Wednesday, September 22, 1999

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

Inquiry unlikely to
save Star-Bulletin

By Crystal Kua


An inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department and the state attorney general probably won't reverse the impending closing of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, an executive of Honolulu's other daily newspaper said yesterday.

"I think that (inquiry) was expected," Michael Fisch, president and publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, told the Honolulu Community Media Council. "I don't expect any significant change in the outcome."

The Justice Department oversees joint operating agreements between newspapers to prevent anti-trust violations.

Star-Bulletin Publisher John Flanagan was asked why the newspaper was not put up for sale instead of closed. He said that even if another buyer were willing, there probably is not much to buy as a result of media giant Gannett Co.'s selling the Star-Bulletin in 1993 to buy the Advertiser.

"When (Gannett) sold, it was only a contract to produce the content of the afternoon newspaper," Flanagan said. "The sale didn't include the plant, the equipment, the real estate, the press, nothing. The Star-Bulletin has been ... a virtual newspaper."

Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership announced that it was shutting down the Star-Bulletin on Oct. 30.

Rupert Phillips, general partner, cited declining circulation, a sluggish local economy and better investment opportunities on the mainland.

Fisch, Flanagan, Advertiser Editor Jim Gatti and Hawaii Newspaper Agency General Manager Dennis Francis appeared before the council, which plays a watchdog role over media, to answer questions about the closure and its effect on the community.

Fisch said he doesn't believe there was a long-standing plan between Liberty and Gannett to turn Honolulu into a one-newspaper town

"I don't buy into the conspiracy theory," Fisch said. "I take Rupert at face value."

Fisch said that before the announcement of the closure, plans that incorporated the printing of two newspapers were moving ahead.

Fisch and Flanagan said announcement of the closure came as a complete surprise to them. Flanagan said he only learned of the Star-Bulletin's demise the afternoon before the official announcement.

Gatti said filling the void left by the Star-Bulletin is a challenge for the Advertiser.

Changes, which will include hiring about 20 to 25 Star-Bulletin staffers, will be geared toward improving local news coverage in the morning newspaper.

"We think that we know what we have to do to improve coverage in Hawaii," Gatti said.

He said plans call for increasing investigative reporting, improving the business section and having new and improved neighbor island coverage.

The Advertiser will begin an online edition in coming weeks and plans for an afternoon edition are "less likely than likely" but the matters remains undecided, Gatti said.

Changes to the newspaper content in what will be the only daily newspaper in Honolulu are not expected to increase the price of advertising and subscribing, said Francis, who will become general manager of the Advertiser once the current joint operations fall under the Advertiser at the first of next year.

Fisch was asked whether local independent ownership of a newspaper is more beneficial to a community than ownership by a large media corporation. He responded that the responsibility of making a difference for the community rests upon the newspaper's local leadership.

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