To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, October 23, 1999

On being different

If competing against The Honolulu Advertiser for 12 years taught me anything, it's a lesson Honolulu's television news organizations ought to consider: If you're not in the lead set a new course.

I admit I have few credentials as a television critic. I don't watch a lot of TV news unless there's a war on or my newspaper's fighting for its life. Lately, however, I've been flipping channels to see how the four major stations cover the efforts to close the Star-Bulletin.

I'm struck by the sameness. Despite the almost infinite possibilities, all four stations show virtually the same stories each night with video of the same faces and places.

For years we've heard complaints about the two daily papers being too much the same, despite our efforts to stand out. The same advertisements run in both papers and we share the same antique press. For people who scan the papers and don't actually read either, they look pretty much alike.

In fact, our editors often accuse the competition of copying Star-Bulletin innovations. For the Advertiser it's not a bad strategy. Research shows people in Honolulu prefer to receive a newspaper in the morning by two to one. If people can't tell the difference, the afternoon paper's circulation should be half of the morning's.

The actual numbers on Oahu are about 92,500 for the Advertiser and 65,500 for the Star-Bulletin. I'm no mathematician, but that's not two to one -- it's not even three to two.

We attribute this to being different. We picked some areas to excel: in-depth special reports, investigative reporting, graphics, economic news, political coverage, commentary, feature writing and online.

One of the most dramatic business turn-arounds of the '90s began when Apple Computer adopted the slogan "Think Different." Rather than trying to be all things to all people, Steve Jobs narrowed his company's product line and introduced radically different looking, high-quality computers.

Specialize and innovate. Introduce colorful choices into an all-beige market. Surprise us, local TV news.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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