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Saturday, June 3, 2000

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

employees seek
active role in

Many people have asked
about buying the paper but
no bids have been made

By Peter Wagner


A majority of Honolulu Star-Bulletin employees, eager to move off the sidelines, has formally expressed an interest in participating in any purchase of the 118-year-old newspaper.

A letter signed by 73 editors, writers, photographers and other employees -- about three-fourths of the Star-Bulletin's staff -- was sent late yesterday to a New Mexico newspaper broker stating interest in an employee buyout, stock ownership plan or some other role in a purchase.

"It's a matter of getting our toe in the door, so we can get our foot in later," said reporter Burl Burlingame, an organizer of the effort. "It's a signal to the public that the staff believes in the product."

The effort, backed by the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America, could result in some form of employee stock ownership plan or some other participation with another potential buyer, according to Josh Wolf-Powers, an associate at Keilin & Co., the New York investment banking firm that is working with the employees.

The Star-Bulletin was put on the auction block by owner Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership under a court-supervised agreement April 21. The agreement, which gave Liberty 65 days to sell the paper, put on hold a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the company and Gannett Pacific Corp., owner of The Honolulu Advertiser.

The state attorney general and a a citizens group called Save Our Star-Bulletin filed suit in U.S. District Court in October alleging that Liberty and Gannett conspired to create a monopoly in Honolulu.

Bulletin for sale by owner
Shutdown on hold

'It's a matter of getting our toe
in the door, so we can get
our foot in later.'

Burl Burlingame


Since 1993, the two publishers have maintained separate newsrooms but shared business functions under a joint operating agreement, due to expire in 2012. In September, Liberty agreed to end that agreement and close the Star-Bulletin in return for a $26.5 million payment from Gannett.

The lawsuit led to a federal judge's temporary injunction halting the paper's planned closure.

Under April's court-approved sale agreement, initial, nonbinding bids are due by June 19. If none is received, the anti-trust lawsuit would proceed, according to the agreement.

Dirks Van Essen & Murray, a leading broker of daily newspapers based in Santa Fe, was hired to find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin.

Philip Murray, vice president at Dirks, said this week that numerous inquiries have been received from interested parties but that no bids have been submitted. He said any potential buyers would likely wait until the June 19 deadline to submit bids.

Guild and management employees recently formed a group called ESOP Star-Bulletin, which sent yesterday's letter to Dirks expressing an interest in working with prospective buyers or pursuing an employee buyout "either independently or in partnership with another party."

The Star-Bulletin has 99 employees, including about 80 represented by the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

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