By Jay Fidell
After decades of thrills and chills as to which paper was going first, the Advertiser is “it” and the Star-Bulletin gets to inherit the circulation. It won’t have to do much to inherit the circulation. Some say it’ll have to “win over” the Advertiser readers, but I think they’ll be eager for a paper.
The Star-Bulletin will probably hire some Advertiser people, but the reality is they don’t have to increase their “news hole” or staff to inherit the circulation. They don’t have to spend money to win anyone over. Against the union, they’re unlikely to make much room for refugee journalists.
Starting June 7th, the surviving Star-Advertiser will probably be no bigger than today’s Star-Bulletin, but will draw the circulation of both the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser. It will be double fold broadsheet, and will in that way remind us all of the Advertiser, rest its soul.
ROLE OF THE SURVIVOR
The question is whether it’ll feature front page crime stories the way the Star-Bulletin regularly does or tend toward leading stories on larger issues. And that’s the reason for my blog – to explore the role and implications of the surviving paper in what will be a one paper community.
In a one paper community, that paper can really let things go, and what are we to do about it. They can print anything that suits them, or avoid printing anything they like, and the hard core paper readers will subscribe nevertheless. Indeed, how will they know the difference?
You can say those readers have the option of going online to get their news, and undoubtedly some will or would, but only some. This is where the generations divide – the younger readers will go to the net and the older ones will require the paper to be in paper and stay that way.
I suppose you can say all news is local. For national and international news, you can go to a myriad of sources to find out what’s going on. It’s the local news that connects us to our neighbors and binds us to our community. Without it, we’re detached and disconnected.
More, it enhances the quality of our community, and without it we are less of a community. In that way, a newspaper reporting local news has a profound effect on our lives. We want to know and we need to know what the people around us are doing, and how that affects us.
This, in my view, is the problem. Because they need to know, people trust the word in print. It’s a great trust that falls on the diminishing newspapers or in this case the one newspaper. We trust them to tell us the truth and not to omit anything. It’s more now a sacred trust.
SECOND HAND READERS
Papers are a primary information lifeline. Even if you don’t read them yourself, lots of people around you do. Those people tell what they found out from the papers and you listen, and this makes you a second hand reader, like someone who breathes second hand smoke.
If there’s something in the paper that’s wrong, or missing, you, as part of a networking group of primary and second hand readers, are affected by the error. You rely on the paper even though you don’t think you do.
In a two newspaper community, the papers do look across the street to see what the other is doing and reporting, and not reporting. That’s the nature of competition and invidious comparison. In a one newspaper community, that kind of competition doesn’t happen.
Will the surviving paper in a one paper community be as careful without the other one to look over its shoulder? Intentional or otherwise, its errors and agendas can have a profound effect on what we individually and collectively learn and ultimately do. This is no small thing.
What would have happened had there been only one paper when the Advertiser refused to print Randy Roth’s Broken Trust article? You got it – that story would never had been printed, we would never have known, the events that followed would never have happened and the abuses at the Bishop Estate might never have been addressed.
This is not just a matter of informing the public – informing the public also changes the way they think and act. It changes events and thus history. News is never in a vacuum. So it’s really scary to think that in a one paper community there are things we might never find out about.
Perhaps a scandal that we might prevent next time, a threat that we might otherwise respond to, an epidemic that might present a risk to the community, a criminal who might repeat his crime, or an opportunity that might offer us all a break. Knowledge is power, and safety.
The possibilities are endless, and the level of trust we can and do repose in the papers is therefore extraordinary and a cornerstone of our society. That’s why the loss of one of only two papers in a given community is such a problem.
A DRAMA OR PERHAPS A TRAGEDY
The threat of losing one of our two papers has been nipping at our heels for twenty years or more, somehow running a parallel to the loss of our symphony. Both show that our tastes and interests have changed, and not necessarily for the better. A drama or, better put, a tragedy.
A newspaper is one of the few things in your daily life that is yours, that belongs to you, in which you have a proprietary if not possesory interest. It’s MY newspaper, because it speaks to me and tells me things before anyone else does, and because I need it to be part of things
No one likes to read a used newspaper. It’s more than the crumpled page or the jumbled sections. It simply doesn’t have the same cache, immediacy and authority that a fresh newspaper off the stand or on your doorstep or desk has when you start your day.
Without it, your day is somehow off balance. There is a silence, a disconnect and disability in navigating your course through work and play, a missing link in your dealings with others. It’s like forgetting to take your pills or shave. It’s like leaving your wristwatch on the counter.
To have our options cut by half, just after having our TV news cut into a third, should make us feel at least a little empty, and sad - sad for the newspaper people who will lose their jobs, sad for the weakening of our community, and sad for our kids who will learn just a little less than before. We’ll all feel it, even those who subscribed to the Star-Bulletin in the first place.
Not many will be able to move to the Star-Bulletin. Some will retire. Some will leave town, and some have already left. We’re losing some of the best and brightest in our journalistic community. That’s the most immediate part of the tragedy, but the quiet part is also sad.
With two papers, competition in the industry keeps the fire going. With one paper, the survivor is pretty much untouchable. You want to submit a letter or op-ed piece? If the Star-Advertiser doesn’t take it, your story is toast. You want to complain? Write a letter to the same editor.
Hawaii is in trouble on so many issues - our economy, our government, our bureaucracy, education, environment, and more. We need to know what’s going on. Being a one paper community will put us further behind. If you don’t know what’s wrong, how can you fix it?
A FEW MODEST SUGGESTIONS
So let me make some suggestions to the people who will now keep us informed:
Be nice to the reporters or they’ll leave town like the musicians and doctors. Pay them well and treat them well. Make them heroes and role models. Encourage them to speak and participate in the community. Give them a decent career so the kids will see and study journalism again.
Take articles like Broken Trust – it’s your duty and a great tradition of the Star-Bulletin. Have volunteer journalists. Encourage expertise, investigative reporting, candor and chutzpath, within limits. Except in the case of event promotions, don’t just reprint press releases.
John Temple was right – don’t accept anonymous comments. If these people are not willing to tell you who they are, don’t let them into a place where they can mess things up. Anonymity is unnecessary, and is a license for irresponsibility and spitefulness, which helps no one.
How about scrupulously separating news from comment and avoiding destructive agendas? At the same time, how about trying to avoid editorial attacks against legitimate progress in our state? Would it be so hard to support technology and the diversification of our economy?
If you find that you’re losing money, tell us. We don’t want you to fail too. It just may be that the public would pay more for a copy or a subscription in order to keep our last newspaper running. Who knows? That approach might have saved the Advertiser too. Give nonprofits substantial discounts on ads. Give up on the classified ads and let Craig’s List do it.
Make old stories easily accessible to the public, forever and for free. Yes, free. This is a great service for the public, for other journalists and for the kids in school, and with modern server and search technology it’s not very expensive to do it. The benefits will be enormous.
Some people will always require a print copy, so keep on printing. But make a mirror image of it online with a great website bristling with links and videos. Make it a snap to find things. Keep on sending news links by email once or possibly twice a day, even to non-subscribers.
And most important of all, someone needs to start another paper – at this point we clearly don’t have enough of them.