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Paying For Honolulu News

Follow the money, the technology and the readers to try to predict the future of the news business

(page 2 of 3)

Newspaper Holds Steady on Local News

By Janel Lubanski

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser provides readers with about the same amount of local coverage as its predecessors did in their last year of operation, a Hawaii Business analysis has found.

HB examined two weeks of the Star-Advertiser’s print edition (Oct. 11-17, 2010 and Feb. 6-12, 2011). Then, we compared the number of local stories and the word counts with comparable year-earlier weeks in The Honolulu Advertiser’s and Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s print editions (Oct. 11-17, 2009, and Feb. 1-6, 2010).

Here’s what we found:

  Inside the Numbers:

In the weeks that Hawaii Business surveyed:

  • The Star-Advertiser’s higher story count came largely from using more briefs and letters to the editor than its predecessors, but its actual word count was lower than the Advertiser’s.
  • The Star-Advertiser ran fewer staff-written editorials but more staff columnists and more commentaries written by local citizens.
  • The Star-Advertiser and Star-Bulletin ran more local features in their soft-news sections, but the Advertiser ran more local sports stories.


Local stories written by the newspapers’ staff were counted, plus opinion pieces and letters to the editor. Stories from wire services, such as the Associated Press, were not counted, and national and international stories without a Hawaii focus were not counted.

Word counts were collected from the online versions of the print stories.


 Innovative and Online

Civil Beat, the online-only news service, was launched by eBay founder and billionaire philanthropist Pierre Omidyar in May 2010. From the start, Omidyar has said the operation must eventually become self-sustaining.

To pay for operations, Civil Beat allowed everyone a free peek at the introductions to its stories, but required people to pay $20 a month to read everything. Recently, the site began offering free access to all its content for “occasional users” and discounted prices for new subscribers. It carries no advertising.

“This is a for-profit business. Our goal is to be a successful business,” says editor John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

“We are doing very serious, enterprise, question-driven reporting,” Temple says. “We are committed to serious public affairs, traditional journalism to serve the public.”

Asked about Civil Beat, Star-Advertiser publisher Dennis Francis says he considers the website no competition at all. “They have a very limited base of folks they reach” and a limited range of subjects covered.

But Randy Ching, president of Civil Beat, says a half million individuals read Civil Beat in its first year, though he would not say how many of those are paying subscribers.

“Our success metric is: Are we having a positive impact and are we stimulating positive change? I believe we are,” Ching says.

“We are reaching key leaders in the community and we are reaching lots of people.”


Broadening Its Coverage

Hawaii Reporter began as a conservative, business-oriented website, which made money partly by collecting, organizing and reselling government information. It has morphed into a more general news site, while keeping its emphasis on business and government.

“Primarily our focus is partnership with (national) watchdog sites focused on issues such as the state budget, taxes, pensions, regulations and the like,” says founder and editor Malia Zimmerman. “Our whole emphasis is on economics and how things influence the business community and the taxpayer.”

Zimmerman says she is determined to keep her site free for readers. After initial startup money from “friends and family,” plus her own savings, she says, she now gets some support from national groups with similar pro-business interests, a growing list of advertisers (about 30 percent of her $250,000 to $300,000 annual budget) and voluntary subscribers who pay up to $95 a year.


Merger By The Numbers

Click here to enlarge image.


Covering A Big Story

To determine whether or not competition on major, breaking-news stories remains vigorous despite consolidations in the local media, we looked at one event with major ramifications: The surprise vote on April 7 by the Senate Ways and Means Committee to kill a proposed increase in the general excise tax.

The committee acted by mid-morning that Thursday, and here’s when each news agency broke the story on its website. Most began with a brief story, then followed with longer stories on their website and other media. (We followed websites because each local media has far more website users than Twitter followers.)


10:30 a.m. Associated Press news service and KITV
11:21 a.m. KHON2
11:26 a.m. Civil Beat
12:56 p.m. Star-Advertiser
1:22 p.m. Hawaii Reporter posts fairly complete story
About 3 p.m. Hawaii News Now


Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Old to new | New to old
Jun 8, 2011 06:45 pm
 Posted by  NancyLauer

As someone who has published, curating the state's news every weekday for more than 2 1/2 years, I would have to say that there is more hard news out there, not less, especially state-level news.

I attribute that to Civil Beat and the evolution of Hawaii Reporter into a more solid news source. TV news sites remain a disappointment, primarily following the "if it bleeds, it leads," mantra.

It should get interesting once more paywalls are erected.


Jun 13, 2011 03:16 am
 Posted by  Hawaii Reader

It's interesting that Malia Zimmerman, who prides herself on factual journalism, is now the "founder" of Hawaii Reporter and not the "co-founder." It's also very interesting that she states that she started Hawaii Reporter using her own money. Sounds like revisionist reporting!

Dec 24, 2011 04:08 pm
 Posted by  kevlar

I don't believe the Star Advertiser's model of charging for online access will be sustainable. The SA is not the New York Times, and with their reporting biases and editorial slop, they should be happy anyone is even visiting their site for free. I think their failure to figure out a model will ultimately create a market for others who can create quality content and not have to charge for it.

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