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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Senator a potential Star-Bulletin buyer

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sen. Sam Slom

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Small-business advocate and state Sen. Sam Slom is one of several investors who have expressed an interest in buying the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Yesterday was the deadline for potential buyers to submit their indication of interest in the state's No. 2 newspaper. Owner David Black is selling the daily newspaper, its Web site and one of its presses to make way for his planned purchase of The Honolulu Advertiser.

Slom, R-8th (Kāhala, Hawai'i Kai), president of Smart Business Hawaii, said he's spoken with potential investors who believe that there's room for a well-written, second daily newspaper in Honolulu.

"I'm still convinced and several other people are that if you have the right content and format, there is a niche market for it," said Slom.

"But the numbers are ... difficult."

Dennis Francis, the Star-Bulletin's publisher, declined comment when asked about Slom's bid.

Francis noted that one other investor has contacted him and has reviewed the Star-Bulletin's financial data.

Black previously expressed doubts that he will find a taker for the daily newspaper.

Company officials had said the Star-Bulletin has lost more than $100 million or more than $40,000 a day since Black took over the daily nine years ago.

The paper has a paid daily circulation of about 37,000, compared with the Advertiser's 115,000.

If Black is unable to sell the Star-Bulletin, he will merge it with The Advertiser, leaving O'ahu with just one newspaper.

The consolidation will likely result in the loss of at least 150 jobs at the Star-Bulletin. The number of job losses at The Advertiser have not been disclosed but analysts said the amount could exceed those at the Star-Bulletin.

Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, said the emergence of potential buyers for the Star-Bulletin is welcome news given the uncertainties that the newspapers' employees face.

"I'm glad that somebody local is stepping forward. Hopefully he's a capable buyer," Cahill said.

Slom, 67, disclosed his interest during a hearing yesterday before the state Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee.

When asked to vote on a legislative resolution calling for Black to provide enough time to find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin, Slom recused himself, saying he recently turned in a nondisclosure agreement required of all prospective buyers of the Star-Bulletin.

Since 1983, Slom has headed Smart Business Hawaii, formerly known as Small Business Hawaii.

One of two Republicans in the Senate, Slom was first elected to his seat in 1996.

If he's successful in buying the Star-Bulletin, Slom said the newspaper would likely operate as a for-profit venture. Employees, he said, would likely have an ownership stake as an incentive.

Slom said there's a strong demand for in-depth and investigative reporting on issues such as Honolulu's mass transit project, the state's tax system, the local environment and conflicts of interest in government.

He also believes that Honolulu's dailies don't provide enough coverage on issues affecting the Neighbor Islands.

"There's plenty of news but many of us who follow the media closely are frustrated that it doesn't always get to the reporter," Slom said.