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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 25, 2010

Star-Bulletin staff may be cut by 150

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer


November 2006: Del Monte Fresh Produce announces plans to close its Hawai'i operations, leading to the loss of 500 jobs.

February: NCL America pulls its Pride of Hawaii cruise ship from the local market, eliminating about 1,000 jobs.

March 2008: Aloha Airlines shuts down and terminates about 1,900 workers.

June 2008: NCL America pulls its second cruise ship, the Pride of Aloha, resulting in the loss of another 1,000 jobs.

March 2009: Hawaii Superferry ceases operations, laying off 236 workers.

November 2009: Maui Land & Pineapple Co. says it will close its pineapple operations and will lay off 285 workers. Since 2008, the company has eliminated more than 650 jobs, mostly from its pineapple operations.

October 2009: Gay & Robinson shuts down its Kaua'i sugar plantation and mill and lays off more than 130 workers.

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The owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin told the state Labor Department that he may have to lay off 150 employees at the state's No. 2 newspaper, and experts say job losses at the larger Honolulu Advertiser will likely be higher.

In a filing with the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations last week, Oahu Publications Inc. said it could terminate as many as half of its 300 employees as it pursues its takeover of The Advertiser and its sale of the Star-Bulletin. Most of the layoffs would be among production and circulation workers.

Oahu Publications said it would lay off the same amount of people whether it sells the Bulletin or merges it with The Advertiser.

The company did not say how many Advertiser workers would be laid off.

Job losses at The Advertiser will likely exceed those at the Star-Bulletin given the job redundancies at both papers, said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

Oahu Publications owner David Black cut about a third of the reporters and editors at the Akron Beacon-Journal after buying that paper in 2006, said Ken Doctor, a California-based news industry analyst.

"I think you are going to see a fairly tight paper and a newsroom staff that does not grow and may well shrink," said Doctor, author of a book on the news industry called "Newsonomics."

"He'll be as lean as he can be."

Bob DeMay, a Beacon-Journal assistant photo editor who heads the local Newspaper Guild, said he believes the cuts implemented by the Akron paper have affected its quality.

"It's frustrating because you can't do the quality job you want to do. Photographers and reporters get extra work piled on them and they have less time to do the quality job they want to do," DeMay said.

David Ramsour, an economist who served as a consultant for The Advertiser's owner Gannett Co. during the late 1990s, said, "I would say that a loss of a couple of hundred jobs is very likely."

Star-Bulletin Publisher Dennis Francis declined comment, saying it's premature to talk about layoffs.

The Honolulu Advertiser, founded in 1856, has a daily circulation of about 115,000. It has about 600 employees, which is down from about 800 two years ago.

The Star-Bulletin, established in 1882, distributes about 52,000 copies each day but only 37,000 count as paid circulation.

Black announced last month that he was acquiring The Advertiser, its Web site, its nondaily publications and its $82 million printing plant in Kapolei.

To satisfy the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division, Black agreed to sell the Star-Bulletin. If no taker were found, he said he will consolidate the two dailies.

Three potential buyers have expressed interest in the Star-Bulletin, but Black has said that he doesn't expect to sell the newspaper due to the Star-Bulletin's losses, which averaged about $13.3 million a year.

If the papers merge, the new paper will likely be called the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Gerald Kato, journalism professor at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa, said he expects Black to operate with a very "stripped down" newsroom that's not much larger than the Star-Bulletin's.

Many of the editorial employees will come from the Star-Bulletin who are protected by their union contract, he said. Advertiser employees lose their job security since the sale of the newspaper is structured as an asset sale in which union contracts do not transfer to the buyer.

Black's strength is in running community newspapers, which have tight budgets and operate with a small staff, Kato added.