Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, October 28, 1999

A reprieve for
staff of Star-Bulletin

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years TODAY would have been my last column for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. We would we have shut down on Saturday save for the intervention of Federal District Judge Alan Kay.

I saved this spot to write about my mentor, Riley H. Allen, our editor from the time the old Bulletin and Star were merged in 1912 until 1960. Riley will be happy to wait.

Just before Judge Kay acted I drafted a column (never published) on the funereal mood created by our death sentence. I wrote: "You can hear the silence in our city room. People talk in hushed tones. The old chatter and occasional shouts are muted."

I suggested we as an institution were going through reactions similar to those people have when told they are terminally ill -- disbelief and anger, bargaining for a second chance, depression and finally, ideally, acceptance and peace.

Our people aren't dying, of course, but their paper was. Their security remains threatened.

Even so, the old chatter and occasional shouts have returned. The city room is vibrant again. The lion's tail has been twisted. There is joy in that.

Before Judge Kay acted, about 20 of our people were invited to join an enlarged staff of the Honolulu Advertiser. With morning and evening circulations consolidated, it anticipated over twice the circulation of today's Star-Bulletin.

I was invited to continue my columns in the Advertiser. I appreciate the honor. Those offered continued full-time employment were quite relieved. But these satisfactions were muted by concern for the rest of the over 90 members of this good, close-knit group.

Every one of them is professionally talented, many with savvy in computer technology. Most were first hired from among dozens of job applicants. They had to be good.

We have an attractive wage scale of at least $1,088 a week for Hawaii Newspaper Guild members with five years of seniority. Beginner pay is $831. That's a level some of us non-Guilders think is so high it keeps real beginners from getting a tryout.

Be that as it may, being a Star-Bulletin employee is something close to a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in journalism.

Many people say they consider our paper the better one. Yet the inexorable decline of evening newspapers nationwide is matched here. In our heyday, with paid daily circulation more than 120,000, we advertised: "More circulation than all other Hawaii newspapers combined." Our 67,000 today is little more than half that.

Television, radio, niche papers, mainland dailies and the Internet have made single local newspaper readers of people who used to read both. Most prefer morning.

Overall, the communications field is expanding -- even Internet news services are starting. Our people are trained communicators.

Thus I am hopeful that, whatever our future, most of our people -- aside from the few who may retire -- can relocate if necessary to other communications jobs.

Our much preferred option is to keep this newspaper going as long as possible toward the 2013 expiration of its JOA.

Many community leaders, even those we have hassled with, have made it clear -- very vigorously -- that they prefer two newspapers to one. Governor Cayetano, whom we didn't endorse in 1994 and 1998, had a first reaction that we were expendable but then turned his attorney general loose to save us through the federal court action.

It has been a badge of honor to boast: "I work for the Star-Bulletin."

Shutdown announcement
Kay issues preliminary injunction
Text of injunction halting shutdown
Text of refusal to lift injunction
Emergency stay denied

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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