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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 3, 2010

Press run ends for Gannett in Isles

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Advertiser Staff members Leslie Kawamoto, left, and Sandee Oshiro shared a hug last night during a farewell gathering with co-workers downtown at Murphy's Bar and Grill.

KENT NISHIMURA | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper chain, completed its sale of The Honolulu Advertiser to Honolulu Star-Bulletin owner David Black early this morning, marking the Virginia-based company's exit from a market that it has served since 1971.

"It's hard to close this chapter and begin a new one," Robert Dickey, president of Gannett U.S. Community Publishing, wrote in an e-mail to Advertiser employees Friday. "But in doing so, I want to sincerely thank you for your dedication to The Honolulu Advertiser and wish you all the best."

Gannett's exodus and the eventual merger of The Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin will leave Honolulu as a one-newspaper town and result in the loss of at least 300 jobs.

For the next estimated 30 to 60 days, The Advertiser will publish as a stand-alone newspaper run by third-party HA Management Inc.

Readers should expect no changes in the newspaper's format during that period and current subscriptions will be honored.

Once the transition is completed, Black will combine the two dailies into a single broadsheet newspaper, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which will have a combined daily circulation of 135,000 to 140,000, said Dennis Francis, the Star-Bulletin's publisher.

The Star-Advertiser will employ between 300 and 600 people. The two newspapers currently have 900 employees between them.

Gannett and Black say the consolidation is necessary given the decline in newspaper advertising and readership, and the downturn in Hawai'i's economy.

According to Black, the Star-Bulletin has lost more than $100 million since he took it over in 2001. Gannett has said that The Advertiser has lost money in recent years, although it returned to profitability in recent months.

"I know there's a lot of angst in the community about losing a newspaper but the community decided long ago that it could not support two newspapers," Francis said. "That decision was made by readers and advertisers."

Former media executives say the loss of an editorial voice will have a long-lasting impact on the local community.

The layoff of scores of journalists will mean that hundreds of stories will go unwritten each year, they said.

"It's a real tragedy," said Gerry Keir, who worked at The Advertiser for 27 years, rising to editor before leaving in 1995. "I don't think there's any question that the community is the loser."

David Shapiro, Advertiser columnist and former managing editor for the Star-Bulletin, said the history of Gannett in Hawai'i represents a microcosm for the entire newspaper industry.

The company entered Hawai'i in 1971 when it purchased the Star-Bulletin from local financier Chinn Ho and rode the state's economic expansion in the 1970s and 1980s, Shapiro said. He was in the Star-Bulletin's newsroom nearly 40 years ago when Gannett CEO Al Neuharth announced his purchase of the Star-Bulletin.

Gannett remained optimistic about the Hawai'i newspaper market when it purchased The Advertiser in 1993 for $250 million and sold the Star-Bulletin to Florida-based Liberty Newspaper LP, Shapiro said.

But like a lot of newspaper companies, it failed to anticipate the deep slump in newspaper advertising and increased competition from the Internet.