View Point

By Tom Brislin

Saturday, October 30, 1999

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

TV news, ’Net
can’t compare to
daily newspapers

Today's issue of the Star-Bulletin was to have been its last before a judge ordered a preliminary injunction to halt the closure. This week nine major national news conglomerates gave their support to the effort to close the Star-Bulletin.

A newspaper is more than an alternative news source to TV or the Internet, more than just one you can fold and stuff in your back pocket, or clip a coupon or fill in a crossword puzzle.

Newspapers are the conscience of the community and the champions of the people. They see what's wrong and try to set it right.

Television has the power to capture the drama of life, to give us a semblance of an eyewitness to the day's events.

The Internet has wrested the title of instantaneous coverage from radio and TV. It is eminently updateable.

But neither champions the people.

Early FCC regulations forbade TV to editorialize. Later lifting of the rules didn't open a floodgate of opinion and advocacy. That would take up time, and time is literally money to television.

The Internet is fascinating in its eclectic diversity, but is too atomized to marshal a community and speak on its behalf.

TV and the Internet are very good at what they do. But that doesn't include being a champion of the people -- an advocate of doing what's right for the community.

That's a newspaper's job, and the good ones are great at it.

What's the problem with a one-newspaper town?

First, you've lost a champion. Second, you have to ask, "Which people are being championed?"

Is it the unempowered and disenfranchised? Is it the voiceless who yearn for a voice to advocate on their behalf?

Or is it the status quo, the "movers and shakers" who all too often ignore their effects on the "movees and shakees?"

Who will set the standard against which all community journalism will be measured? Does the standard of comparison shift to television and the Internet?

What are the antidotes to complacency? What keeps the fires of outrage burning against corruption and violations of the public trust?

What keeps the conscience of the community alive?

THERE was a reason the voices of two champions of the people were worth preserving through law, no matter how similar those voices might have seemed.

To use that same law that demanded commitment to preserving one of those voices to now silence it, while continuing to profit at the public expense, is no act of championing for the people.

It is the kind of act that, done by others, a newspaper would investigate, uncover, reveal, express outrage and demand restitution of the public trust.

You don't have to hate the Advertiser to love the Star-Bulletin. But it's legitimate to ask: With only a single voice, and one that draws its lifeblood from the demise of the other, who will watch the watchdog, and keep it from becoming a lapdog?

Tom Brislin is professor and chairman
of the Department of Journalism at the
University of Hawaii at Manoa

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

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