154-year-old Honolulu Advertiser prints last issue

By AUDREY McAVOY
The Associated Press

HONOLULU — For more than a century, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and The Honolulu Advertiser have competed to chronicle Hawaii, from the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the Pearl Harbor attack to statehood and the election of island-born Barack Obama.

That rivalry ends Sunday when the Advertiser, Hawaii’s largest newspaper, publishes its last edition after being bought out and combined with its smaller rival. More than 400 reporters, pressmen and other workers are losing their jobs.

The Advertiser is the latest casualty of the recession and the upheaval that the Internet has unleashed on the traditional media industry. Honolulu now joins Denver and Seattle among the cities served by only one daily newspaper and a shrinking pool of professional journalists.

"I wanted to just keep going for I don’t know how many years. But that’s gone now – that’s not going to happen," said Norman Shapiro, a photographer and 18-year veteran of the Advertiser.

On Monday, Oahu Publications Inc., the owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, plans to launch the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The newsroom primarily will be staffed with Bulletin journalists, supplemented by nearly 30 hired from the Advertiser, including several popular columnists and reporters.

The newspaper is keeping the Advertiser’s modern printing press in Kapolei and most of the Advertiser’s pressmen. The Star-Bulletin’s presses will be shipped to Canada or sold for parts. Only a few of the Star-Bulletin’s 100 pressmen will stay on. Others in the Advertiser’s advertising and circulation departments will lose their jobs, too.

Journalists foresaw the eventual demise of one of the city’s two newspapers given what was happening in bigger cities. Like elsewhere, Hawaii newspaper revenues have suffered as readers drift away from newsprint and classified ads move online. The recession only accelerated existing trends.

But few expected the Star-Bulletin – which company officials have said was losing $40,000 to $50,000 a day – to be the last one standing.

The Star-Bulletin was primarily an afternoon paper until last year. It has a daily circulation of about 50,000, less than half of the Advertiser’s 115,000. Its newsroom has 75 journalists compared with the Advertiser’s 120.

"We’re the more successful newspaper, we’re making money, we’re making a profit. They’ve been supposedly losing $40,000 a day for 10 years," Shapiro said. "And then to have them buy us out is surprising. It’s just weird what’s happened."

Oahu Publications owner David Black offered to buy the Advertiser from Gannett Co. after determining his company would have to close the Star-Bulletin or purchase the Advertiser to survive. After announcing a deal with Gannett, Black put the Star-Bulletin up for sale to satisfy antitrust laws but never got an acceptable offer.

A decade ago, Black was the one who saved Honolulu from becoming a one-newspaper town by purchasing the Star-Bulletin from Liberty Newspapers LP. Liberty had agreed to accept $26.5 million from Gannett to shut down the Star-Bulletin, but a court ordered the newspaper to be put on the market. Back then, the Star-Bulletin was selling 63,500 papers a day.

Journalists not hired by the new Star-Advertiser aren’t sure there’s a future for them in media. Shapiro, who is 67 but not ready to retire, notes there are only a handful of places that employ photographers in Hawaii, and none is hiring.

He doubts he’d get enough freelancing work to recover the $25,000 he’d need to spend on a high-end digital camera and other equipment to do the job.

Reporter Suzanne Roig, president of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, is looking for doors to open for her in other fields.

"I’ve done the best job in the world, and that was working as a reporter. So now it’s time to do something different," said Roig, who has worked at the Advertiser for 15 years.

The broader loss from the disappearance of so many journalists is harder to quantify.

Democratic state Sen. Les Ihara said he’s worried there will be fewer stories holding elected officials accountable and less coverage of policymaking. He’s especially concerned there will be a drop in investigative reporting.

University of Hawaii communications professor Gerald Kato noted competition between Honolulu’s two newspapers long spurred reporters on both sides to break news, recalling past Advertiser stories uncovering political corruption and organized crime.

A few online news startups have recently emerged in Hawaii – mostly notably one launched by eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar – but they have only a handful of reporters.

Kato said the disappearance of newspaper reporters matters, even in an age of online media, because they’re the ones "on the street doing shoe-leather reporting."

"Where does television get it’s news? Where do all these news aggregators get their news from? They’re getting it from the Advertiser," Kato said. "Its reach and influence goes far beyond those who just read it on a daily basis."

Dennis Francis, publisher of the Star-Bulletin and the new Star-Advertiser, said he thinks one "good newspaper" can do much of what was being done by two.

He said the new paper was hiring many Advertiser reporters who would continue to write unique stories.

"Most of the names that you’re used to seeing in the paper doing enterprise reporting and those kinds of things you will still continue to see," Francis said.

Kato said the community may not miss the Advertiser until something happens that they want to know more about but aren’t able to. Or even worse, when something happens but no one hears about it because no reporters were on the story.

"I don’t think the public here realizes the immense loss that will occur when the Advertiser closes," Kato said. "Really, a connection between Hawaii’s past, present is being lost."

154-year-old Honolulu Advertiser prints last issue

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