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Saturday, May 6, 2000



Star-Bulletin closing

Broker plans to
‘vigorously’ market
Star-Bulletin

The New Mexico firm
sold the Maui News and
154 other dailies in four years

By Peter Wagner
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

A newly appointed newspaper broker plans to "vigorously" market the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in the weeks to come.

"We need to dig into it and put together an offering memo and start making a whole lot of telephone calls," said Philip Murray, vice president of Dirks Van Essen & Murray.

The Santa Fe, N.M., firm -- among the nation's most active brokers of daily newspapers -- was approved by court order yesterday to seek a buyer for the Star-Bulletin.

The broker, one of three responding to queries by Star-Bulletin owner Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership, has 53 days -- what's left of an original 65-day deadline -- to find a new owner.

"We need to sharpen our sales pitch and to go out and find somebody that fits the right profile that would take it on," said Murray.

Liberty, which bought the Star-Bulletin from Gannett Pacific Corp. in 1993, in September announced plans to close the paper and cut short a 20-year joint operating agreement with Gannett, owner of The Honolulu Advertiser.

An anti-trust lawsuit was filed Oct. 6 by the state attorney general, joined by the citizens group, Save Our Star-Bulletin, alleging the two publishers conspired to create a monopoly in Honolulu. A preliminary injunction later that month kept the paper alive pending trial.

All parties agreed two weeks ago to drop the lawsuit if a buyer could be found for the Star-Bulletin within 65 days. Magistrate Barry Kurren has the option to expand the deadline, believed to be June 28, or shorten it, depending on the likelihood of a buyer.

Dirks, which has sold 155 daily newspapers in the past four years, last year brokered the sale of the Maui News to West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers Inc.

The broker will have two weeks to advertise nationally and locally, with a May 28 deadline to get written indications of interest from qualified buyers. The advertisements are to run once a week for two consecutive weeks in the Star-Bulletin, Advertiser, USA Today and Editor & Publisher magazine.

Rupert Phillips, general partner of Liberty, said: "I am extremely pleased we were able to engage a brokerage firm of Dirks Van Essen & Murray's stature and believe it has the strongest potential to achieve a sale, resulting in the continued publication of the Star-Bulletin."

"We're going to make a very vigorous effort to sell this newspaper," said Murray. "We have every expectation at this point we'll be able to find a buyer."

Liberty yesterday was prepared to submit the name of a second broker, Media Consultants, Inc., of Cheyenne, Wyo., if objections were raised to Dirks. Media Consultants has sold 14 dailies and a number of weeklies since 1988.

Michael Lindsey, president of the company, said Dirks is facing a tough challenge finding a buyer for the Star-Bulletin in a market bulging with available newspapers.

"One of the problems we have now is a lot of properties are on the market and money is sitting there, waiting to see where it's going to be spent," Lindsey said.

He noted recent announcements by newspaper publishers Hollinger International Inc. and Thompson Corp. to put nearly 100 newspapers on the auction block. Thompson in February announced plans to sell 49 dailies in the United States and five in Canada. Hollinger last month said it would sell at least 45.

Lindsey doubts the Star-Bulletin, an afternoon paper whose circulation has dropped in recent years, will attract mainland buyers under such conditions.

"There's a lot of already profitable properties where investors can get an immediate return," he said.

Far more likely, he said, would be Hawaii-based investors interested in keeping a second voice in the community.



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