Regardless of what you’ve heard, Honolulu has not become a one-newspaper town.
Despite its efforts to convince us otherwise, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is just one of many newspapers serving this community. Pacific Business News, the East Oahu Sun, Chinatown News, Hawaii Hispanic News–all of these, and of course Honolulu Weekly, are publications with much longer records of service to their readers.
I’ve been objecting to this “one-newspaper” stuff everywhere I go. Some people agree. Others assure me that “newspaper” means “daily newspaper,” or at least that’s what they’re trying to say, and it means the same thing anyway.
Well, no it doesn’t. Words have meanings. What you are reading is a newspaper, and like those listed above and many others, it’s important to the people who depend upon it. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
If I were trying to sell print advertising at astronomical new rates, I can see how the notion of a “one-newspaper town” would be useful, because it would be very important that people view me as their only option. Indeed, in recent weeks, many businesses and organizations that were formerly advertising clients of the Honolulu Advertiser have been presented with significantly higher rates at the new daily. From what I hear, they are being told that now that the two daily newspapers have merged into one, they can reach virtually every reader on Oahu simply by putting their ads in the Star-Advertiser. This isn’t true, of course, but you can see how effective the pitch probably is.
As a result of these new rates and, perhaps, the narrative of a one newspaper town, advertising dollars that once went to other publications, like this one, are now being redirected to the Star-Advertiser. Many people expected that with the merger of the two dailies and the new higher rates, we would gain advertisers. As it turns out, we are losing them, which means that we are losing money. If we lose enough money, well…then all of this goes away. To be born again in some other form, I’m sure, but let’s not kid ourselves: less is not more in journalism. Less is less.
If you value Honolulu Weekly–and there are somewhere on the order of 100,000 people who look at the paper every week–you should know that newspapers just like this one are disappearing from cities all over the place. Ask anybody whose favorite newspaper shut down suddenly one day–it’s awful. It feels like a death.
And it is one. When a newspaper dies, a community loses a valuable service, and some of its voices–those that would otherwise have gone unheard–fall silent.
One of the stranger parts of this job is the part where we take calls from prospective advertisers. Often, we don’t realize this is happening at first, because the person calling is part of an organization that is the subject of frequent coverage in the Weekly. Think: nightclub and gallery owners, small-business people of all kinds, arts organization managers, restaurant managers, people who run alternative energy companies, etc.
Often, when we hear from them, these people are angry. We got something wrong, or we didn’t feature their event prominently enough or at all, things of that nature. I feel badly every time, whether we screwed something up or simply decided to go a different way with our coverage. And the reason I feel badly is that these folks rely on the Weekly to get their information out, to attract customers and audiences. They tell me that if we mention something, people show up. If we don’t, and the event is not high-profile on its own or doesn’t get coverage elsewhere, people don’t show up.
None of this an ego trip for us: it just serves to increase the sense of responsibility we feel to do our jobs the right way. And when people who feel slighted by our coverage bring up advertising–threaten to pull it, or, more often, tell me that they were just about to buy some, if only we hadn’t done such-and-such–we simply pass them along to the folks here who take care of those things.
That said, however, I am human, and the “brick wall” that is commonly said to exist between the business side and the advertising side does not extend to my eyeballs. When I get an earful from somebody whose events have been featured in the paper nearly every single week for years now, and who nevertheless does not advertise with the Weekly, I always wonder where he gets the nerve. More to the point, I wonder what he thinks will happen to his bottom line if we are not around.
It’s not a threat. We keep covering that guy’s events, as well of those of for-profit and non-profit groups alike that spend all of their advertising dollars elsewhere. That’s our job, anything else would be ethically bankrupt, and we’ll keep doing it this way for as long as we are around.
I’m just saying. If guys like that keep going as they have been, “as long as we are around” might not be all that long. That is the reality of the situation.
Before our interview (p.5) started, Rep. Lyla Berg and I somehow got on the subject of someone who felt hammered by something that appeared recently in the Weekly. “You don’t hammer people,” Berg objected. “It’s not your style.”
Not exactly what a journalist wants to hear as he’s about to conduct an interview with a politician. But what can you do? We are who we are.
“I suppose that’s true,” I said, “unless someone goes out of their way to present themselves as a nail.”
This gets at what has probably been the most persistent critique of the Weekly under my leadership, from my boss to some longtime readers. It also gets back to this newspaper-counting business.
I hear sometimes that I am not enough of a fighter for a weekly newspaper editor. This comes up in particular around the question of our role as a watchdog of the big dailies (now singular, of course.) Some readers want us to spend more time on the mistakes and oversights of the Star-Advertiser.
So why doesn’t the Weekly spend more time critiquing the bigger fish in the journalism community?
My view is this: We have very limited space in this paper–yes, this is a long, long note, and yes, I see the irony–and there is so much going on that readers should know about. I don’t want us to be a newspaper about newspapers. I want us to be a newspaper about Honolulu. And if we’re going to fight, I don’t want to fight newspapers. I want to fight the battles that matter.
Put another way: When you take out a hammer, you’d better not be messing around. People get hurt that way. If you’re going to hammer, hit the nail on the head.
Ah, but where is that nail?
Is it the Star-Advertiser? I just can’t see it. I know many of our readers think differently, and I have considered it at great length. In the end, no matter how cynical and underhanded its owners, a newspaper is not the problem.
I believe the nail is inside of us. It’s our ignorance, the kind that allows the same cynical figures to be reelected to office year after year after year. It’s our rapaciousness, and how it drives us to build subdivisions over precious farmland on the ‘Ewa plain, or in the wide-open hills above Malaekahana. The nail is our alienation from our past and where we come from, so that we build luxury homes on the graves of our forbearers as easily as we tear down the Natatorium, that supposedly enduring reminder of sacrifice erected not even 80 years ago. It’s our isolation from our communities, and the way city and state hearing rooms are virtually empty of citizens. The nail is our isolation from one another, the way we deny one another based on race or sexuality, and the way all those people heard that woman get attacked in front of a Waikiki hotel and nobody said nothing.
She died, you know.
The nail is apathy.
And we fight it. That’s the fight we want. To the extent that we are a hammer, that–at ignorance, at isolation, at cynicism and apathy–is where the Weekly aims to strike.
If you value and appreciate that–that Honolulu Weekly is a newspaper that celebrates the best of Honolulu and one that fights the fights that matter–then we need your help. We can’t make a newspaper without it. If you own a business or are in a position to advertise with the Weekly, please strongly consider doing so. If you aren’t, but you know someone who is, please mention it to them. And whatever else you do, please pick up the paper every week. We aim to make it worth your while. You reading is what sustains our advertisers, and sustains us.
I hope you will look at Honolulu’s other newspapers the same way: from the North Shore News to Honolulu Weekly to the Star-Advertiser, I hope you’ll ask yourself, “Is this the kind of work, the kind of effort I want to support? Is this important to me?”
If it is, I hope you will act.