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September 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
Cashing In on Terror

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame
9/3/01 The Honolulu Star-Bulletin invented something more than a half-century ago, an annual special edition that celebrated the changes in the territory and state, a kind of yearbook called the "Progress Edition." The news contained in it was more reflective and analytic, and it became a nifty advertising vehicle as well. The concept was bastadized under Gannett management and became a joke. The first edition of the new Star-Bulletin's capabilities, called Keiki to Kupuna -- and invariably called the Progree Edition by the staff -- came out this Sunday and is a handsome reminder of what the medium is capable of. It's also full of ads. We made money this Sunday! It's also well-printed, something the Gannett paper cannot approach.
9/5/01 Island Business magazine, the soon-to-be-doomed publication helmed by former Star-Bulletin business writer Peter Wagner, is devoted it's last two issues to the Newspaper War. The first story, written by Mike Markrich, sets great store on two points:
* An upcoming Audit Bureau of Circulations report on distribution figures will be an important weapon in convincing advertisers where to spend their money. However, the next ABC audit will cover the period only up through March, BEFORE the papers split apart, and during a period when the Gannett Advertiser -- in violation of the Joint Operating Agreement -- was doing everything in its power to poison the Star-Bulletin's distribution, from near-daily press slow-downs to refusing to deliver the paper in some districts. So the Star-Bulletin figures will certainly be down. By the same token, when accurate post-separation figures are available next year, it will look like our circulation gains are even more impressive.
* The Gannett Advertiser's decision not to lower ad rates is treated as a smart move, forcing advertisers to choose rather than buy in both. Not mentioned, however, was that the Gannett ad-sales reps have been offering advertisers package deals that effectively reduce their rates so much that the Gannett paper won't show a profit for this year, and they began locking advertisers into long-term contracts at least six months before the papers separated.

9/11/01 Thanks to quick-witted -- and apparently sleep-deprived -- Star-Bulletin wire editor Nancy Christenson McNamee, who rousted editors out of bed in the middle of the night, the Star-Bulletin's "Day of Terror" street-sale edition of the incredible World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks was in Honolulu readers' hands nearly three hours before the Gannett Advertiser version came off the press.
9/12/01 You can always count on Gannett to cash in on the silver lining in every cloud. The following is a copy of an internal memo to the ad-sales staff at the Gannett Advertiser, reproduced here exactly as received. Judging by the grammar, it may be a draft version, but you get the idea:
Good morning:

In the aftermath of yesterday's attack on America it's important to be sensitive to all customers and co-workers alike. With the "hard selling" be taken off the streets for a few days it would be highly beneficial to utilize your office time doing something you never seem to have time to do.

We'd like you to send out at least 10 thank you notes to the customers you value most, hand written and signed. Your advertiser will welcome these notes and you too may find some therapy in participating in this exercise.

When completed, please pass them on to your direct supervisor PLEASE HAVE THEM COMPLETED BY FRIDAY. For those of you that are at a loss of words, below are a few suggestions as to how you might start your note or even end it. All notes don't have to be terribly different in text or uniquely original, many may say the same words of appreciation with not much more than a name change. The point more than anything else is to reflect on your relationship with your customer, the situation at hand and open your hearts with words of sincere thanks. (If your spelling is less than college level, don't hesitate to spell check yourself. Draft it on the computer first and then hand write it. (I do it and am grateful I've done so every time I check.)


In a time of crisis, it's important to reflect on what's important in life and I thought a note of appreciation for your friendship and business would be in order. Typically, in our race to meet deadlines, we inadvertently fail to really thank those who make our careers so rewarding. Above and beyond your business, you make my day more often than you'll ever know. May god continue to bless you, your family, your staff and our country


Dear XXXXXxxx

In the aftermath and shock of the terrorist attack on America, I couldn't help but reflect on those who are really important in my life -- family, friends and valued customers. You fit the bill for two of the three and in many respects certainly qualify as a calabash family member. This note is nothing more than thanking you for your friendship and the significant role you play in making my career so worthwhile. May god continue to bless you, your family, your staff and our great nation.

9/13/01 Since we broke the news Wednesday morning about Gannett attempts to cash in on the World Trade Center assault, below, it was picked up both by Ian Lind's site and the Poynter MediaNews site. Actually, MediaNews knew about it Wednesday as well but didn't realize the damning significance of the memo, and Ian, who has a better fax machine, actually ran a picture of the memo.
After queries from Mainland reporters, the Gannett Advertiser's Mike Fisch decided to suspend the note-writing campaign, but not until Associated Press moved a story -- crediting us! -- for bringing it to folks attention. Fact is, Gannett didn't suspend the campaign because of its callow, sleazy nature, they did so because they were caught at it. Gannett manager Dennis Francis blamed online sites like this one for making them look bad, but he and Fisch are just scuttling away from the flashlight.
9/14/01 The Gannett Advertiser is hoovering up every small publication in the islands in their desperate efforts to maintain market share. Their latest acquisition is the classified-ads giveaway Pennysaver, known for its sex ads. The tiny paper was printed on our press, now it'll be printed on theirs. Well, ouch! There goes a couple of hundred dollars.

9/14/01 Here come the office TV cameras, being hard-wired into place courtesy partner KITV-4. I didn't catch this tech's name. This thing is right next to my desk. I have no idea when or if we'll be doing and TV stuff, in the meantime the camera has a monitor on it so that you feel like you're in the TV department at Sears every time you pass the lens. And more scuttlebutt on why the Gannett Advertiser divorced KHON -- apparently Gannett demands for free publicity were too high.

9/14/01 Star-Bulletin staffers from each department paused in the evening to light candles in remembrance of those lost in New York and Washington. That's Dangerboy from Sports, Nancy from the copy desk, Dick from OpEd, Steph from Business and Mary from OpEd.
9/15/01 We're not supposed to be here. Today is the two-year anniversary of the day when Rupert Phillips delivered the news that he wasn't making enough money, and that the Star-Bulletin, after 118 years, was going to be killed. He then admitted that the newspaper was profitable and that he was being paid by Gannett, his long-term silent partner, to scuttle his own product. The fight that followed, led by Hawaii's citizens and the Newspaper Guild, made journalism history, preserved an informed electorate in Honolulu and allowed David Black -- who's actually interested in newspapers -- to buy us.
Yesterday was also the six-month anniversary of our severance from Gannett's corporate business practices, and in that time our circulation and financial stability have grown steadily. We had a brief meeting to mark to occasion in the newsroom, above, and the most applause erupted when we learned that we had managed to distrubute newspapers on the neighbor islands during this incredible news week, while the Gannett Advertiser decided to skip these readers. We're not only taking the high ground, we're staking it out! Come and get us, G-men!
9/16/01 Aw heck, while I'm on this cross-linking jag, I've started another (and now for something completely different!) web site about a subject dear to my heart, Army Baseball. If anyone's got any info about this -- admittedly! -- narrowly focussed subject, send 'em on.
9/16/01 Andy Lyon's swell "angry journalist" site at picked up our item about the sleazy "sympathy card" scam Gannett Pacific tried to pull last week and is featuring it. Their take:
The Kitchen staff finds this extremely distasteful, not to mention shoddy and just cheap. Gannett head honcho, Doug McCorkindale should stop counting all his cash long enough to apologize. While we aren't sure, it looks vague enough to have been sent out industry-wide. If you're bold enough, check to see if your paper is involved in something like this and tell them how offensive you think it is.
Here's their go-to logo:

They also cross-linked to this site -- "We like the way you stare down the ogre!" -- and provided a capsule review of this site that says, partly:
Not since Captain Cook has an outsider caused so much trouble on the islands ... it's a great mixture of information and commentary and Burl isn't shy about letting you know what side he's on.
All righty, then. Also made us get off our lazy duffs and create a couple to go-to logos in the slim chance that anyone else out there wants to cross-link. Here ya go:
9/16/01 The little get-together at Murphy's to mark our second miracle-anniversary of survival was pleasant and, naturally, became a fund-raiser for Red Cross in New York. We raised more than a thousand dollars, thanks also to Save Our Star-Bulletin's disposal of our remaining defense fund. That's John Flanagan and Mary Adamski, left, and Linda Hosek and George F. Lee, right. The water jug filled with money is surmounted by a real New York fireman's hat, scarred and battered, courtesy Steph Kendrick's husband's father, who served in the FDNY.
9/17/01 From such little acorns of clues, mighty oaks of perfidy grow.
Gannett Pacific is currently refusing to sign contracts with the Newspaper Guild, insisting that such contracts are between the Honolulu Advertiser and the Guild, not with them. (Never mind that Gannett spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on goombas to represent them in such negotiations.) And the contrat, offfered in a breathless fashion last December, runs out next June. Clock's ticking.
Gannett spent a pile of shareholder dollars remodeling the News Building, creating an incredible amount of excess space.
To compete with the spin-off Honolulu Star-Bulletin (which was Gannett's choice, mind you: they could still be minting money with a JOA) Gannett Pacific -- sorry, the Honolulu Advertiser -- created an afternoon edition that is hemorrhaging resources and has no chance of success. Again, this was Gannett's choice.
Gannett flew in scads of non-union workers on a "temporary" basis earlier this year, working them alongside the "permanent" staff. Think of it as a dry run, a proof-of-concept experiment.
Gannett is anti-democracy and anti-union, to the point of taking tremendous financial hits in order to dominate markets and remove the notion of choice from consumers. An example, Gannett exec Mike Fisch's desperate lies regarding union issues (love linking to outright official falsehoods printed as fact in the Advertiser!).
plus OBSERVATION plus CLUE plus OPPORTUNITY plus MOTIVE equals SINISTER PLOT -- Well, duh. Try on this scenario: Gannett succeeds in creating a union contract wholly between the Newspaper Guild and the Honolulu Advertiser. Gannett then creates another, non-union, morning newspaper -- let's call it the Hawaii Advertiser -- and the Gannett Honolulu Advertiser becomes the failing afternoon paper, staffed solely by Guild members. Gannett might even find another two-bit bagman like Rupert Phillips to "buy" the afternoon paper. The two papers share space in the expanded news building. The union paper understandably fails under Gannett's faux stewardship. The Honolulu Advertiser vanishes, all union members and Advertiser workers are fired, and Gannett still owns the dominant morning paper in Honolulu, except that no one can afford to work there with take-it-or-leave-it wages and benefits. All of the people who have served the Honolulu Advertiser honorably and well are out on the street.
AW, C'MON --
Gannett wouldn't pull anything that arrogant, thuggish and underhanded, would they? And if you believe that, you've forgotten recent Honolulu newspaper history. Start reading Something Smells, below; and keeep going. You'll be quizzed later.
9/18/01 Oops, they did it again. There's a natural progression of things, it seems. You'll see it first in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and then you'll see it stolen in the Gannett Advertiser. The latest is the American flag. Upon hearing that stores were sold out of American flags, we ran a full-page reproduction of one last Friday so that folks could put one in their window, or whatever. The Gannett Advertiser copied us shamelessly and did exactly the same thing today, with two notable exceptions: They got the legal dimensions of the flag incorrect and they added their logo to the image of the flag. The United States of America, a subsidiary of Gannett!
9/19/01 A couple of days after MediaNews received information about the Gannett "sympathy card" memo, and linked to the later version at Ian Lind's site, MediaNews removed the link and all references to the event. It's like it never happened...
9/20/01 They never learn. Even though Gannett Advertiser ad-sales folks were busted last week trying to cash in on the terrorism scare and supposedly stopped sending out predigested "sympathy cards" to clients, their cold-call subscription hustlers are using the same scare tactic. The current script states that "in these times of terrorism everybody's hungry for news. All your friends and neighbors are subscribing to the Advertiser for their news because they're good Americans. Why don't you join them?"
Also, you'd think by now that the cold-callers would have figured out that calling Star-Bulletin employees to pitch Advertiser subscriptions is a waste of time. But no. Several of our staff received the above call.
9/21/01 The Gannett Advertiser's gaffe last week following the terrorism attack on the East Coast continues to fester. Ray Barrington at the Green Bay News-Chronicle reprints the note in full today, and adds, "Thanks, Gannett. And be sure to write us again the next time thousands of people are horribly killed by terrorists, will ya?"

9/21/01 Star-Bulletin editor/publisher John Flanagan has decided to step aside and focus on his analysis column, filling the big shoes left by the late Bud Smyser. The past couple of years have been tough on John -- he worked for Gannett most of his professional career, including indirectly under Liberty, and he and long-time Gannett editor Dave Shapiro, despite their loyalties, were tossed out like old furniture when Gannett "sold" the Star-Bulletin to Rupert Phillips. John has a keen and agile mind, particularly on technological issues, and is a graceful, bemused writer. I'm looking foirward to his columns.
9/22/01 The Gannett Advertiser gobbled up another tiny publication, a free-classified called Buy & Sell, in their efforts to monopolize the advertising business in Hawaii. Last week they bought Pennysaver, a direct competitor to Buy & Sell. Apparently they also had to buy a sign-painting business to acquire Buy and Sell. Everything will now be printed on Gannett's crappy presses, which obviously wasn't the first choice of the previous owners.
What's Gannett's goal here? To deny the Star-Bulletin/MidWeek job-printing money? These publications are so small that's pocket change, and our presses are too busy anyway. Maybe they're going after high-school papers next.
To completely dominate the classified market? Although notorious liar Mike Fisch waffles mightily about changes being made at either publication, they're likely doomed. Gannett now owns competing publications that also took classified dollars away from the Advertiser, and now they can't even make money printing these publications. The staffs at PennySaver and Buy & Sell must feel like passenger pigeons -- at any moment they're about to become extinct. And Hawaii consumers will have their advertising choices restricted.
Two predictions: Gannett must be dangling big dollars in front of Honolulu Weekly publisher Laurie Carlson at the moment, and there's easy money to be had -- just start up a free-classified paper on Oahu, and Gannett will buy it from you! Then start up another, and another...
9/26/01 The Gannett Advertiser's bottomless war chest paid for an advertisement in Pacific Business News after their claims of dirty Star-Bulletin dealings fell on deaf ears, at least when anonymously reported in their own news pages. In a nutshell, they hired the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) to whip out a special circulation audit during a period of massive giveaways of their product, and because the Star-Bulletin has decided to wait until the official audit period next year to examine circulation, their complained to ABC that our unofficial figures were improper. ABC only responded that they wished only ABC would give out circulation figures (That's how they make their living, duh. Imagine chaos reigning if publishers didn't need ABC.) Gannett then took this behind-the-scenes petty squabble and is trying to inflate it to dirigible size, but even Gannett execs don't have that much hot air.
The thrust of the advertisement is that our owners are liars and the only newspaper people the public can trust are Gannett. Some interesting points have been raised, however, by Gannett's anguished weeping:
They don't say our numbers are wrong, just that Gannett doesn't want them made public unless they can contol the circumstances.
They claim their own circulation went up a whopping 61 percent overnight. This is astounding. This should be a cover story in Editor & Publisher. Has any newspaper in American history had that sort of success. This needs to be analyzed in detail. Break out those numbers, G-men! Show us how you did that. Oh, nobody paid for those papers and nobody asked for them? Well, then you're printing, not publishing.
What's the point of claiming such high numbers in a time when their credibility is zilch? This winter, when we get accurate numbers for both papers, it will simply look as if the Advertiser's decline in circulation was more precipitous than it was. Unless they're looking for an excuse to kill the Advertiser and create another, non-Guild newspaper. The best excuses are those you plan in advance.

Mike Fisch

Hey kids! Click on the picture for a surprise!
9/27/01 Editor and Publisher, the trade journal of the newspaper industry, picked up Gannett's sleazy sympathy-card hustle after the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks, crediting -- gosh! -- this site for exposing the cynical sales tactic. Their headline is Advertiser Rep Crosses The Line, Trafficking In Terrorist Tragedy, which pretty well sums it up.
Gannett Advertiser publisher Mike Fisch is apparently furious to be caught in the flashlight's beam before he could scuttle back into the shadows. He claims the note was well-intentioned, but that it was an underling's idea and that Gannett management had no idea what their sales managers were doing. He hinted that the aggressive underling was disciplined. That's it, blame the kids when the old man's caught in public with his pants down.
He also called me names, saying I am "despicable" and that this site "twists everything around."
Boo freakin' hoo! Fisch didn't, however, say we were incorrect. And after the last two years we know how Gannett feels about public discourse and an informed citizenry -- they want it eliminated, exterminated, wiped out.
9/28/01 Gannett Advertiser publisher Mike Fisch told at least one freelance reporter that the Newspaper Guild is providing the Advertiser with confidential sales and circulation information from the Star-Bulletin. According to the Guild, this is not only absolutely untrue, it is bizarre.
9/28/01 Not a good week for Gannett Advertiser execs who want to avoid looking venal and stupid. As mentioned before -- zzzzzzz -- they hired the Audit Bureau of Circulations to put a stamp of approval on their artifically inflated circulation, and then complained when the Star-Bulletin wouldn't play that game. ABC sent the Gannett Advertiser a letter in that regard; here's a copy. But then, without consulting ABC, Gannett created an anti-Star-Buleltin campaign using ABC's letter as Exhibit #A. This included a large ad in Pacific Business News (see 9/26/01) and this week, a letter from Gannett marketing vice-president Mark Adkins was sent to what may be every business, large and small, in Hawaii, baldly claiming "intregrity and fair play" is a Gannett exclusive. Here's a copy of Adkins' letter, which gives the impression that ABC is seething. One problem -- ABC had no idea that Gannett was doing this, and today insisted that Gannett cease this practice immediately. Without the ABC complaint, the Gannett campaign is moot.

Mark Adkins

Gannett marketing vice-president
NEXT! October 2001
Taking Casualties

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