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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 26, 2010

News left workers shocked, confused

 •  Bulletin owner buys Advertiser

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Employees from most of The Advertiser's departments crowded into the newsroom to hear yesterday's announcement.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Journalists in The Advertiser's newsroom quickly went to work yesterday to post news of Gannett Co.'s sale of the daily newspaper on www.honoluluadvertiser.com, then began the task of covering the biggest story of the day, which just happened to be about their employer.

As deadline approached, other workers gathered in small clusters to consider their futures. There was shock, anger and the realization that bad times continue for the newspaper industry.

Copy editor Jim Richardson, 67, the most senior member of The Advertiser newsroom, looked back on his 41-year career there and all of the changes that have occurred, beginning when the paper was owned by Thurston Twigg-Smith.

"I never thought Twigg would sell the newspaper, and I certainly did not envision the scenario that had Gannett selling the Star-Bulletin and buying The Advertiser," Richardson said.

"This next change of ownership is more traumatic for Advertiser employees because it won't be a seamless transition, with jobs intact. But The Advertiser will continue to have a strong voice in Hawai'i. For someone who has been a part of this newspaper since before man first walked on the moon, that is important to me, and important to the state."

Farther makai on South Street, Star-Bulletin business reporter Gene Park said there was no glee in his newsroom when owner David Black simultaneously announced at 4 p.m. the deal to purchase the rival newspaper as Advertiser employees got the same news from Gannett representatives.

Park had been the Star-Bulletin's crime reporter until he was laid off in February 2008, then was rehired as a copy editor in October. He has since returned to reporting in the Star-Bulletin's business section.

"A lot of people had a lot of questions," Park said. "We have a lot of friends at The Advertiser and there are a lot of couples at both newspapers. Our newsroom wasn't celebrating. There was as much confusion as I imagine there was over there."

Despite all of the uncertainty, Park said he feels "very fortunate" to have worked in a two-newspaper town.

Now, with the apparent death of one of the newspapers, Park said, "it's something to be mourned."

Advertiser city hall reporter Gordon Y. K. Pang used to work at the Star-Bulletin and the two Big Island dailies.

"For a lot of us, especially those who've done this for a while, newspapering isn't just a job, it's a calling, and a way of life," Pang said. "Having worked at both newspapers, I can say that there are a lot of dedicated people in both newsrooms who sweat and bleed journalism.

"I don't think people realize what it takes to put out a daily newspaper. It truly is a labor of love. They don't call it 'the daily miracle' for nothing. And it's sad to think some of us might not be doing that in the near future. So the uncertainty is especially unnerving.

"With all due respect to other occupations," Pang continued, "doctors can work in other hospitals, attorneys can work in other law firms, teachers can teach at other schools, and waiters can wait in other restaurants. There are only two daily newspapers in this town."

Suzanne Roig, an Advertiser reporter for 15 years and president of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, has her entire household finances tied up with The Advertiser because her husband, Mike Gordon, is also an Advertiser reporter.

"This is a very sad day to be a journalist in Hawai'i," Roig said. "There are many unknowns right now. We are still in shock. I am sure that many Advertiser employees will be going home and taking stock of their finances and looking at their options."

Reporter Will Hoover has been with The Advertiser for 24 years and was planning to retire in two years after a career that included working in the same building on Kapi'olani Boulevard that once housed the Star-Bulletin under a joint operating agreement.

"The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin have, over the decades, been fierce competitors, joint operating agreement partners, and fierce competitors once again," Hoover said. "Honolulu has been lucky to be a community its size with two competing daily newspapers. We can hope Honolulu will remain so lucky. Do I think that will happen? I don't know. I'm a newspaper reporter, not a soothsayer. We'll have to see how the story plays out."

While many Advertiser employees worried about their futures in the newspaper business after yesterday's announcement, photographer Richard Ambo thought of Hawai'i's loyal newspaper readers.

"This will be the third time a newspaper has changed hands under me," Ambo said. "You just take a deep breath and remember that it is always the readers that you are working for."