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

Advertiser writes final chapter in 154-year story

 •  Advertiser's staff says farewell
 •  Black paying $125M for Advertiser
 •  The end of a rich history
 •  Advertiser timeline
 •  Contributing as well as chronicling
 •  End unfolds with sadness, nostalgia


By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Lights glowed in the newsroom of The Honolulu Advertiser last night as staff members put out the final edition.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Pressman Roscoe Nishida checks the last Honolulu Advertiser last night in Kapolei.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A farewell message was scrawled on a whiteboard in the advertising sales department.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

From left, page designer Matt Schick, editorial page editor Jim Kelly, assistant editor Marsha McFadden and designer John Bender discuss the layout for the final edition.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO |  The Honolulu Advertiser

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Today's final edition of The Honolulu Advertiser ends a 154-year run that helped document and define the course of Island life from the days of the Hawaiian kingdom to the arrival of jets and the digital age.

Honolulu is now a one-newspaper town for the first time in its history. Like Seattle and Denver, cities that also lost newspapers as the global recession deepened, Honolulu will now adjust to life with only one thump on the front step, one headline peeking from the newsbox on the corner.

The death of The Advertiser came at 12:01 a.m. today after a decades-long newspaper war with its neighbor just makai on South Street, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Mary T. Orthman, 65, of Waikīkī, received her Advertiser every day between 2 and 3 a.m. and immediately began poring over every page. She was born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and cannot reconcile that her birthday coincides today with the end of her beloved newspaper.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "You're all in my prayers and I love you and I thank you for all you have done."

The closing also marks the shutdown of one of Hawai'i's oldest and largest businesses. About 400 people will lose their jobs most at The Advertiser, but also about 91 workers at the printing plant in Kanē'ohe that produces the Star-Bulletin and MidWeek.

The surviving daily will debut as a broadsheet tomorrow with a new name that pays homage to both newspapers: the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The company will employ about 474 workers including 265 hired from the Advertiser, among them 28 editors, reporters, columnists and a photographer and will be produced at the plant built by The Advertiser in Kapolei in 2004.

The Advertiser's landmark, 81-year-old News Building at 605 Kapi'olani Blvd., which has been on the market for five years, is now closed.

A skeleton crew of workers will spend the next several weeks cleaning it out, wrapping up The Advertiser's business operations and continue dismantling the old, greasy press that has sat quiet for the past six years.

For the people of the Islands, reading had always been a critical source of communicating the news of the day.

Long before Henry M. Whitney founded the Pacific Commercial Advertiser on July 2, 1856, Hawai'i had several newspapers that were printed in the Hawaiian language, including Ke Kumu Hawai'i, Ka Lama Hawai'i, Kumu Kamali'i, Ka Elele, Ka Nonanona and Ka Hae Hawai'i.

But for nearly the past 100 years, the two English-language dailies dominated Hawai'i's journalism landscape.

For much of their battle, The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin divided the news markets by morning and afternoon delivery as they took turns flirting with death as reading habits, ownership and the economy continued to shift.

MILLIONS IN LOSSES

The Advertiser was bleeding money in 1962 when a joint operating scheme was arranged with the Star-Bulletin, saving the morning paper.

In 1999, it was the Star-Bulletin that was close to extinction as the owner of the Advertiser Gannett Co. Inc. sought to buy out its owner. Community leaders, employee unions and public officials rallied to stop the shutdown of the weaker paper, and a lawsuit in federal court challenged its legality.

A veteran Canadian newspaper owner, David Black, stepped forward to buy the Star-Bulletin. And, since 2001, both newspapers have waged a bitter and financially draining war over circulation, advertising and influence.

Black said he has lost nearly $100 million on his Hawai'i operation. The Advertiser went from a profit margin of nearly 50 percent in 1993, when Gannett acquired it, to low single digits after the joint operating agreement broke up in 2001.

After a record year for revenue in 2006, The Advertiser, along with every other U.S. newspaper, saw its business fall off a cliff as the real estate market collapsed and dozens of big-spending advertisers like Circuit City, CompUSA and local car dealers closed or retrenched. Classified advertising, once a key source of profit, moved to free online sites. In less than three years, The Advertiser saw its annual revenue plummet by about 30 percent.

By 2009, the paper was barely breaking even, even after layoffs, buyouts and pay cuts.

When Gannett announced in February it was selling The Advertiser to Black and that the papers would be merged, there was no outcry, no court challenge and only muted protests from readers. The ubiquity of the Internet, with its infinite sources of free news and comment, had killed the argument that the loss of a newspaper would deprive the community of essential information, of another "voice."

"I didn't see it coming," said Richard Port, who fought to preserve two newspapers nine years ago under a group called Save Our Star-Bulletin. "I never thought that it would be The Advertiser that ended up dying."

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

The Advertiser produced stories and editorials that changed the shape of Hawai'i politics, business projects big and small and individual lives.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano grew up delivering The Advertiser in his Kalihi neighborhood, where, he said, it seemed that everyone preferred the morning daily over its afternoon rival, the Star-Bulletin.

"The Advertiser," Cayetano said, "was a very influential voice in a community like Kalihi."

In 2001, Advertiser Windward reporter Eloise Aguiar began telling the story of Lorrie-Ann Wiley, a 32-year-old, mother, wife and Hawai'i Air National Guardsman who was killed in a crash near Olomana Golf Links while driving to work at Hickam Air Force Base.

No one could identify the driver of the car that killed Wiley.

On the anniversary of Wiley's death, Aguiar wrote a story about how the investigation had stalled. In response, a witness came forward to identify Kam K. Williams as the driver of the Chrysler that collided with Wiley's Honda Civic. He is now serving 18 years in prison.

"Were it not for the excellent coverage provided by The Honolulu Advertiser, Kam Williams might never have been tied to the vehicle and he would have avoided prosecution for the death of Lorrie Wiley," the attorney for Wiley's family, Richard Fried, said last week.

In 1987, sports reporter Ann Miller wrote a profile of Suzanne Eagye, a senior on the last Rainbow Wahine team to win an NCAA volleyball championship. Miller's profile under the headline, "Smiling Through The Years" included a half-dozen photographs that captured Eagye's ever-present smile that had made her a fan favorite in Klum Gym.

A few days later, Tim Cox approached Eagye in Waikīkī and said, "It's true what the paper says, you do have a beautiful smile," Eagye remembered last week. "We stood around talking for an hour and then he started going to my church. We never really dated. We were just good friends for a year and a half."

Twenty-one years later, Tim and Suzanne are raising four children on a 60-acre farm near Nashville. And Tim continues to carry a laminated copy of Miller's article in his guitar case.

"He's kept it all these years," Suzanne said. "I should thank you guys and especially Annie. She was a big part of it."

A WEDDING AT WORK

Tom Brislin, who now heads the University of Hawai'i's Academy for Creative Media, worked for The Advertiser from 1980 to 1990 in a variety of positions, including city editor.

He and his wife, Evelyn, were even married in the office of Advertiser editor Buck Buchwach on Dec. 15, 1986, "with newsroom and advertising staffers as witnesses," Brislin wrote last week in an e-mail from Berlin. "As far as I know, it was the only newsroom wedding in Advertiser history."

The 1970s and 1980s were a time when investigative reporting defined the character of the paper.

After a series of groundbreaking reports on organized crime in the 1970s, Advertiser owner Thurston Twigg-Smith and editor George Chaplin poured even more time and manpower into rooting out stories describing influence peddling and public corruption.

Jim Dooley documented how public officials enriched themselves by getting in on lucrative development projects, then made decisions on zoning and permits favorable to their investments. He exposed wrongdoing at the Downtown development project named Kukui Plaza that led to bribery charges against Mayor Frank Fasi. And Dooley was one of the first reporters to document questionable dealings at Hawai'i's largest private landowner, the Bishop Estate, now known as Kamehameha Schools.

Twigg-Smith, now 88, had learned the family business by working in nearly every aspect of The Advertiser's operations, including a stint as managing editor in the 1950s, and stood behind his reporters.

"I loved that part," he said. "I was hooked."

Under Twigg-Smith, The Advertiser had gone from certain death in the early 1960s to overtaking the Star-Bulletin in circulation.

By the early 1990s, however, there was no heir who wanted to take over the family newspaper and Twigg-Smith sold The Advertiser to Gannett for $250 million.

But today represents a moment in Hawai'i history that Twigg-Smith never envisioned: The final edition of The Honolulu Advertiser.

"Here's a case where one newspaper has two-to-one circulation advantage and obviously the people voted for The Advertiser," Twigg-Smith said.

"So I never thought I would see the day that The Advertiser closes its doors."