Saturday, June 14, 2008


The state of the state's weeklies

by Larry Geller

Today marks the end of the Hawaii Island Journal.

Publisher Laurie Carlson has shut it down due to lagging ad revenue (see Ian Lind's article here). What's left is a virtual media monopoly on the Big Island. It's too much to hope that the paper might be reincarnated somehow, but if that could happen, it would allow alternative expression to live on. And that's important for a vibrant democracy.

I was raised in New York with alternative radio, WBAI, and alternative publications of all kinds, at the head of which was the Village Voice. We moved to Tokyo where it's not unusual that people read more than one paper a day, including a rich array of alternatives. And then Hawaii, where we have only a few pages of weekly alternatives.

The Village Voice was a fat publication. Traveling across the country and picking up the weeklies, I envy their readers. Most papers are very substantial. We have so little here. I mean, little in the total page count of alternative opinion, reporting and commentary.

My understanding is that the Honolulu Weekly (and the Hawaii Island Journal) are (were) printed on the Star-Bulletin/MidWeek presses, and that the Advertiser isn't a competitive option. That is, they won't print alternative weeklies. If there are so few options, that makes publication of a weekly paper a precarious thing. With the price of shipping going up, I wonder if printing any paper out of town can make economic sense (I just don't know). If the Big Island wants to have a free weekly paper, what choices do they have to print it locally, that is, economically?

And let's face it, we're getting mostly ads and entertainment listings in the Honolulu Weekly. It's no Village Voice, and journalism isn't its main thrust. While I'm glad to see the articles they do run, those articles are very few. We're not necessarily getting our money's worth.

Bloggers might take an interest in the possibility of a resurrection, if the business aspects can be worked out (which could be daunting). We have one instance of a blog migrating to print: David Shapiro's popular weekly flASHback blog article is now a regular feature in the Advertiser. I hope they're paying him for it. Of Will Blog for Foodcourse, he wasn't an independent blogger to begin  with. But it can happen. Blog-newspaper combinations may help weekly alternative papers squeezed for revenue stay alive.

There is great synergy in writing both for print and for the Internet. Believe it or not (because you are all web-savvy), some people still don't surf the web or read blogs, but they do read newspapers. Far more people read Shapiro's article in the paper than ever read it on the web, I feel certain. I'm glad to see Ian Lind and Joan Conrow in print so often in the Honolulu Weekly.

We should be concerned about the loss of alternative media. If one day the gestapo comes busting down doors in middle of the night to carry away the bloggers, knowing how to get the word out in print will be the killer technology. 

So although it's probably a difficult task, I hope that the Big Island can find a way to perpetuate what was an important and unique alternative publication.


Freedom of the press is for those who own one- a press that is. The internet is a kind of press but still isn’t popular enough. It is changing as young people who grew up using it take over but for now and the foreseeable future it’s still necessary to own your own printing press to run a fully independent newspaper, especially in Hawai`i.

People have come to me for years and said “let’s start a real newspaper on Kaua`i” and I always say “ok- let’s raise a million dollars for a printing press.”. The only printing presses on Kaua`i belong to the Garden Island and they’re not going to print their competition.

Others have tried -and failed- trying to print in Asia or on the mainland and ship it because the cost was prohibitive... and that’s when gas (so shipping) was cheap, not to mention that you have a three day minimum lead time, making the paper “not really the news”

Well stated, Andy. I know this well... when I was in public school I decided I must put out some kind of publication. I can't remember the reason, but anyway, I made myself a hectograph (no Xerox machines in those days). It's basically a gelatin press. Some glycerin in the jelly, poured in a pan.

In college we put out an alternative newspaper printed using teletype machines and a Gestetner.

Maybe one day it will be economical to print an alternative weekly on demand, or something.

I've played with ways to assemble blog articles into a paper form, but of course it's all just a dream for the reasons you give in your comment.

"My understanding is that the Honolulu Weekly (and the Hawaii Island Journal) are (were) printed on the Star-Bulletin/MidWeek presses..."

Before the Journal was bought by Honolulu Weekly in 2005, it was printed with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald machines. There's a conservative paper, Hawaii Free Press, published out of Hilo. Its viewpoint may be anathema to much of HIJ's audience but there's no denying HFP is an independent, locally-owned paper.

HIJ has had its moments but often played it safe. I remember Honolulu Weekly when the late Bob Rees was writing for it. Like you, I sense it's not as relevant as it was in the nineties.

Thanks, Brandon. I should have thought that before the HIJ was printed on Oahu it was printed there someplace. That may mean that it could be printed there again, or maybe another weekly...

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