Readers clearly noticed last week when the Weekly arrived very late Wednesday to most of our distribution points. We received many phone calls and e-mails wondering what had happened.
Our distribution staff hopes and expects the paper will be a bit earlier this week and in the weeks to come, but the truth is that the Weekly’s production and distribution schedules have been altered, at least for the foreseeable future, by Oahu Publications’ purchase of the Honolulu Advertiser and consolidation of local news operations.
For nearly a decade, the Weekly was printed at the MidWeek press in Kaneohe. When the Advertiser’s sale was announced, our publisher, Laurie Carlson, was told there would be no change to our schedule, but in May that message shifted. Carlson was told that the MidWeek press would be shut down and shipped back to North America in pieces, and that the Weekly would have to move to Oahu Publications’ newly acquired printing press in Kapolei.
“They told me we would have to move to a new 12-inch format as opposed to our current tabloid size. That’s a 19 percent drop in the size of our paper. And they announced they’d be raising our rates by 30 percent. Together, that’s about a 50 percent increase in our printing fees,” Carlson said.
As with any newspaper, payroll and printing are the Weekly’s biggest expenses. I asked Laurie whether a 50 percent jump was a matter of life or death for the Weekly. That the guy asking the question was one of her own employees is surely the only reason she hesitated a moment before saying, “Probably, yes.”
As a result, Honolulu Weekly has moved our printing operation to Maui. We’re happy to be working with the crew at the Maui News Press, and so far the printing is looking terrific. But the decision forced on the Weekly was grim, and without getting too deep into our internal processes, we feel like readers have the right to know how this affects us, and by extension, you.
The Weekly now “goes to bed” on Monday afternoon–a day earlier than in the past–and comes over from Maui on a barge that departs on Tuesday evening. As a result, our paper will be less able to respond to developments between Friday and Monday. While we will adjust our assignments and coverage, the consequences are obvious.
On the other side and as we learned all too well last week, a boat is not a form of transportation that lends itself well to newspapers. If we are lucky, the Weekly will be available mid-day on Wednesdays. We understand that this represents a change to many readers who have the paper as part of your Wednesday morning routine, and we regret it. Unfortunately, Oahu Publications’ actions around our press and pricing have made these changes unavoidable. Pacific Business News has announced that it will also move to the Maui News Press. Just at deadline, we learned that the East Oahu Sun is headed there too.
When newspaper magnate David Black paid $125 million for the Honolulu Advertiser, the story was that he would try to find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin. He certainly didn’t try very hard, given that he only gave the process a matter of weeks to resolve itself. One suspects he did not try at all.
What motive would an investor have to pay that kind of money for a U.S. newspaper? The price is considered huge by contemporary standards. Given our own experience with Black’s printing operations and the revelations in a Pacific Business News story last week about skyrocketing advertising rates in the new Star-Advertiser, this much seems clear–Black’s $150 million was the price he paid to establish a monopoly–or something very close to it–in Hawaii’s newspaper market.
Not to get all sanctimonious, but that is a really bad thing. There is a reason we have laws prohibiting media monopolies, and it’s that they are devastating both to the essential functions of journalism–fewer voices means the public’s right to know suffers–and to the ability of small businesses and other advertisers to receive a fair market rate on advertising.
Don’t bother writing a letter to David Black–as they say in poker, he’s pot-committed. But we hope you will consider expanding your use of newspapers and news sources other than the Star-Advertiser, as a consumer of both news and of advertising. A monopoly may be good for that paper’s owners, but it bodes ill for the rest of us.
Mahalo for your support of the Weekly.