NEWSPAPER SALE DIARY GETS LONGER AND LONGER

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By: Joel Davis

Tale Of Honolulu Star-Bulletin Is Never-ending Story





When Honolulu Star-Bulletin investigative reporter Ian Lind launched a Web diary on the planned closure of the paper last year, he thought it would last for a few weeks, tops.



“Here we are a year later, and I’m still doing it,” said Lind, who gets up an hour early to write the column for his site (http://www.ilind.net). “It’s kind of a pain in the butt.”



Especially for Gannett Co. Inc. Lind’s cyber column, “Final Days? A Newsroom Diary,” has generated a small but loyal readership as he chronicles the saga of the Star-Bulletin.



The column mainly focuses on the Star-Bulletin, whose uncertain fate has had more twists and turns than a big Hawaiian wave since Liberty Newspapers agreed in September 1999 to end its joint operating agreement (JOA) and close the 61,976-circulation Star-Bulletin in exchange for $26.5 million from Gannett, which owns JOA partner and editorial rival Honolulu Advertiser.



However, a court-monitored agreement gives Liberty until Oct. 27 to sell the newspaper. The agreement was made in the wake of a federal antitrust lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by Hawaii’s attorney general and a citizens’ group. The suit, on hold until the sale deadline, alleges Gannett and Liberty conspired to create a monopoly in Honolulu. A federal judge has chosen Canadian publisher David Black, 54, as the lone qualified bidder for the 118-year-old daily.



Black characterized the negotiations as “difficult,” telling E&P that one of the sticking points in the deal is access to Gannett’s existing supply of newsprint. The West Coast supply from vendors, he said, is “very tight.” He added that if he buys the paper, he would move it to a new location in Honolulu and print it on a different press.



Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell said it would “not be commenting on the Hawaii negotiations.”



Lind, on the other hand, is. Management has told the 53-year-old reporter, who has a background in social activism, that the Web site is OK as long as he does it on his own time. He also is a member of The Newspaper Guild, which affords added protection, as any deal to buy the paper must honor union contracts.



Lind has chronicled the drama with a conversational insider’s account that explores everything from the personal emotional toll the closure/sale has taken on staff (“the last year’s been hard on all of us and, although often overlooked, our families have been along for the ride”) to in-house sleuthing that suggests that business partner Gannett is trying to make the Star-Bulletin an unappealing property by not filling news racks.



And although he has had plenty to write about – after all, the reviled rival Advertiser is housed in the same building and printed on the same press, while the competing newsrooms are separated by only 40 feet – Lind has added a whimsical touch to the site. Readers needing a break from the Star-Bulletin saga can click on pictures and stories about such things as Hawaiian sunsets or Lind’s pet cats.



“The diary is too grim if it’s all about work,” Lind explained. “It’s evolved into more than that.”







Joel Davis (jdavis@editorandpublisher.com) is West Coast editor for E&P.







Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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