It was with deep regret and a heavy heart that I made the difficult decision last week to cease publication of Hawai’i Island Journal, sister paper to Honolulu Weekly. I worked long and hard and ultimately unsuccessfully to find a buyer who could give the Journal the support it needed and who would have the deep pockets required to compete with what is now a Stephens Media monopoly on the Big Island. Sadly and ironically, three years of hard work by our team came to fruition just this month as the Journal was admitted to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
There has been, understandably, a good deal of chatter about all of this in the local blogosphere, and while much of it has been wild and inaccurate speculation, we in the newspaper business have learned that we ignore that world at our own peril. I want to address a few points, beginning with speculation that the Journal was doing much better than the Weekly with regard to advertising revenues. Hawai’i Island Journal has never, in its entire history, had anywhere near the Weekly’s revenue base. Honolulu Weekly is on solid financial footing and we are looking forward to a reinvigorated future under the stewardship of our new editor as we prepare to launch an across-the-board redesign of both our print and online publications.
Another point of contention seems to involve timing and delivery of the news of the closure to the Journal staff. In any such situation there are numerous variables involved, having to do with advertising, creditors and staff alike. In the case of the Journal, I continued publishing well beyond the point at which it no longer made financial sense to do so. When official notice of closure was given by phone to editor Peter Serafin on Monday, June 9–the day of the final printing– he was on vacation off-island. While the timing was certainly not ideal for Peter, it is the nature of these things that the timing is always bad. When it comes to closing any business, let alone making the decision to say goodbye to a beloved community newspaper and its talented and dedicated staff, the timing is never anything but wrenching.
Blogging and online publishing are two of the most revolutionary consequences of the nascent Internet age. While these media have ushered in a dazzling, sometimes dizzying flood of comment and opinion and have helped to shed important light on serious issues in our communities, in this case I am disappointed to find that local bloggers, journalists and commenters have offered more heat than light. At least one local newspaper and one prominent blogger ran pieces about the demise of the Journal without bothering to contact me for comment before publishing. Those pieces, as a result, contained either significant inaccuracies or ill-informed speculation, both of which could easily have been avoided with a simple e-mail or phone call.
It has become fashionable, particularly in blogging circles, to crow about the allegedly impending demise of the newspaper. “The game has changed,” they cry. For some, perhaps it has. But what about the rules? If the future of this business lies in unsourced, unverified speculation about serious events affecting real human lives–without even so much as a courtesy call–I wonder how long readers will want to play.