IMR: 1999: September: 19 —  Sunday, 11:23 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

I'd never hoped harder than I did on Wednesday night that my fellow newshounds were dead wrong about their big scoop: the imminent shutdown of the Star-Bulletin. I raced to work the next morning to nab The Honolulu Advertiser, but found no mention of the story. For a brief instant, I was relieved.

But an hour later I got a plaintive e-mail from Donica, writing from the newsroom. "Help! My paper just closed!" The omission by the Advertiser? Just an admirable flash of professional courtesy. And sure enough, when the day's Bulletin was plopped on my desk, there it was in black and white.

[ Star-Bulletin ]

But I was going to work there! So was Greg! Now what?

I was afraid the Bulletin would just pass into oblivion quietly. I was afraid that the people of Hawai`i were even more apathetic than I'd feared. Our governor wasn't available for comment, but journalist seized on a quote uttered less than a month ago where he said, "I could care less if there's one or two papers in this state." If everyone else felt the same way, I thought, then maybe Hawai`i is simply not the place for me anymore.

Turns out people care. My coworkers, among the most cynical people I know when it comes to the local media, lamented the news. Everywhere I went, people were talking about it. Wayne's mom, of all people, seemed genuinely troubled. Hell, even the Bulletin's harshest critics — former mayor Frank Fasi chief among them — have a serious problem with the closure... at least in principle.

A one paper town is just sad. Especially if that one paper is a Gannett drone. And especially considering how isolated we are from the scope and reach of any alternative.

But the larger controversy has turned out to be, "Why didn't they even try to sell the paper first?"

The Star-Bulletin is simply being liquidated. Though the specifics and legalities are greek to me, essentially Gannett has agreed to sever the Joint Operating Agreement and will pay Florida-based Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership to settle the unfulfilled balance (the Bulletin was supposed to operate at least through 2013) and acquire any interest in the physical plant (the currently split HNA Building).

Basically, the owners of the Advertiser are paying a reported $15 million to help shut down its chief competitor. A little fishy, to say the least.

Liberty maintains no one would buy the Bulletin anyway, yet the paper has been profitable in recent years. Liberty cited declining circulation, but traditionally JOAs aren't killed until the smaller paper's circulation drops to one-fifth of that of the larger, and the Bulletin still has a decent 67,000 subscribers versus the Advertiser's 100,000. There's clearly still room in this town for two mainstream dailies, but other interests have made that fact moot.

Now the unions are starting to make noise, and there are whispers in many corners of a Justice Department investigation or a temporary injunction. Jen is crossing her fingers and is betting the Star-Bulletin will pull through.

As much as I want to think that, however, I can't. Things will easily get ugly between now and Oct. 30, but the epitaph is already, literally, being written.

Plans for the elegant sign-off are already on the layout table. The staff are already jumping ship. The pain is more from the timing of the announcement — about 50 days' notice for readers and employees — than the announcement itself, as there was never doubt in anyone's mind that the Bulletin would die within a decade. At this point, the fatal shot has been fired, and I think any attempts to keep it on life support will merely prolong the agony.

I truly feel for Donica. She will have to work in that office until the bitter end, surrounded by long faces, crumpled resumés and unbearable tension as only one out of four employees get hired across the hall.

Fortunately, I don't think she'll have a problem finding work elsewhere (though perhaps not in Hawai`i). And some people have it worse, without a doubt. Journalists are famous for their inbreeding, and true to form, there are as many as half a dozen married couples in the Star-Bulletin newsroom. Here you have families, parents, depending on two incomes, both of which will now dry up at the same time.


The job market for journalists here was already tough. Now it'll be flat-out impossible. I guess this is what I get for dragging my feet through college.

We had a farewell lunch on Friday for Baron, Charlie and Jennifer (though Jennifer will probably pop in and out through the end of this week). The office won't be the same without them. Our boss astutely observed, "We're losing 20 percent of our workforce!"

Some of us followed up after work with an informal gathering at "Good Times Cafe," a genuine hole-in-the-wall karaoke joint along Nimitz Highway. Jen and Katie joined us, and we filled up on poke and barbeque chicken and just talked and talked and talked.

Lacene was of course tickled to see Katie again, even letting her loot her purse. but the real highlight of the evening — besides the ghost stories — was discovering deep down inside our cool, smooth Baron was an impressive set of paternal instincts. Any time Katie teetered or wobbled, his hand was there to steady her.

With his inner daddy and his wife's hands-on training as a high school teacher at Radford, I have great hope for their offspring.

Finally the time came to sing. Lacene gave us the honors in choosing the first tune, and we chose Len's "Steal My Sunshine." Sadly, as soon as I grabbed the mics and the music started, Katie absolutely freaked, and we had to bid everyone a premature farewell.

Tip for Baron: Parenthood rocks, but get all those karaoke nights out of your system first.

Almost forgot. Preliminary jury duty interview tomorrow. As if I haven't had two lifetimes' share of courtrooms already.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 19 September 1999 · Last Modified: 25 September 1999