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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 28, 2010

Past-due bills for a 2-newspaper town

Newspaper people tend to look at the product of their labor through a gauzy lens of romance and reverence, imbuing this stack of ink and paper with almost mystical powers and significance.

But as newspaper layoffs, cutbacks and closures have accelerated, even the most romantic among us have had to adjust. We see ourselves as storytellers, documentarians and truth-seekers, but we are also just a product that customers choose to embrace or ignore.

The paper you're holding in your hand is a testament to the difficulties faced by the industry. The page is skinnier, the paper thinner, the heft of the edition diminished from what it was just a couple of years ago.

Down the street, our competitors have made the same kinds of adjustments, hoping, as we have, that the cuts would be temporary, that once the recession eased we could start rebuilding.

The decision last week by the owner of The Advertiser, Gannett Co. Inc., to sell to the owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin puts an end to the hopes of both staffs that two newspapers would emerge from the economic storm that has already claimed so many others.

For nine years, since the dissolution of the joint operating agreement enabled the two papers to slug it out for advertising, circulation and editorial dominance, Honolulu has been the rare American city with two competing newspapers.

That competition was costly for the owners of the newspapers David Black says his Hawai'i operation has been bleeding red ink since it started and for the employees of both companies who were hit by layoffs and pay cuts deemed necessary for the survival of their employers.

Ultimately, no matter how high-minded the civic purpose, the bills have to get paid.

And so we come to this decision by two competitors, which will almost certainly lead to the closure of one newspaper.

The best outcome, for the journalistic romantics as well as the communities they serve, would be for the resources poured into beating the other guy to now be used to build up the surviving daily newspaper and fulfill the aspirations of The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to tell Hawai'i's story well into the 21st century.