Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin / Frank Fasi, whose public memorial service is this morning, was among many other things a fierce critic of the Joint Operating Agreement that from 1962–2001 governed the business operations of the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The legendary former mayor often portrayed himself as a victim of unfair reporting, but self-servingly or not, he long maintained that our dailies were two sides of the same coin, and that Honolulu needed more vigorous competition in its daily newspapers.
Instead, it appears we will be getting less. Though it managed to get upstaged by a tsunami, the announcement last week that Star-Bulletin owners plan to buy the Advertiser means that, barring the unexpected appearance of a buyer for the Bulletin, Honolulu will become a one-daily city sometime this spring.
Under the terms of the deal, which still requires regulatory approval, Advertiser owner Gannett, Inc., will keep the historic building at 605 Kapiolani Blvd, and Oahu Publications will take just about everything else, including the newspaper, the employees and the $84 million state-of-the-art printing press. Unless a buyer for the Star-Bulletin can be found, the papers will merge by early April.
Like the passing last month of our once larger-than-life former mayor, the apparent demise of our two-daily arrangement can’t really be described as a shock. Honolulu nearly lost the Star-Bulletin a decade ago and is already the smallest city in the United States that is still home to competing morning daily newspapers. What was once taken for granted as a pillar of daily life in large cities is increasingly an afterthought, and the disappearance of robust newsgathering organizations from U.S. cities is now treated more as a foregone conclusion than as a civic crisis.
Still, a loss is a loss, despite the declining readership that has made the newspaper business next-to-untenable.
For many employees at both papers, the merger will mean the loss of jobs–the Advertiser alone currently employs 600 people, a number likely to be larger than the final headcount of both papers combined.
For the community as a whole, the consequences are less clear. As the Weekly reported last year, a 2009 Princeton University study found that the closure of the Cincinnati Post–one of two dailies that served that metropolitan area–had a statistically measurable effect on civic life. The findings: elections held following the closure of the Post featured lower voter turnout, fewer candidates running for public office and a greater reelection rate for incumbents.
Hawaii already posts the lowest voter turnout in the United States.