Friday, February 26, 2010

One year later, there's life after death

It’s deja-vu all over again.

Here I am in Honolulu, one year after the announcement by the E.W. Scripps Co. that it would shut down the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and what do I hear? That another newspaper company is dealing essentially the same death knell to another proud title, this time the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

It wasn’t unexpected. It hasn’t seemed possible since I arrived here in January that Honolulu could support two major newspapers. I thought it was only a matter of time until there would be just one. I still think I’m right.

Of course, the owner of the Star-Bulletin says it’s putting the paper up for sale. But that appears to be just a way to say it did everything possible for the paper.

I know the uncertainty and even despair that some newspaper journalists here must be feeling. We felt something similar a year ago.

Tomorrow, in Denver, former Rocky journalists will gather at the press club and mark the anniversary of the paper’s final edition. I will be with them and my other colleagues in spirit.

I never could have imagined last Feb. 26 that one year after telling my staff that our next issue would be our final edition, I would be in Hawaii, launching what we’re calling a next generation news service.

I won’t say I don’t feel a sense of loss. Of course I do. I’ll never forget my days at the Rocky or the friends I made there. But perhaps my words - and experience - can encourage some of the new friends I’ve made in the journalism community here and the many newspaper people here I’ve yet to meet.

Yes, it’s difficult to move on to the next stage in life. And, no, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to make the kind of money you once made. Or that you’ll be able to work in journalism again. But there’s life after the death of a paper. You can see that in what has happened to many who were at the Rocky. I had hoped to do a survey and report what had happened to the staff, the way I did after six months. But frankly, I’m too busy building something new to look back. And that’s the good news.

I feel so lucky to be here. I feel liberated by not having the tug of the newspaper holding us down as we imagine what the future of journalism might look like. I have only a map of where we’re going and I don’t know all the people I’ll be going with, but each day I get to put one foot in front of the other and help us try to find our way.

I would encourage others to do the same. Don’t abandon your belief in the importance of the work or your dream of doing work better than anything you’ve done until now.

Yes, the announcement Thursday in Honolulu was probably another grave marker along the road to doom for newspapers. But I feel even more strongly today than a year ago that what we should be thinking about reinventing is journalism, not newspapers. I still love newspapers - I read three a day in print - and I admire the work that many are still doing at them. To those who can still work at them, and to their owners, I would just ask that you take more chances. Just because something used to be a certain way doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.

And to those at both Honolulu papers, I would tell you what I told our staff when Scripps announced the Rocky was for sale. Don’t waste the time you have. Do the stories you’ve always wanted to do. You won’t regret it. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.


  1. Thoughtful post, John! Now more than ever we - the community at large - NEED real journalists! With anyone and everyone posting stuff without doing REAL homework - there's just so much garbage and outright falsehoods spread across the net - that people are reading and believing. Or worse, people become jaded, apathetic and only believe what suits their fancy. We need real reporters and journalists to continue to give us their stories and perspectives.
    Arleen Boyd

  2. One writer points out that if the Star Bulletin isn't sold, it will merge with the Advertiser. And that it appears that Advertiser folks would move to Star Bulletin offices, if the Star Bulletin is not sold. Also, today's coverage indicates that if Star Bulletin is not sold, a new title will emerge somehow incorporating both names. Good nuance. Bottom line remains that Honolulu will have one major daily and that a number of journalists inevitably will lose their jobs unless a buyer is found.

  3. In Denver, when the DNA (Denver Newspaper Agency, not the nucleotide strands) was formed it represented the beginning of the end for The Rocky Mountain News (although you may disagree Mr. Temple). As you have described, the RMN was always a half-step behind in keeping up with the major innovations in the industry despite maintaining its high standards of journalism.

    Today's development may mark the same moment in Hawaii newspaper history. Even if both papers survive in some form I believe this will lead to Honolulu becoming a one-newspaper town. It's sad but I guess it's inevitable.

    What will become of the Maui News, Maui's only daily? It has the same corporate owner as the Advertiser.

    I am a refugee of Denver newspapers and would love to be an assistant editor on Molokai — the Last Hawaiian Island. I have submitted my resume to media@omidyar as well as at Please check out my news blog

    David Lichtenstein

  4. Here is a kind of life after death you can be sure of...

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