Community helped rescue newspaper
March 15 -- yesterday -- marked five years of doing what the experts said couldn't be done. The Joint Operating Agreement between the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin ended that day in 2001, but newspaper competition in Honolulu began again for the first time in almost 40 years.
Competition is not what Gannett Newspapers, owner of the Advertiser, intended when it announced Sept. 16, 1999, that the Star-Bulletin would close after publishing its final edition on Oct. 30, 1999.
A funny thing happened on the way to the closing. People in Honolulu made it clear they wanted two newspapers. They did not want to turn Honolulu and the entire state of Hawaii into a one-newspaper city and state.
Honolulu would be robbed of a newspaper with a proud history of informing Honolulu residents of what was going on in their city, county and state, and reporters and photographers, editors and copy editors, circulation and other distribution workers -- nearly 200 employees in all -- would be out of work. But more important, with the demise of the Star-Bulletin, that role would have shifted almost entirely to the Advertiser. Much of broadcast media gets the news it broadcasts from newspaper coverage.
What happened between the closure announcement and March 15, 2001, is remarkable and has not happened anywhere else in the United States. Just 18 months prior to the Star-Bulletin closure announcement, Gannett newspapers announced it was closing one of the newspapers in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Gannett promised the remaining newspaper would be bigger and better. People complained, but nobody did anything about it. The newspaper closed and Chattanooga became a one-newspaper town.
Not so in Honolulu. Here, the unions, workers, civic and government leaders and the citizens of Honolulu got together and said, "Not in our town."
They formed SOS, Save Our Star-Bulletin. People including former Lt. Gov. Jean King and former Lt. Gov. and Congressman Tom Gill, University of Hawaii Board of Regents member and retired ILWU social worker A.Q. McElrath, and many others got together with the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, Communication Workers of America, the ILWU and other unions to form the organization. We are pleased to have been a part of this effort.
STAR-BULLETIN / 2001
Ah Quon McElrath, Wayne Cahill and former Star-Bulletin writer Phil Mayer from Save Our Star-Bulletin joined the parade of Star-Bulletin staffers on March 15, 2001, as they walked a few blocks from the old newsroom to their new Restaurant Row offices.
More than 15,000 Hawaii and Honolulu citizens signed SOS petitions. Neighborhood boards approved SOS resolutions. SOS members enlisted the help of the Honolulu mayor and City Council to approve strongly worded resolutions. They got county councils to do the same.
Both Houses of the Hawaii Legislature passed SOS resolutions urging that the Star-Bulletin stay alive.
Then-Gov. Ben Cayetano was instrumental. He met with union leaders on the day of the closure announcement. He expressed surprise that the owner of the Star-Bulletin didn't put the newspaper up for sale. He said he would ask the attorney general to look into it.
The attorney general, working closely with attorneys retained by the CWA, the Hawaii Newspaper Guild and SOS, filed an antitrust suit in federal court to stop the closing.
Settlement of that lawsuit resulted in the newspaper being put up for sale. In the end, David Black stepped forward and purchased the newspaper for a bargain-basement price, then poured millions of dollars into buying equipment and building the business.
Many ask why all of this is so important. Our democratic form of government depends on a free and independent press. Our Founding Fathers determined early on that a free and independent press was and is essential for the maintenance of our democratic system. They believed that we should not and would not have a state-run press.
During the past five or more decades many independent newspapers in the United States have closed or have been swallowed up by large newspaper chains. And now newspaper chains are swallowing up other chains. Witness this week's purchase of the second-largest newspaper chain in America, Knight Ridder Newspapers, by McClatchy Newspapers.
No doubt, some newspapers in both chains might be closed or sold, leaving us with fewer sources of information.
We need to ask ourselves: Will not a press owned or controlled by one or two mega corporations be just as bad as a state-run media? Our state and nation need to maintain as many sources of information as possible. The free flow of information is essential to our democracy.
Congratulations to the staff and management of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for the past five years of newspaper competition in Honolulu. And best wishes for many more years of covering events and issues in Honolulu and Hawaii, and the world.
Richard Port was a key organizer of the Save Our Star-Bulletin movement. Wayne Cahill is the chief administrator of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.