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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coming to terms with a one-paper town


By Jay Fidell

After decades of speculation as to which daily would survive, tomorrow the Star-Advertiser will be "it," and will inherit the circulation of both. It will be a broadsheet, and will in that way remind us of The Advertiser, rest its soul.

Most people don't treat information as news unless it's from a newspaper, the kind you can spread out under your elbows like a ritual box of chocolates with your morning coffee. Your friend and adviser, it helps you plunge into your day.

Despite the iPad and its ilk, it's not clear that people will go online for their dose of daily news. For many, the net means e-mail, research and shopping, but not necessarily news. They'll go to the Star-Advertiser, or just give up.

EARNING OUR TRUST

The wolves of backwater are always lapping at Hawai'i's door. Crossing the Rubicon to a one-daily town brings them closer. But it's also an opportunity for the surviving paper, and us, to come together as never before in a trust relationship where readers and writers develop new levels of engagement.

Will the Star-Advertiser be worthy of that trust? Hawai'i has so much work to do, and it's hard to organize and promote important initiatives in our state without the support of the press. Put another way, the press can scuttle an initiative with one strident editorial. People trust the printed word, and that makes a newspaper powerful. The power of a single daily is greater still.

We live in interesting times, with a myriad of unresolved problems eating our prospects. As in the case of the frog, the gradual boil of this deterioration is deadly. To escape the dangers of stalemate and complacency, the public needs to have thoughtful, well-founded opinions. That's where the press comes in.

Our community lives in the pages of the press. It gives us the information and feedback by which each of us can have a kind of oversight of public affairs and a fair place where we and our leaders can meet, and they can see what we're thinking. It's hard to overestimate the power and benefit of that process.

UNSETTLING LOSS

In a two-paper town, one looks across the street to see what the other is doing, and reporting, a kind of checks and balances. That's the nature of competition and invidious comparison. It's not the same, however, in a one-paper town.

What would have happened had there been only one paper when the Advertiser declined to print Broken Trust? The revelations reported would not have come out; the abuses found might not have been addressed. But it's the way things work the probability of publication decreases with the number of papers.

The possibilities for other transformational journalism are endless, and the levels of trust and power we repose in our newspapers are still critical to our society. That's why the loss of one of two dailies in Hawai'i is so unsettling.

With two papers, competition in the industry keeps the fire going. With one, the survivor is in charge. You want to submit a letter or op-ed piece? If the Star-Advertiser doesn't take it, you're out of luck. Who do you complain to?

A FEW SUGGESTIONS

Let's have more articles like Broken Trust. We should encourage investigative reporting and public commentaries. We should go behind press releases. We should continue to e-mail and post stories on the paper's website. We should not accept anonymous online comments they're a license for tastelessness.

The paper doesn't have to be loaded with crime and sports and wire services. The news most people want from a local paper is local news, good and bad. Of course, we'd like to see more in-depth reporting on tech and economic issues.

If the paper finds that it's losing money, tell us. It just may be that the public would be willing to pay more for a copy or a subscription to keep our last daily running. Who knows, that approach might have saved the Advertiser.

Make old stories accessible to the public, forever and for free. This would be a great service for the public, other journalists and for the kids in school. With today's search technology it's not expensive. Leave the classifieds to Craigslist.

So here on the cusp of a one-paper town, we can be sad but perhaps also optimistic. Farewell to the Advertiser and good luck to the Star-Advertiser. This will be a new journey for all of us, and God bless us all in the transition.