Can Honolulu sustain more than one daily newspaper?
Richard J. Port,
As a founding member of both Save Our Star-Bulletin (SOS) and the Friends of The Honolulu Advertiser, I believe it is critical for Honolulu to have two competing editorial voices, two competing ad rates and two teams of reporters covering stories important to our community. Our system of government and our society depend on diverse opinions and a free press to tell us what is going on.
Not long ago, better printing presses and the creative use of computers helped to keep publishing costs manageable. However, a combination of 24-hour cable news and the use of online Web sites have left us with fewer newspaper purchasers. To offset this, publishers have reduced the number of pages, downsized staff, given away newspapers and encouraged the public to read the “rest of the story” online.
When citizens were asked in 1999 whether they wanted The Honolulu Advertiser to purchase the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, thousands signed petitions to help prevent that from happening. Neighborhood boards passed resolutions and both the city and state opposed the purchase.
However, Honolulu’s two daily newspapers need to act quickly to eliminate revenue losses. They must provide information that local TV coverage cannot provide. Our four local TV newscasts spend most of their coverage on crime, accidents, traffic, health, weather and sports. Even in those areas, our TV stations cannot compete fully with newspapers. Moreover, TV newscasts do not, and cannot, compete with newspapers on politics, business, controversial issues and stories of human interest.
Both newspapers would benefit from establishing committees that meet three or four times a year, specifically charged with recommending improvements to coverage of under-reported local issues. These committees could also suggest ways to increase readership.
While downsizing, TV stations and newspapers need to keep writers who understand and appreciate the history and culture of Hawaii, even if this increases costs.
My advice to The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin: Put these suggestions to the test.
I wish I could answer, “Yes.” Honolulu is blessed; very few U.S. cities our size have two competing daily newspapers. While good for our community, it can’t last.
Americans began losing interest in news decades ago. In 1964, more than 80 percent of Americans read a paper each weekday; today, it’s barely one-third. As far back as the 1970s, research found people less interested in hard news (White House, economics, state Capitol, City Hall) than in stories with a “focus on self, advice on where to play, how to cope.” Walter Cronkite lamented the rise of “news as entertainment, cheapening the product.”
For a long time, newspapers were still money machines despite lower readership. No more. Now, along with readers, advertisers are fleeing. Immensely profitable classified ads migrated to Craigslist.
So newspapers reduce staff (meaning less reporting) and newsprint (fewer, shorter stories). Detroit’s papers have cut home delivery to three times weekly. Denver, Seattle and Tucson just lost their second papers. Parent companies of papers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Philadelphia have filed for bankruptcy. Shares of Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher and owner of The Honolulu Advertiser, have plummeted from $90 to around $2 since 2004.
In Honolulu, the number of households has doubled since 1965, while newspaper circulation has declined. Both dailies have laid off workers and cut pay for the rest. Published reports say both papers lose money.
Maybe people watch TV news instead? Nope. Ratings are down, too.
Online? Net news is mostly recycled work by newspaper journalists, who still produce most of the original reporting, especially about public affairs. Why not stop the presses and just put news online? Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer is trying, but the math doesn’t pencil out. Pew Research Center says ending print and going online would cut 40 percent of a paper’s costs, but 90 percent of its income, too. How then do you pay reporters?
Can Honolulu support two papers? Maybe the question is whether we’ll have even one in the form we know today. Wouldn’t that give Frank Fasi the last laugh!
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