Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

Best way to save
paper is to buy it

OUR heads were on the chopping block. A little red dotted line with the inscription "strike here" was drawn across our necks. The date was set. The blade was raised.

Then a stay of execution was issued. The chopping block remained in the public square. But we were told to go back to what we were doing. Let the courts sort this out. You're probably still going to die, but in the meantime, keep on truckin'. Enjoy your reprieve.

The thing is, once you've seen the glittering blade perched above your neck, it's kind of hard to continue doing what you were doing. Your entire professional life passes before your eyes. You have to consider contingencies, come to grips with radical change.

A federal appeals court ruled the Honolulu Star-Bulletin will remain open until the state's antitrust lawsuit goes to trial in September. But an appeal of that ruling still leaves the Bulletin in limbo. The chopping block at least has been moved into the garage. Out of sight, if not completely out of mind.

Honolulu probably will continue to have two daily newspapers for at least late into next year. The question is: Does Honolulu really WANT two daily newspapers?

THERE is only one reason anyone would try to close the paper: money. If the Star-Bulletin were making tons of money, there would be no discussion of closing it. Rupert Phillips, primary partner of the paper's owner, Liberty Newspapers, told the staff when he announced the closing that Liberty investors felt they could get a better return on their money if they closed the Star-Bulletin and put their money elsewhere. And Gannett obviously would make more with Liberty out of the picture. A city may need two daily newspapers, enjoy two daily newspapers and may even think it's owed two daily newspapers. But if a city isn't going to support two daily newspapers then one of the newspapers is going to try to take all the business for itself, joint operating agreement or not.

Hopefully, the courts will rule the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin have to stay in business for the life of the JOA, until 2012.

But what would help convince judges and future juries that Honolulu really WANTS two newspapers is for more people to actually start buying the paper.

It's great that the Save Our Star-Bulletin organization is out there waving signs and circulating petitions. But I know a few members of that group who never actually subscribed to the afternoon newspaper. And they don't now.

If everyone who signed petitions urging that the paper be kept open actually subscribed to the paper, there would be tangible evidence of their support. If the Star-Bulletin's circulation increased from 67,000 to 100,000 by the time the state's lawsuit got to trial, I have a feeling any talk of closing the paper would go away.

So anyone who truly wants to keep the Star-Bulletin has to become a subscriber. Or at least make sure that every paper in the street racks is bought every day. Talk is cheap. Subscriptions cost a little more.

I'll tell you something I tell every group I speak to, from the Rotary clubs to business associations: If you aren't BUYING the Star-Bulletin then you are contributing to its death.

SOS is doing what it can. BTS (Buy The Star-Bulletin) is important too.

Bulletin closing archive

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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