that people are willing to make sacrifices.
"She also said she expects us to make it in the long run."
11/26/01 Editor and Publisher did a brief story noting that we are still alive, which, I guess, is news. Here's a telling quote. "As time has gone on, it's clear the newspaper is not attracting the advertising I think [Black] hoped it would," said Mike Middlesworth, a Hilo Island-based newspaper consultant who worked for Black early in the sale process. "My feeling is, in the long run, the Bulletin is not going to succeed." Middlesworth did work for us early on, but was fired. I don't suppose that would color his opinions. And where's Hilo Island?
NEXT! December 2001
Bouncing Berry

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