Second newspaper voice is needed
By Sam Slom
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin could be shut down as early as April 19 if there is no buyer, as owner David Black plans to purchase The Honolulu Advertiser.
Hundreds of employees from both newspapers could lose their jobs, including some of the best reporters in town. An independent editorial voice and competitive advertising rates would be lost. Honolulu would be a one-paper monopoly town.
My partner and I have "qualified" as bidders to buy the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
People have wondered who are we, and why we are trying to save the Star-Bulletin. How could we possibly save a very costly and money-losing printed "dinosaur?" Financial experts, more experienced and sophisticated than we are, have failed.
But we have continued doing our due diligence, talked with the U.S. Department of Justice, the state attorney general's office, experts in the newspaper field, potential investors, and last week, we visited the Star-Bulletin's printing facilities.
So who are "we"? My business partner, Malia Zimmerman, and I are both entrepreneurs who share a passion for retaining two independent newspaper voices.
Many people know me as a longtime Hawai'i resident and University of Hawai'i graduate. I own a small business, SMS Consultants, serve as president of Smart Business Hawai'i (SBH), founded by Lex Brodie, and am a Republican state senator who represents East Honolulu.
When a resolution to delay the sale of the Star-Bulletin emerged two weeks ago in both the Senate and the House, I publicly disclosed my interest and recused myself. I have writing experience in community and business newspapers, radio and television community affairs programming, and helped Save Our Star-Bulletin a decade ago.
Malia Zimmerman, born and raised in Kailua, is a Chaminade University journalism graduate with experience at several papers, including Pacific Business News. In 2000, with Jay McWilliams, she founded the daily online Hawaii Reporter and serves as its editor.
Malia has received numerous journalism awards and has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and Fox News, and serves as a consultant to ABC's "20/20." An investigative reporter, Malia broke major stories (slave labor in American Sāmoa, background on Kaua'i's Kaloko Dam disaster, etc.) and produces the weekly "News Behind the News" on 'Ōlelo.
Malia and I want to save that independent newspaper voice, keep it local, retain jobs and offer a broader community format. However, the Star-Bulletin cannot be "saved" with its costs and in the manner it is produced now.
Some of the proposed changes we have already advanced include:
• Turning the Star-Bulletin into a statewide, not O'ahu-centric, paper with greater focus on Neighbor Islands news and people.
• Greater use of interactive technology.
• Columns by and for Hawai'i's youth.
• Emphasis on in-depth cultural and Native Hawaiian issues.
• Fewer national syndicated columns and more local reporting
• A broad "community" newspaper with a diverse community advisory panel. It's already being assembled on our Web site, www.SaveHawaiiNews.com.
• Additional space for local letters and commentaries.
• Enhanced investigative reporting
• Equity ownership and possible stock ownership plan for employees.
So, where is the money coming from for a purchase? Not from us; neither Malia nor I have great sources of income or independent wealth. But we do have contacts. We have been discussing our business plan with potential investors and continue to do so daily. We would welcome possible partnerships, a hui or 'ohana.
We have a plan to cut costs, reorganize content, allow the paper to grow. There are few two-newspaper towns in America and none with as small a population base as ours. We know fewer people are reading newspapers but there are some profitable models that reflect financial support if you give people what they want and will pay for.
Will we succeed? If passion, experience, creativity and energy were the key ingredients, yes. But we, and any others, face a difficult financial challenge, especially during the worst recession Hawai'i has known in decades. We will not give up, and continue to do what we hope results in a positive conclusion.