David Buys Goliath

“Staff-wide meeting at The Honolulu Advertiser. Similar meeting called at The Star-Bulletin. This can’t be good for anyone.

Honolulu Advertiser education writer Loren Moreno tweeted that this afternoon, moments before the news once again became the news in Hawaii. David Black, owner of the smaller, scrappier Honolulu Star-Bulletin, has bought the larger, shinier Honolulu Advertiser. It’s been interesting to see how both publications have been covering themselves:

Black will make a brief effort to sell the Star-Bulletin, but if there is no buyer, my bet is he’ll shut it down in favor of the considerably stronger brand and better technology at the Advertiser. But since Star-Bulletin parent company Oahu Publications will be the surviving business entity, and because the Star-Bulletin‘s sister publication Midweek is still profitable, things don’t look particularly good for Advertiser employees.

But make no mistake. This is bad news for everyone.

Hawaii is still reeling from the unprecedented merger of three TV station newsrooms. And now, we’re faced with the very strong possibility of becoming a one-newspaper town. Of course, we nearly lost the Star-Bulletin in 1999, before the community rallied and Black stepped in to save it. But considering how different the media landscape is today, it’s unlikely there will be much of an uproar over either of these consolidations. Two-newspaper towns are now a rarity.

The mainstream media is floundering everywhere, and frankly, I don’t think we want the government to intervene if the end result is merely propping up dying businesses.

But we should be worried about the shrinking number of voices out there. Sure, individuals have blogs and YouTube and the immense reach of the Internet to be heard, but we can’t forget the value of venues with broad reach, and that span communities. They’re important platforms for documenting and even driving the “bigger picture.” With fewer newspapers and TV stations, we have fewer reporters covering neighborhoods, tracking government shenanigans, or investigating wrongdoing. And with fewer businesses controlling fewer media outlets, we’ll only see more manufactured, pre-written, PR-driven coverage.

As long as the news business is a business, there’s no avoiding the pitfalls — and mass extinctions — that plague any industry. But to me, journalism serves a higher purpose, one vital to democracy.

Citizen journalism is one solution: citizens will naturally investigate and report on the things that are important to them. Even there, though, I’m worried that journalism as an art will die before we’ve inspired enough of the next generation to take up the fight. Why cover the neighborhood board meeting when you’ll get more YouTube views with footage of an narcoleptic cat?

And even if “the people” are fired up and bring transparency to the issues that they’re passionate about, how can we ensure someone continues to shine a light into the less sexy, or more complicated, corners of society?

It’s a problem that Peer News hopes to solve. I wish them the best. They’re probably the only people seeing a silver lining to today’s announcement.

I have many good friends working at both newspapers, and my heart goes out to them. I long daydreamed about working with them someday. Once again, though, I’m just praying they’ll still have work when the dust settles.

This evening, Howard Dicus blogged:

The importance of newspapers in today’s journalism is, I think, often misunderstood. It is not competition. It is depth and care… Most of what radio and television reporters know, they learn by reading newspapers. You don’t necessarily need two newspapers for this, but you need one, and that one had better be good.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

3 Responses

  1. John Temple says:

    As editor of Peer News, I can tell you, Ryan, that we don’t see any silver lining in Thursday’s news about Honolulu’s newspapers. I’m writing about it on my blog, http://www.johntemple.net, on Friday. We wish the best to all the journalists at both papers. We want more voices. Not fewer.

  2. James says:

    Stylizied “consolidation” and news media buyouts as well as the decline of traditional media outlets are subjects well covered by individuals like Jay Rosen http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/

    I have long been intrigued by the fact that there were two daily print news organizations in a place like Honolulu. There are only so many readers out there. Nonetheless, the prospect of only one is not something desirable.

    One result of the recent broadcast “consolidation” was termination of around 35 individuals. I wonder what the number will be for this one?

  3. Caroline says:

    “But to me, journalism serves a higher purpose, one vital to democracy.” I couldn’t agree more. “…citizens will naturally investigate and report on the things that are important to them.” Yes, they will.

    Citizen journalists, unfortunately, fit these investigations into already crowded lives and so are unlikely to pursue investigations the moment one door is closed to them. And with the power of the published voice concentrated in fewer hands, closed doors will be more frequent.

    We need to keep our professional news voices on the job, on their job. It’s difficult– while it’s important to our democracy to keep these diverse voices going, like most everything with democracy, it comes with a price.

    The NY Times is starting pay-to-read services for online content. But I don’t think that would save the paper(s) because if one offers free online content and the other is pay..

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