Friday, June 25, 2010

The Implications of Being a One-Newspaper Town

I saw what happened in Denver. Now I'm seeing what's happening in Honolulu, when one newspaper — in this case, the new Honolulu Star-Advertiser — is the last daily standing in a city.

Being a one-newspaper town has implications for journalism, the commercial vitality of a city and for its public life.

In a free article on Civil Beat today, I share some reflections. We're going to hold a Beatup on Thursday where I'll talk about this issue further.

Here's the top of that article. To read the rest, go to Civil Beat.

I'm getting used to the fact that Honolulu is a one-newspaper town. Just like I did in Denver, after the Rocky Mountain News closed.

And I can't say I like it anymore here than I did in Denver.

That's not to say that the good folks at the Star-Advertiserhaven't tried to step up and produce a bigger — and better — newspaper than either of the city's two previous titles. But the new reality has disturbing implications for the city's journalism, commercial vitality and public life. There's something depressing about not being able to compare the coverage in two competing papers to try to understand what's going on in a city.

Let me give you a small example from Thursday's paper.

The black front-page above the fold headline in the Star-Advertiser said: "Veto of civil unions bill is not group's position." The italic sub-headline said, "The Business Roundtable clarifies its statement, reacting to internal dissent and other pressures." The article was on Page B3. The headline on the B3 article was fine, but the lede (the first and most important paragraph) was flat-out wrong. It read: "The Hawaii Business Roundtable clarified yesterday that it has not taken a position on a civil unions bill, responding to internal dissent and under pressure from gay rights advocates for urging Gov. Linda Lingle to veto the measure."

The Roundtable has taken a position on the civil unions bill. What it hasn't taken a position on, it now says, is the concept of civil unions. The group wants the governor to veto House Bill 444 because it believes there are "administrative challenges to the implementation of H.B. 444 in its present form."

Civil Beat Publishes Anonymous Source Policy, Will Link to it Every Time

We published our anonymous source policy on Civil Beat today, concurrently with the use of an anonymous source in an article on the impact of the recession on a Honolulu neighborhood.

Every time we use an anonymous source in an article, we'll link to the policy. I'm not sure anybody else is doing that. The reader can be the judge of whether we followed our policy.

Here's some key language from the policy:

"At Civil Beat, we believe that anonymous sources are sometimes necessary when they're the only way we can share important information. We only use them, though, when we believe the public benefit clearly outweighs any potential downsides. Anonymous sources must be used carefully. The decision is in our sole judgment. To retain your trust, we believe we must explain why we granted anonymity. It's not enough for us that somebody might ask for anonymity.

"It's important to state: We always try to obtain information on the record. But there may be cases where that's impossible, and yet we believe we have information that is essential for the public to know. In such cases, before considering granting anonymity, we must know that the source or sources are reliable and that they have direct knowledge of the subject. We always try to confirm information by seeking multiple sources. We decide to grant anonymity because we believe the person has a justifiable reason not to speak on the record."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Free Day" at Civil Beat

If you want to see everything that's beyond the pay wall at Civil Beat, today is your day. The site will be free until midnight Hawaii time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The good, bad and the ugly of Honolulu Star-Advertiser's first week

In a "Free" article on Civil Beat, I explore what the Sunday edition of the new Honolulu Star-Advertiser tells us.

I wrap up my review of the first week of the paper with a few conclusions:
  • The paper doesn't care about the web.
  • The front page is going to be dominated by "concept" covers, rather than documentary journalism.
  • So far, the paper isn't asking tough questions. The lead story on Sunday, the first Sunday since the new paper debuted, was lame. Most of the front page was dedicated to a package on how food distributors were paying an extra $300 weekly for overtime for state food inspectors and how that was driving up the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables. The huge headline: "Fresh Costs: Hawaii consumers are paying more for fresh produce because of state cutbacks." Please ....
  • The owner is being generous with news hole. It's a bigger paper than you'd find in most other cities of comparable size, based on my experience. Too bad so much of the space is used for long wire stories.
  • The owner is also showing more commitment to commentary, beefing up the section — which is a great move. Three pages of commentary many days. Two at a minimum. The old Advertiser used to run 1 and 1/2, with none on Saturday.
Read my series on the Star-Advertiser's full week at

Friday, June 11, 2010

Breaking news an afterthought at new Honolulu Star-Advertiser

If you went to the new Honolulu Star-Advertiser's website last night or this morning, the breaking news page had nothing on it. That's pretty much indicative of the paper's approach to the web.

The site republishes what's in the paper. But not much more.

I've written more on the new Star-Advertiser in an all "free" article on

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Little advertising in new Star-Advertiser

Day 2 of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser was a Tuesday, a notoriously difficult day for newspaper advertising. Still, the lack of advertising in the new paper was noticeable. The owner kept the paper relatively fat — certainly bigger than Gannett's old Advertiser — but not with ads. The ratio was 90 percent editorial, 10 percent advertising.

More on Day 2 of the Star-Advertiser in a free story on Civil Beat.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 1 of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Honolulu became a one-newspaper town on Monday morning when the Star-Advertiser rolled onto the streets.

I shared my thoughts in a "free" article on Civil Beat.

You have to forgive hyperbole on a day of hope for a new newspaper, and the team did a nice job of creating a new design under difficult circumstances, but....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Don't believe everything you read about Honolulu newspapers

Sunday was a sad day in Honolulu for anybody who loves newspapers.

I've shared my reflections on that day in a post on Bottom line: Honolulu can't support two separate newspapers. And it's admirable that David Black has picked up 28 journalists from The Honolulu Advertiser for his new Star-Advertiser. But the claim that he has lost $100 million over past 10 years in Honolulu just doesn't seem believable.

I'm sure he can come up with numbers to show that's the case. But I deeply doubt that his claim represents the underlying situation here. The Star-Bulletin may have lost $100 million, depending on how expenses and revenues are allocated. But his Midweek, a weekly paper distributed to most residences on Oahu, looks to be very profitable. Why else would he have kept it out of the deal when he put the Star-Bulletin up for sale and made an offer on the Advertiser? You might be able to show that the Star-Bulletin lost $100 million, but my guess is that Oahu Publications, the parent company of the Star-Bulletin and Midweek, did far better and made up much if not most of those losses with profits from Midweek. Black put the Star-Bulletin up for sale. Not Oahu Publications.

With essentially a monopoly weekly, a monopoly daily and a great press plant that can be the dominant local commercial printer, it seems like he's in a position to raise rates. Would lenders really have given him money if he had lost $100 million over the past 10 years and wanted to spend another $125 million on the Advertiser? I doubt it. I also doubt he has the kind of pockets to lose $100 million in Honolulu.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Free Day at

Today is our first "Free Day" at Honolulu Civil Beat. It's been exactly a month since we formally launched and today we're opening our doors wide to give a deeper view into what we're doing. I hope people will check the site out and let me know what they think.