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September 2002

The Year of
Sustained Casualties
Still Cashing In on Terror

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

9/1/02 Linkin' logged
Drive your dog crazy by playing these sounds on your computer (thanks, Kathy!).

Or check to see if any drug deals are going down in Kailua Beach Park with this remote camera you can control yourself (thanks, Pat!).

Or wonder what the heck is wrong with people by checking in on the ups and downs of Walt Brasch's "Betrayed, the Death of an American Newspaper," written in the mid-'90s about the corporate killing of the Bethlehem Globe-Times. Brasch, a reporter and journalism professor, submitted the manuscript to his university publishers, who demanded that he post a $5 million -- yes, $5 million -- security bond, an amount absolutely unprecedented in American publishing. Brasch was quietly informed that the corporation that killed the Globe-Times were potential university donors. The book remains unpublished, although Brasch's publishers had no such compunctions about his "The Press and the State: Contemporary and Sociohistorical Interpretations" (zzzz) and "With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist." (double zzzzzz). Maybe they're afraid someone will actually read their books.

9/3/02 Readers vs. subscribers
I guess I can't put off these numbers any longer, now the summer doldrums are officially over. In mid-August the Star-Bulletin got some market-penetration numbers that were pretty interesting, and likely caused some long faces at the Gannett Advertiser. Market analysts SMS' latest "Hawaii Market Study," the 14th edition, notes wryly that "the battle between Oahu's two major newspapers is not over."
What follows is a numbers game. SMS focuses on "readership," the actual number of people who are interested enough to look at a newspaper, rather than "circulation," which are the number of papers printed and distributed, whether citizens want them or not. Most newspapers have more than one reader, and the more readers per paper, the greater the influence that paper has in market penetration, If Newspaper #A distributes 100,000 papers, but has only one reader per paper, and Newspaper #B only prints 50,000 papers but each one is perused by two people, then they both have the same market penetration -- except that newspaper #B is operating on a more cost-effective basis, and is considered by readers to be a greater value than the competition.
According to SMS, this last spring, the Gannett Advertiser had 351,000 readers -- a gain of 9,500 readers -- while the Honolulu Star-Bulletin maintained it's previous readership level with 195,000 readers. That's right, maintained it, despite all the underhanded fury Gannett could sling upon it. Moreover, the readership for each Advertiser is 2.6 readers, while the Star-Bulletin has 3.4 readers per paper. The Star-Bulletin's average-reader demographic considers it a better value, and these kinds of numbers tend to turn advertising managers' heads.
All is not rosy for us, however. The Star-Bulletin, busily scrambling into new markets, just maintained daily readership, while the Gannett Advertiser, adding some like 25,000 "P.M." papers a day, grew in total readership (although all those thow-away afternoon papers cut into their number of readers per paper). SMS notes that

"Consumer preference for morning papers is a national trend. Though competition for the daily paper readership is intense, people's habits continue to be reflected in these readership numbers."
They don't note, although they should have, that the Star-Bulletin is likely the only afternoon paper in the last 30 years not to lose readers over the last year, The only day in which we lost some ground was Saturday, which was the only day in which we departed our traditional niche to switch to all-morning delivery. But wait, there's more:

"The Sunday papers readership is more interesting, since it is a completely new battle. Progress in this important and profitable market segment will be most interesting to see in the future ... The Sunday readership pattern has changed dramatically as a result of the introduction of the Sunday Star-Bulletin. More than 211,000 Oahu adults read the Sunday Star-Bulletin. The Sunday Honolulu Advertiser has lost approximately 16,000 readers, with 430,000 Sunday readers."
So, there you go. Despite everything, we hung on to our daily niche, and in the only arena in which we went head-to-head -- Sunday -- we hurt them with a totally new product that increasing numbers of readers seem to prefer. OK, they have twice as many readers on Sunday. That's not the point. Gannett wanted ALL the readers, ALL the time, and now they don't have them, and thanks to this newspaper war that they instigated, they never will recover them.

9/5/02 Just a guess -- maybe it was Shirt Day?
In our never-ending search to bring you the very latest in Star-Bulletin news, here's a snapshot of the TODAY features section, sometime around 1990 or thereabouts. Obviously we'd just stocked up on Star-Bulletin pattern aloha shirts manufactured by Reyn's, a brilliant move by then-publisher Arlene Lum. These are still the best S-B shirts ever made, and to this day they're being worn around the newsroom. To be fair, the Advertiser had its own aloha shirts years before we did, a bright idea by editor Bucky Buchwach, who was half impresario, half journalist. The first Advertiser shirt I ever saw, I was still in high school and I looked out the bus window down on a grown man on his hands and knees on the city sidewalk, and he was vomiting furiously, horrible green-yellow bile, and he was wearing a Honolulu Advertiser aloha shirt. To be fair, again, hey, we've all been there. Anyway, from left to right above, Marilyn Ige, meself, the fabulously talented Lois Taylor, Catherine Kekoa Enomoto, Tino Ramirez., Mike Rovner, the iconoclastic Alan Matsuoka, Lucy Young and Nadine Kam. Rovner, Young and Kam are still with us, and they're all big-shot editors now, and look exactly the same. I'm old and bent and gray.

9/8/02 Aloha Todd
This is a couple of weeks overdue, but webmeister Todd Sugiyama has left the building because he was drafted by the prestigous Parsons School of Design in New York. Here, Ken Andrade and Mary Poole say aloha kakou.

9/9/02 Sub-stitute news coverage
And here's some more sub coverage. We had to copyright this one right up front. Plus the first of many meditations and random thoughts on the 9/11 anniversary.

9/10/02 Get used to it, kid
Since Dennis Oda films absolutely everything, even the office baby shower for himself and Lucy (right), this is likely the view their children will have of the old man in their formative years.

9/12/02 Another big-shot investor
There was an announcement this day that Torstar, the ever-growing Canadian chain and syndicate, bought into a big chunk of Black Press. Obviously that means someone else out there believes in the long-term health of the company, and that must give Gannett pause, big-time. What it actually means in the newsrooms is anyone's guess. There's a famous message from just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack that read, "What these moves signify, we do not know, but be on alert accordingly."
Are they on guard in Arlington?

Anyway, here's the text of the basic news item on the buy-in:

Torstar Corp., publisher of the Toronto Star, said today it will buy nearly a 20 percent share of Black Press Ltd., owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and MidWeek.

Torstar Corp. said it will pay $12.6 million for a 19.35 percent share of Victoria, British Columbia-based Black Press, which has annual revenues of about $157.5 million and also owns 87 newspapers in western Canada and Washington state.

Publicly held Torstar, which had 2001 revenues of $882 million, is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The company owns several daily newspapers in addition to the Star, Canada's biggest daily, as well as Internet-related businesses and a group called Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing that runs some 68 community newspapers in Southern Ontario. Torstar also owns Harlequin Enterprises, a worldwide publisher of romance fiction.

David Black, chief executive officer and owner of Black Press, started his newspaper career with Torstar before leaving in 1975 to buy his father's newspaper in Williams Lake, B.C. Black Press bought the Star-Bulletin in March 2001.

"Torstar is a steady, long-term participant in the industry, run by knowledgeable, passionate newspaper people with strong principles," Black said. "One couldn't hope for better investors and partners."

Black said later that the investment brings people to the Black Press board who have metropolitan daily newspaper experience. "It won't have any direct effect on the Star-Bulletin," he said.

In the press statement, Rob Prichard, president and chief executive officer of Torstar, said the company is happy to invest in Black's business.

"David Black is one of the finest operators of community newspapers in Canada," he said. "We believe there will be good opportunities to help grow Black Press in the years ahead and thereby add a significant new market to Torstar's reach.

"This investment is in a business we know extremely well through our highly successful Metroland community newspaper division and we look forward to maximizing our investment through mutual cooperation."

Hmmm. Time to dust off that newsroom-romance novel I never finished writing ...

9/13/02 Front page snooze
Both papers on 9/11 had graphic treatments using names of the victims, something we pioneered with the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1991. The 'Tiser did theirs by graying out most of the names and creating a ghost image of the twin towers. Pretty cool, except you couldn't read the names, and the subtle treatment cost them in rack sales. They scrapped it in the PM edition, using an image similar to ours -- and then repeated the 9/11 PM cover on 9/12. Weird.

9/14/02 Every vote counts?
Feeling vaguely disenfranchised by a recycled Democratic Party poster being used by one of the gubenatorial candidates -- which states that only "Asian Pacific Americans" have votes that count -- editor Nancy Christenson McNamee modified it for her own ethnic identity.

Gannett bagman
(Click me!)
9/15/02 Anniversary of a bummer
This is the third anniversary of the day Rupert Phillips announced he was the spawn of the devil. Ha! Actually, three years ago today, Phillips and Gannett declared they were in cahoots to shut down the Star-Bulletin, a decision arising from pure greed that back-fired big-time. Not for Phillips -- he bagged his cut and made a clean getaway. Gannett's hubris, however, has cost them a newspaper war in which they're losing money and respect. This date came and went pretty quietly in the newsroom. There was a going-away party for retirees Ken Sakamoto and Penny Graham, above, who met in the midst of this turmoil and are about as cute as they can be, and apparently a low-key gathering at Murphy's was planned, deadlines permitting ...

9/16/02 How much difference did the governor make?
My little notation in Sunday's paper on the anniversary of the newspaper shutdown brought an interesting email reponse from a reader, who thanked me for mentioning that the governor's office had a role in checkmating Gannett. The governor was Ben Cayetano, who just a few weeks before had publically declared that that he didn't care if there were one, two or no papers serving Honolulu. Even so, the Star-Bulletin "would never have been saved under (Linda) Lingle!" the reader claimed.
I'm not so sure. The suggestion being made here is that Lingle is so pro-big business that she'll look the other way when smaller Hawaii businesses are killed. That's not a good way to stay in office.
What happened three years ago was that a bevy of union heads immediately went to see Cayetano to plead the paper's case. That, plus the suspicious way in which Gannett handled themselves, created enough doubt that the Attorney General agreed to investigate. What the governor did was give the go-ahead.

9/18/02 Cashing in on 9/11
Another Gannett paper, the Lansing State Journal, didn't learn the lesson of the Gannett Advertiser's unseemly attempt to make green hay out of the 9/11 attack last year. Lansing produced a special edition on the anniversary -- as did every other newspaper in the country -- but their trick was to add a 15-cent surcharge to the paper. That's not unusual for street sales for special editions, but in this case, it was added to the subscriber charges. Subscribers were given the opportunity to opt out by calling and complaining, but for 15 cents, what the hey. Let's see ... if all of the LST's 71,000 daily circulation paid up, the paper netted $10,650 dollars! See, it adds up. And of that, $1,775 would go to a charity the LST operates. Suh-weet!
Problem is, such surcharging is called "negative optioning" and is illegal in most states, including Michigan. The Michigan Attorney General's office is looking into it. The publisher of the LST scoffs and says the law is "gray" when it applies to his paper.
No, you pays your money for a subscription and you takes your chances. That's the honor code between newspapers and subscribers. No additional after-the-fact gouging. Unless, of course, Gannett starts offering 15-cent rebates on the days when their papers aren't worth full price.

9/19/02 Cashing in on 9/11, part deux
Ian points out, and correctly too, that the Gannett Advertiser used "negative optioning" in their switch-over from our subscriber base to theirs. Star-Bulletin subscribers have to physically take action to NOT get the Advertiser. Curious, also, that the Gannett Advertiser had no trouble finding and billing those people when the subscription records they gave us were scrambled and incomplete.

9/20/02 Cashing in on conflict, part tres
A disclaimer up front -- I've been happy to add my two cents to the advisory board of the Pacific War Memorial for the past year, which is how I know about this. The Memorial, another adaptation of the famous flag-raising image on Iwo Jima, is nearly completed at the front gate of the Kaneohe Marine Corps base. All that's left is the "Walkway of Honor" in which pavers are inscribed with testimonials from individual sponsors (largely, how the thing was paid for), and the bronze plaque listing the charitable foundations that contributed.
One of them is the Gannett Foundation -- maybe. A monkey wrench was thrown into the works this week when someone from Advertiser publisher Mike Fisch's office -- "a loud, bullying lady" -- insisted that "Gannett Foundation" be removed from the plaque design and replaced with "Honolulu Advertiser."
Problem is, according to Marine Corps rules, the names of private businesses cannot appear on memorials. Only charitable foundations. I learned this the hard way when I bought a paver to commemorate editor Bud Smyser's life and could not mention on it "Navy veteran and Star-Bulletin editor," even though I was paying for it and not the Star-Bulletin.
Marine Corps rules aren't carrying any water with Fisch's office. Change it or lose it, they say.

9/22/02 Color me red
I did a piece of artwork for the Star-Bulletin Sunday magazine that was supposed to run in color, but alas, it ran in black and white for some reason no one can seem to explain. Well, here it is in color.

9/23/02 Those campaign cuties!
Whew, the primary election is over, with one of the most crowded and confused running fields -- and one of the most apathetic voter turnouts -- in Hawaii history. We'll have two women running for governor for the major parties, which has actually happened in another state
(Nebraska?) but not here. Neither Democrat Hirono nor Republican Lingle gathered as many votes as at-large school-board member Karen Knudson, who ought to run for real office someday.
For the first time in memory, both newspapers made endorsements for the primary election instead of waiting for the general. The Gannett Advertiser went particularly nuts, even making endorsements in obscure races.
The Star-Bulletin's endorsement of governor candidate Ed Case was featured prominently in his TV ads, and credited with his incredibly strong surge toward the end. He very nearly beat Hirono, who's likely nervously eyeing the Democrats who voted for Case, and hoping they aren't defecting to Lingle. It'll be a real catfight. (Did I say that out loud?)
Election night coverage was pretty routine, with the low spots being KGMB signing off before Hirono did her awkward victory boogaloo, and Andy Anderson's stream-of-consciousness babbling before a captive audience. The high points were pretty much anything Neil Abercrombie said.
Speaking of endorsements, Dalton Tanonaka actually called to complain that we had endorsed opponent Duke Aiona for lieutenant governor. I guess there's a kind of endorsement etiquette here that Tanonaka is unaware of. Tanonaka's a smart, capable fellow, but hey, he set his sights a little high for the first time running for office. Second-in-command of the entire state, in a high-visibilty job that has no duties except for a fair amount of globe-trotting?

Gannett bagman
(Click me!)

His employees recently voted overwhelmingly to unionize. Plus, Phillips' company -- like the Star-Bulletin -- severed relations this year with the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
9/25/02 Weird scenes inside the gold mine
It isn't easy figuring out what's going on at Newsco, the Phillips-family-owned chain based in Virginia, but it's certainly entertaining. Patriarch Rupert Phillips, you recall, is the bag-of-guts intimately involved with Gannett, the bubba who pulled the plug on us when Gannett yanked his string. It seems Newsco's Journal Newspapers, a DC-area suburban chain, fired president Karl Spain last year, and then sued him, claiming Spain paid "thousands of dollars of excess commissions ... to his married mistress." Spain countersued.
This is where it gets interesting. Spain's briefs claim that the Phillipses are trying to bankrupt, embarrass and quiet him for refusing to help them cover up "numerous instances of fraudulent conduct and behavior ... the owners were playing a shell game with their different corporations, transferring money, making loans, paying themselves management fees and committing fraud on the bank that was supporting all this activity." Sound familiar?
Oh, and, according to Spain, it was Phillips' son Ryan, Journal CEO, who regularly has sex with company employees on and off company property.

9/26/02 Baby, look at you now
And introducing Zoe Oda, born 4:10 p.m. on Sept. 24, 7 lbs. 3 1/2 oz.

9/28/02 Where are Patsy's pictures?
Veteran Hawaii congressperson Patsy Mink has taken a turn for the worse, which is causing all sorts of electoral problems. Although she may recover, it's best to be prepared, and so we're assembling historic packages on her life and career. One problem -- the Star-Bulletin photo archive of Mink disappeared when we tried to research it. After a search, the archive turned up on Gannett Advertiser photo editor Seth Jones' desk -- imagine that! -- where Gannett editors were sorting through copyrighted Star-Bulletin images, deciding which ones to steal or hide from us.
This occurs routinely. The Advertiser apparently has no compunctions about stealing and using copyrighted material, or in hiding Star-Bulletin images so that we can't access our own archives.
Once again, an explanation of the situation: Gannett conspired with Rupert Phillips to destroy Star-Bulletin assets, and that included the photo archive held in the old news building. After the sale, Gannett wound up with physical possession of the pictures while we have visitation rights and retained complete copyright. In short, Gannett has to maintain a huge stock of pictures they can't use. They've responded with illegal pilfering and sabotage.

9/28/02 Patsy Mink
Rep. Patsy Mink passed away today. Extraordinary woman. I only got to talk to her a couple of times in my career, but each time she impressed the heck out of me with her brilliance. The don't make 'em like that any more. It seems fitting that the very last act she accomplished was winning an election.
NEXT! October 2002
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