Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, October 15, 1999

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

Learning to live
life in limbo

IT'S weird being on the receiving end of news coverage instead of the side that dishes it out.

Since the announcement a few weeks ago that the Honolulu Star-Bulletin would be closed, a stream of television news reporters have been calling to find out how the staff is bearing up. I've tried to cooperate because if the closure were on the other foot, I'd want my media colleagues to talk to me.

Being asked how you feel about your life being suddenly turned on its head is one of those cliche reporter questions that everyone knows the answer to, but which is asked anyway. As a news person, you almost feel obligated to jazz up the answer a little bit.

Reporter: What does it feel like to suddenly be faced with losing your job?

Me: Depends.

Reporter: Depends on what?

Me: No, Depends. You know, the adult diaper. It feels like Depends. A used one, if you catch my drift.

It's actually more surreal than that. To be told that the paper will close and then that it won't -- at least for now -- is sort of like a near-death experience. The 90 or so employees first had to come to the psychological realization that their lives were being changed in a major way. That's a serious bridge to cross. But once you've crossed it, life looks different. You have no choice. You must move on.

Then a federal judge rules that the paper cannot close and orders that business continue as it did before the closure announcement was made.

Theoretically, I guess this is possible. But as lawyers like to say, "You can't unring a bell." How can employees go back to doing exactly what they were doing? Instead of feeling specific fear for their professional future, are they to resort to post-closure, general job disgruntlement? Now that they know their world can be changed in a heartbeat -- someone ELSE'S heartbeat -- can they be expected to continue on as if nothing happened?

TO begin with, employee relationships have changed. Tensions have developed, particularly around the Honolulu Advertiser's decision to hire 20 or 25 people from the Star-Bulletin. There are two camps: those who weren't asked to cross the hall and those who were. Now, both sides are in limbo.

It is good that U.S. Judge Alan Kay ordered the Star-Bulletin to keep running pending resolution of the state's lawsuit. But for employees, it sets up a strange situation.

It's sort of like being told that your parents are suddenly divorcing and sending all the kids away. Then a judge says, no, you have to remain a family. So everyone moves back home, but the kids know they aren't loved. Their parents were ready to give them the old heave-ho. And, to make matters worse, some of the brothers and sisters would have been claimed by relatives and others would have been put on the street. Not exactly a Walton's kind of mountain.

So what are people feeling in the newsroom? Confused, angry, excited, confused, scared, happy, worried, confused, leery, sad, discomboomerated and confused.

But we have been floored by the amount of goodwill that has poured in to the newspaper in the past few weeks. Sure, there are a few jerks out there who have taken this opportunity to kick people while they are down. But mainly there has been an outpouring of sincere concern, both about the possible end of the Star-Bulletin after 117 years of publication and the effect it is having on employees. It is truly appreciated.

Star-Bulletin closing Oct. 30, 1999
Kay issues preliminary injunction

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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