Wednesday, September 15, 1999. It was the day the news broke that the Honolulu Star-Bulletin was going to be shut down, ending the news war between the city’s two daily papers.
September 15, Wednesday
My first day back after a week-long trip to Chicago. The normal first day routine: clearing all that stacked up email, then the snail mail, then returning calls, getting reoriented to the stories in progress.
Routine, until mid-afternoon, probably around 4 pm, a wave of worry. Unexplained management meetings. No answers forthcoming about the subject. Finally word that “an announcement” will be made Thursday morning. We’ve been through rumors before. A month ago, some Advertiser staffers were supposedly asked to submit lists of who they would hire from the Star-Bulletin, but as far as I know this was never confirmed. But by 6 pm, all television stations are reporting the Star-Bulletin’s imminent closure.
Reporters who start early in the day were gone before the flutter started, and many hear the news for the first time when it’s broadcast.
The following day, the official announcement was made by then-Star-Bulletin publisher, Rupert Philips.
Rupert Phillips makes his announcement in our newsroom about 8 am. I’m not there. I decided to arrive fashionably late. If the news is what we expect, then I don’t need to rush in. And if there’s some unexpected announcement, I’ll have the pleasure of a surprise. Of course, the news is as expected. Bad.
There’s confusion about basic things. Severance pay, unused vacation, we’re in shock and focusing on details. The big picture is overwhelming. Oh–if you didn’t already–check out the pictures I took around the newsroom after the official announcement.
I had a camera with me and tried to record what was happening in the newsroom. That’s Dave Shapiro, former managing editor, with the “Star-Bulletin will close after 117 years” headline. Just click on the photo to see more pictures from that day.
I made the following observation nearly a year later.
“Remember Little Rock” was the theme of other hallway discussions. It’s the city where the “local” newspaper won the war against Gannett and eventually forced Gannett out of the market. Now, with at least some apparently realistic hope of survival, there was talk in our newsroom of the potential to leverage our strengths into a victory against Gannett here as well. In some ways it’s quite a long shot, but it’s got people talking.
Today, of course, Gannett has been driven out of the state. The Star-Bulletin bought out its larger rival, the Honolulu Advertiser, and merged the two newspapers into the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Despite the bravado of “Remember Little Rock,” I don’t think anyone truly believed this was a possible outcome.