Rivals' stories intertwined Bulletin owner buys Advertiser
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Yesterday's announcement that Oahu Publications intends to buy The Honolulu Advertiser and find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin bookmarks the latest, and possibly last, chapter of the bittersweet tale of two newspapers whose histories seem inexorably linked.
For more than a century, the staffs of the two dailies have competed fiercely against each other — even as they at times depended on each other for their survival.
For years, the afternoon Star-Bulletin dominated the circulation battle over the morning Advertiser. As was the case in other parts of the nation in the pre-television age, the largely rural Hawai'i population dominated by the plantation economy and the early-to-rise, early-to-bed lifestyle it brought favored an evening publication.
The fact that the Star-Bulletin was the only daily in the country to publish the same day's closing stock numbers probably didn't hurt.
Many kama'āina also remembered The Advertiser's missionary roots and one-time publisher Lorrin A. Thurston's role in the overthrow, and that the Star-Bulletin was the one daily in Honolulu that didn't use the abbreviation of the word "Japanese" during World War II.
The Farrington family owned the Star-Bulletin from the time of its consolidation in 1912 until its sale to a local investor group in 1960. Not coincidentally, those years mirrored the time Riley Allen was the newspaper's editor. He was credited with bringing the newspaper into the modern age. It was Allen who rousted up his staff on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and made the Star-Bulletin the only publication to publish that day.
In 1963, with The Advertiser teetering at the edge of extinction, then-owner Thurston Twigg-Smith negotiated a partnership with the Star-Bulletin under the Failing Newspaper Act. The resulting joint operating agreement allowed for two independent newsrooms to continue while the Hawaii Newspaper Agency, owned by both publications, took care of printing, circulation, advertising and administration functions.
Both newspapers operated in The Advertiser Building on the corner of Kapi'olani Boulevard and South Street. The Advertiser newsroom was housed in the 'ewa wing of the second floor, while the Star-Bulletin staff occupied the diamondhead side.
An unspoken rule existed for years barring staff from either side from venturing into the other. Friends from the two newspapers had to gather at the jointly operated clipping library between the two newsrooms if they wanted to chat.
In the decades that followed, the tide turned.
Just as the national trend moved toward a more urban population that favored morning newspapers over afternoon dailies, The Advertiser newsroom was bolstered by the strong editorial leadership of Twigg-Smith and veteran newsman George Chaplin.
In the 1980s, The Advertiser overtook the Star-Bulletin in circulation and today holds an estimated two-to-one edge.
The rivalry between the two papers took a twist in 1971 when media giant Gannett bought the Star-Bulletin from a group of local investors headed by businessman Chinn Ho. The joint operating agreement continued.
But in 1993, the roles reversed again with Gannett choosing to sell off the Star-Bulletin and purchase The Advertiser.
Some longtime Bulletin staffers still recall how Gannett executives took off their Star-Bulletin shirts after their announcement to them in the second-floor hallway and put on Advertiser shirts before speaking to the morning paper's staff.
Liberty Newspapers purchased the Star-Bulletin. Despite declining circulation, the newsroom staff saw a resurgence, often winning as many, if not more, journalism competition awards than the larger Advertiser.
In 1997, after The Advertiser delayed in getting back to its authors, the Star-Bulletin went ahead and published the landmark "Broken Trust" essay by Native Hawaiian leaders, which set in motion the end of years of abuses by leaders at Bishop Estate.
Many Star-Bulletin supporters pointed to "Broken Trust" as the precise reason there needed to be two independent editorial voices in Honolulu.
When Liberty announced it was shutting down the Star-Bulletin in 1999, community leaders formed the group Save Our Star-Bulletin, which was instrumental in the successful effort to force Liberty to find buyers for the troubled newspaper.
Canadian newspaper magnate David Black's purchase of the Star-Bulletin a year later led to the end of the joint operating agreement between the dailies.
Star-Bulletin staffers, physically and symphonically , vacated their Advertiser Building desks and walked out onto Kapi'olani Boulevard as Advertiser employees applauded their longtime rival's survival. The Star-Bulletin staffers then marched four blocks down South Street to the paper's new headquarters at 7 Waterfront Plaza.
With desks and computers still being moved in, Black stood on a chair and proclaimed that the Star-Bulletin was going to be around for a while.
It was in that same newsroom yesterday, nine years later, that Black announced to his staff he would be purchasing The Advertiser and trying to sell the Star-Bulletin.