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Ian Lind • Now online daily from Old Kahala

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Honolulu Weekly folds, Washington Post raising paywall

June 5th, 2013 · 28 Comments

Two years after an unpaid $20,000 printing bill nearly swamped the Weekly in red ink, publisher Laurie Carlson has abruptly shut down the 22-year old alternative weekly.

The move caught the Weekly’s staff and freelance writers by surprise. They learned yesterday that their last day of work had been the day before. Word spread quickly after a brief note was posted on the newspaper’s Facebook page.

The Culture Bomb shared the email sent out to contributing writers yesterday by Will Caron, which seems to tell the tale.

“I’m afraid your editors at the Weekly, including myself, heard some very bad news this morning. Our publisher, Laurie Carlson, who is also the owner of the paper, has decided to shut the publication down due to financial reasons. Unfortunately, this Wednesday’s issue will be the last issue of Honolulu Weekly as we know it.

“We are attempting negotiations to find a potential buyer and there is some hope we may be able to relaunch in the Fall, but that is very much up in the air, and for the mean time, there will be no further issues published.

“I am sincerely sorry that any work you’ve been putting in for future Hot Picks and other assignments this summer will be wasted, but I encourage you to publish any stories you’ve written that have not been published by the Weekly on your own websites for clips. I wish the situation had been handled better and that we had known about this in advance, but we were all caught extremely off guard by this, so know that your editors are in the same boat as you. Best to all of you, and hopefully we can work together again next year.”

Honolulu Weekly, Pat Tummons’ Environment Hawaii, and my Hawaii Monitor newsletter all began publishing in the same general period in the early 1990s. I folded Hawaii Monitor when I accepted a position as investigative reporter for the old Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Environment Hawaii is still going strong, providing strong and steady coverage of environmental issues and agencies. If you don’t subscribe, you should.

I’ve written for the Weekly on-and-off over the years, although nothing recently. At least of my Weekly stories was an award winner. “Correctional behavior: Union rights vs human rights in Hawai’i’s only youth prison” was awarded the top prize for Enterprise Reporting for 2005 in the annual competition sponsored by the Hawaii Publishers Association.

The Weekly has tottered on the edge of insolvency many times, and has suffered from internal management tensions and high staff turnover for most of its long run. The club of Weekly formers is legendary, as are their many colorful newsroom war stories.

Still, the its loss–even if only temporary, as some apparently hope–will be felt.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has announced that it will join the growing number of publications erecting paywalls.

According to a publisher’s note appearing today:

Whether or not you subscribe, we will not limit your ability to view The Post’s homepage and section front pages, watch videos or search classified advertising. In addition, readers who come to The Post through search engines or shared links will be able to access the linked page regardless of the number of articles they have previously viewed.

Our digital packages will be priced at $9.99 per month for access to the desktop and mobile web only and $14.99 for an all-digital package which includes access to all of The Post’s custom apps. Home delivery subscribers will continue to have complimentary access to all of The Post’s digital products.

Tags: Economics · Media · Politics

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Richard Gozinya // Jun 5, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Maybe Civil Beat can acquire the Wekly. Hehehe…the CB, HuffPo and Weekly, now there would be a triumvirate of note. Actually, of that bunch I sort of prefer the Weekly.

  • 2 Norm // Jun 5, 2013 at 9:02 am

    I can see Dennis Francis dancing on a pile of Honolulu Weekly’s in his office!

  • 3 Burl Burlingame // Jun 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I will miss the Weekly. I won’t miss Laurie Carlson.

  • 4 Nancy // Jun 5, 2013 at 9:43 am

    This is really bad. I was fortunate to work with one or two Weekly folks a couple of times when I was employed by the Legislature. They were gracious, accommodating, and did their jobs very well under great pressure and for comparatively little money.

    At no cost to the reader, the Weekly’s employees and freelancers covered important, sensitive, and controversial issues in depth without resorting to hysteria and easy assumptions. Our community — not just Honolulu, but the state — needs that coverage and dedication.

  • 5 jb // Jun 5, 2013 at 10:01 am

    On the side of the employees, I always hate to see owners resort to such cowardly, angry behavior as not letting people know in an open and humane manner. This speaks of the failure of leadership.

  • 6 Laurie (not Carlson) // Jun 5, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Mahalo to the Weekly for a job well done for a very long time. They will definitely be missed.

    Where else are the really tough stories, legislative alerts, community info, fun things to do, and support for local businesses?

    Here’s hoping the hiatus is brief and the Weekly returns stronger.

  • 7 Nancy Cook Lauer // Jun 5, 2013 at 11:19 am

    It’s painful to lose another media voice. Here’s hoping Honolulu Weekly regroups and returns.

  • 8 rlb_hawaii // Jun 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

    There’s never a good time for a business to go belly up but still the timing is odd. The Weekly stayed in the game during the worst days of the recession. Yet now that Honolulu’s economy is finally on the upswing the newspaper closed its doors.

  • 9 WooWoo // Jun 5, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Ian- I never caught that HYCF article the first time around. Stunning. Have you or anyone else done an update recently?

  • 10 Ken Conklin // Jun 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I have read Honolulu Weekly every week for perhaps 21 years, for the same reason I read Ian Lind’s blog: I want to learn by seeing news and commentary from viewpoints different from (and often opposite to) my own. One thing troubles me about Laurie Carlson’s behavior during the past month. She ran ads every week begging for donations to keep the newspaper afloat, and setting a goal which, according to last week’s ad, was very close to being achieved. In retrospect it looks like she abused the donors with something similar to a bait-and-switch campaign — “Please send money to keep the newspaper afloat” was actually “Please send money to help me get my debts paid before I shut this thing down.” Perhaps some donors would have given money to Carlson even knowing the paper was going to fold anyway — but perhaps some donors would not and might now consider themselves snookered.

  • 11 Undecided // Jun 5, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Although I may have, I can’t recall hearing of Environment Hawaii before. Decided to take a test spin on their advanced search by entering “honolulu rail energy.” The search resulted in few hits, none recent. But there was this, about an earlier attempt at elevated, automated, electrically powered rail on Oahu.



    Volume 2 Number 12 (June 1992)


    The administration of Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi has been touting the virtues of a rail transit system for O`ahu for some years now. To judge from the recently published Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the rail system, however, the environmental advantages would seem to be non-existent.

    To read the full article click here.

  • 12 Michael in Waikiki // Jun 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    YEARS AGO I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Weekly when there was a writer named Bob Rees. The guy had a way of making local politics entertaining and fun to follow–a great read for sure. Once his columns stopped appearing the Weekly wasn’t a fun read anymore and I lost interest. Not that my enthusiasm level for the Star-Bulletin is a whole lot better (although I was captivated by the recent story of a state senator trying to pressure a UH President over her son’s non-existent law school application) but at least our daily offers me news I can use. Haven’t picked up a copy of the Weekly in years.

    I don’t know if our media choices are going away because it’s a dearth of entertaining and provocative writers (remember Ron Youngblood (Maui News), Herb Caen (SF Chronicle), Dave Donnelly (Star-Bulletin), Bob Rees (Weekly), or Tom Stevens (Maui News)–writers not afraid to stir it up and give the public what it wants–or the simple fact the social media won. Case in point: why handle a large piece of paper (sorry Weekly) when I can use my $50 dollar a month smart-phone (dumb user) and get my news whenever and wherever I feel like it. Nuff said.

  • 13 zzzzzz // Jun 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I will miss Honolulu Weekly. It was a regular reminder that there are a lot of important issues, and viewpoints, not covered by our more mainstream media.

  • 14 cwd // Jun 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Although SigOth and I were one of the earliest Honolulu Weekly supporters when it first started, I stopped reading it about five years ago when it moved into what is now known at the Tea Party Arena.

    It is anti-rail, anti-anything that might actually get us off fossil fuels, anti-UH sports, anti anything which can move O`ahu/Hawai`i well into the 21st Centry long before 2050.

    This blog and some of the regular Civil Beat stories are where those of us who stand in the left-hand side of The Big Democratic Party Tent can read decently-researched stories.

  • 15 Jimmy // Jun 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    This isn’t really abrupt. Anybody who saw the advertising in the paper and talked to any writers saw this coming. Very unfortunate but it was a horrible business model.

  • 16 Mindy Pennybacker // Jun 5, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Richard!

  • 17 Mindy Pennybacker // Jun 5, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Let’s hope that’s all he’s doing.

  • 18 makikiboy // Jun 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I can hear an echo of agreement island wide regarding Burl’s comments. The reason Bob Rees stopped writing his columns is because he died unless there was some falling out before then, that I don’t remember.

  • 19 Alex Salkever // Jun 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    It’s always sad when a publication closes. Perhaps Laurie will sell it to someone finally? She’s had numerous offers over the years, including one from PacBasin.

  • 20 t // Jun 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    the timing is not odd. the newspaper industry was still losing readers — and advertisers — even when the US economy was booming in 2005-2007. the industry has been shrinking for decades. this has very little to do with the overall general national economy.

    to compare, this is very much like Kodak filing bankruptcy in 2012, when the US stock market easily jumped by double-digits. you cannot just tie things to “the economy”.

  • 21 t // Jun 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    to any generous soul who donated to the troubled Weekly and now wants all the generous money back, please call me: I want to sell you every single bridge in the world, not just Brooklyn Bridge.

    talk about ambulance-chasing.

  • 22 damon // Jun 5, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Big Island Weekly run by Stephens Media will be the next to fold. Anyone want to take bets?

  • 23 Alan McNarie // Jun 5, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    This is exactly the way she handled the Hawaii Island Journal’s closure as well, unfortunately. My sympathies to the Weekly’s staff and writers; I know your pain.

  • 24 Jim Loomis // Jun 5, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    But who’s going to pay the people to gather and report the news that you get on your smart phone and don’t want to pay for??

  • 25 Burl Burlingame // Jun 6, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Free content isn’t free to those who work to provide it.

  • 26 Burl Burlingame // Jun 7, 2013 at 11:50 am

    There is no good way to close a newspaper.

  • 27 KateInHawaii // Jun 9, 2013 at 12:42 am

    As a long time employee, I do not agree with above. As Ian has said, HW stumbled financially many times so it’s hard not to know that the current economic and social climate made this closure inevitable.

    Laurie Carlson has been demonized many times for her treatment of employees and their pay scale, but to keep the Weekly going for as long as she did, says a lot more about her than all the bashing. Working for mainstream press may pay more, but certainly cannot claim to be as satisfying.

    Besides the present local economy factor, these social factors were hard on HW: increasing graffiti and vandalism took time and look away from street boxes. Bulk removal of issues from racks for personal use, even by professional people who should’ve known better, was hard to tolerate. (This removal was more prevalent than that of thinned skinned politicians who resorted to this tactic when the truth be told. We can all chuckle as a farewell expression to HW remembering those times.)

  • 28 Steve // Aug 12, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Free Speech, Isn’t Free. A 20K Missed payment… I’ll bet I can find a digital press for that money and ship it to Hawaii. If you print on paper you’d better own the equipment. It’s like owning an Airline but not owning the Refinery. Your Advertisers need to see a return, I’ll bet they saw very little? And you P.Oed Monsanto… How dare you expose these deeds…

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