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A one-newspaper world: another community loses a voice

May 28: Come June 6, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser will publish as separate entities for the last time, making Honolulu essentially a one-newspaper town. On June 7, the product of the merged papers will be born as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The newspaper rivalry that has reportedly spanned a century was summarily brought to an end earlier this month, when Gannett completed the sale of the Advertiser to David Black, owner of the Star-Bulletin.

According to KITV, almost 400 employees are expected to be cut from both papers – approximately 290 from the Advertiser and 100 from the Star-Bulletin. And while last year at this time the newspaper death toll was much worse, another community is down a voice. “This is a disaster for our state. Without two newspapers there will be no incentive of strong investigative work that writers like Rick Daysog did regularly,” wrote an Advertiser reader in response to the merger. “I am depressed about this; it shrinks the horizons of public life.”

David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content for Vocus Media Research Group, would have to agree: “I always believe when a city loses one of its papers, it causes the remaining paper to become lazy and the reporting suffers,” he said. “Newspaper people will tell you they write as much for their peers and competition as they do for their readers. With no competition, what’s the motivation to make that extra call to a source, do extra research and produce a quality product. The readers in Hawaii will suffer because of this.”

Other cities over the last several years have also been witness to the one-newspaper town. In 2009, there were a slew of papers that left behind a lone survivor, including the Baltimore Examiner, Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which went exclusively online. In 2008, the Cincinnati Post departed the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Last March, 24/7 Wall St. predicted the top 10 endangered newspapers to fold or go online. The top five were the Philadelphia Daily News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Miami Herald, Detroit News and Boston Globe, which almost saw its final days last year when the New York Times Company threatened to close it. A year later, the Globe still stands, as do the other papers listed. Will these newspapers continue to march on?

Coates noted that although many newspapers appear to have begun adapting to the changing media landscape, it’s only a matter of time until more one-newspaper towns begin to appear. “Financially, it just isn’t feasible to keep two papers going,” he said.

Perhaps, like elsewhere in the country, online news sources can fill the gaps. Just one day after the sale of the Advertiser on May 3, the Honolulu Civil Beat launched online. The independent news source website touts that it “takes an investigative and analytical approach to journalism, focusing on topics and issues as opposed to event-based reporting.” So perhaps competition isn’t all dead yet.

But that remains to be seen, as does what the future year holds for daily metros, Coates noted.  “A lot of this depends on the economy and how quickly it bounces back,” he said. Newspapers are not the only businesses suffering in the current financial climate, he noted. But he believes that if a newspaper made it through 2009, “then it can probably survive almost anything.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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