Sunday, May 13, 2001

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

Nasty paper war
spawns ugliness

Stiff newspaper competition
leads to criminal complaints


By Erika Engle
Star-Bulletin Staff

Honolulu's daily newspapers are engaged in aggressive efforts to win readers, and some tactics have raised objections.

Two employees of the Honolulu Advertiser are named in criminal complaints filed with the Honolulu Police Department for incidents April 8 and 9. The cases, alleging petty misdemeanor fourth-degree theft of 41 Star-Bulletins from two 14-year-old street hawkers, and misdemeanor telephone harassment involving the papers' single-copy sales managers, are pending.

One of the two Advertiser employees is accused, though not in a police report, of interfering with the efforts of an 8-year-old girl and her grandmother to sell the Star-Bulletin April 8.

And Brian Borges, Star-Bulletin single-copy sales manager, said an Advertiser employee has been parked outside the Star-Bulletin printing facility in Kaneohe observing press operations through binoculars.

Recently, residents of Yacht Harbor Towers have found their Star-Bulletins stuffed in plastic bags printed with a pitch to subscribe to the Advertiser.

Dennis Francis, general manager of the Advertiser, said the theft case was "totally blown out of proportion -- a real misunderstanding involving 40 newspapers, roughly. I don't know what the circulation is but it didn't seem to be a major issue.

"I would have to say I think that was just an isolated incident."

He said he believed the second incident was tied to the initial case, and "it just sounds like two individuals doing the same role for their companies that don't like each other."

However, Francis said, "I certainly wouldn't want any of my employees to resort to anything unethical or unprofessional.

"We want to be aggressive in marketing our product in a successful way, but don't want to do anything unprofessional. We want to be above-board in all ways."

As for the stuffing of copies of the Bulletin into the Advertiser-promoting plastic bags, Francis said, "We would never do that.

"The issue is that you have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of individual carriers," he said, "and they have their own idea of what they think is appropriate. They may think they're doing a good thing but don't know the ramifications of what they're doing. You explain it to them later, and it stops," Francis said, adding, "I certainly wouldn't think they'd have been given any sort of directive to do that."

Borges said he knew of no complaints against Star-Bulletin circulation employees.

Francis also said he was "not aware of anything specifically, but you're always going to have some minor day-to-day operating issues that will occur when you have two competing newspapers."An Advertiser employee is named in a fourth-degree theft complaint filed with HPD for allegedly stealing copies of the Star-Bulletin from two 14-year-old boys hawking the paper April 8 in Waikiki. The papers were recovered from the Advertiser by Star-Bulletin employees. Classified as a fourth-degree theft case, it was referred to the HPD Criminal Investigation Division.

THE SECOND CASE, stemming from the first, involved alleged telephone harassment of the Star-Bulletin's Borges by another Advertiser employee, Lester Kodama.

Kodama, Borges said in the complaint, promised to continue to cause problems for the paper and accused the Star-Bulletin of blowing the previous day's incident out of proportion by reporting the story in the paper.

Borges' statement continued, "(Kodama) stated we're in for a war and to watch out because they're on the lookout to cause us problems. He said for us to do things our way and he'll do things his way."

Kodama declined comment on the charges, other than saying, "There's no merit behind either of those (police complaints)."

The other incident, which did not involve police, also occurred April 8 outside the McDonald's restaurant in the Kapolei Shopping Center. Leigh Osborn said she thought selling the Star-Bulletin would be a good learning experience for her 8-year-old granddaughter as well as a good way to earn extra money.

She said they were ordered to move from her busy sales location to an area 30 feet away where there was no shopping center activity. She said she was told to do this by a person she assumed was a McDonald's employee.

She used her cellular phone to call Star-Bulletin distributor William Hew Len, who also talked to the man when "he came back around in his van." She said Hew Len told her the man, identified as Kodama by Hew Len, had no authority to order her to move, and then offered to send someone to help her relocate to a better sales spot.

Outside the Star-Bulletin printing plant, the surveillance didn't stop after Borges photographed and approached the employee, whom he identified as a Advertiser home delivery supervisor. The Advertiser employee said he was "just doing his job."

Mike Cusato Jr., Advertiser vice president of circulation, said, "It's not something I can comment on."

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