Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, September 17, 1999

Six weeks left to
turn out the Lite

WHAT can I say? I mean, I've quit jobs before but this is the first time the job has quit me.

The ax came down on the Honolulu Star-Bulletin yesterday with the announcement that because of decreasing circulation, the paper would be closed. As of Oct. 30, the 90 or so employees, including your's truly, will be out of a job.

It takes a while for something like that to sink in.

I was working at home, taking care of my daughter who was down with the flu, when the calls from my friends at the television news stations began. They were trying to pin down a rumor that the Star-Bulletin was closing. I hadn't heard a thing and, frankly, couldn't believe it, even though ever since Gannett Inc. sold the Star-Bulletin and bought the morning Advertiser, many of us felt we were living on borrowed time. We all remembered the stone-cold way that announcement was made. Some Gannett honchos came to town. Staff members were asked to gather around the city desk. I remember thinking that we must have won some big journalism award for the big shots to come all the way to Hawaii. (Naivete is one of my strong suits.) Instead of an award, we were told that they were buying the Advertiser and selling the Star-Bulletin. Just like that. One staffer equated it to a drive-by shooting. The honchos walked across the hallway to the Advertiser. On the way, they changed into Advertiser aloha shirts. There they told the startled staff that they were now the property of Gannett.

Ironically, we were bought by Liberty Newspapers, enjoyed several years of freedom and the paper became better for it. We almost forgot that our days were numbered. Afternoon newspapers are like dinosaurs, nibbling on the upper branches in a doomed prehistoric forest.

After several calls from the television news stations, I began to realize that the story they were chasing was true. By six o'clock, at least two stations led with the news of our demise.

My first reaction was to resort to humor, an armor that has shielded me well over the years. Asked by the Channel 2 reporter what I thought about the closing, I said I had only intended to stay at the paper for two years. Somehow 19 years had slipped by. Clearly, things had gotten out of hand. 'One of us had to go,' I said.

Yesterday morning, nervous humor wafted through the newsroom. Laughter and jokes were tossed about as we waited for the official notification. But the anxiety was as thick as poi. As the time of the meeting neared, tears began to well up in many eyes.

We watched the live morning news reports on television in the newsroom. Odd, since the reporters were broadcasting just outside the window in the parking lot. A few staffers went down to try to explain what people were feeling. Former Mayor Frank Fasi -- long time foe of both the newspapers -- gleefully showed up in the newspaper parking lot. He gloated on camera about the Star-Bulletin's death. He was giddy. It was sick. That someone could be glad that a venerable Hawaii institution more than 100 years old was going down the tubes; that a company that employed people and made contributions to the community that money couldn't even touch was dying ... well, there's something psychopathic about someone like that.

We will be putting out the paper for another 45 days. That works out to 18 more Honolulu Lites. Whether they will be lite or not remains to be seen. I've got a lot of great memories about this paper. And over the next few weeks, you'll be forced to endure them. Some of them are even funny. Although right now, those have escaped me.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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