Thursday, March 04, 2010


Outsiders determine the fate of Hawaii’s media

by Larry Geller

Not connected with this article—tune in to Town Square tonight on Hawaii Public Radio, KIPO, 89.3 FM at 5-6 p.m. to hear Beth-Ann Kozlovich and guests discuss the state of Honolulu’s newspaper scene. If you’re out of range, it streams from

Next week on Town Square: interview with Bob McChesney on “The Death and Life of American Journalism” for a macro-view. That’s Thursday, March 11, 5-6 p.m 89.3 FM.

The local media scene here is in a state of flux once again as outsiders compete for your eyeballs. Yes, we’re media consumers in a market big enough to interest two newspaper companies and a flock of Mainland-owned media giants all vying for Hawaii advertising dollars.

Most recently it’s a fight to own newspapers.The previous (and still ongoing) skirmish was over the legality of a shared service agreement between three Honolulu television stations (see: Media Council files complaint against KHNL, KFVE, KGMB shared service agreement, 10/7/2009).

KHNL, KFVE and KGMB may be local stations in that they are physically located here, but Raycom and MCG Capital, two Mainland media giants, are the owners of the stations.

Media Council Honolulu challenged the arrangement with welcome and valuable assistance from another Mainland entity, Georgetown University Law Center. The battleground will be remote Washington, DC.

Now comes David Black, Canadian media mogul and owner of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (who today, incidentally, joined the bidding for the bankrupt Globe and Mail newspapers). Black is a media hero for saving the Star-Bulletin and keeping it in competition with the Honolulu Advertiser all these money-losing years. Still, he is a Canadian media hero, and his agreement to purchase the Advertiser from Gannett is rooted in the profit motive. Knowing that, and uncertain of his plans, employees of the two papers are in a kind of limbo.

No one (perhaps not even Black himself) knows whether there will be one or two newspapers in Honolulu’s future, or how many more heads will roll as this crisis moves onwards. And yes, it is a crisis, because of the risk to local talent and expertise, and the likely drift to the right of the newspaper scene in the absence of competition.

From left field (I hope) and still in the shadows is Peer News.

Pierre Omidyar has the ability to do whatever he wants with his venture. So far, he has hired a very capable editor, but an outsider. John Temple was the editor, president and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News. No doubt the first plate lunch he ever ate (if he has gotten around to that) was when he relocated to Hawaii in January.

Temple announced yesterday (3/3/2010) that Sara Lin, very much a local person, will be coming back to Hawaii to join him in running the news service. Whew! Here is his announcement:

I'm happy to announce that we've hired an assistant editor. We're bringing home a local star - Sara Lin - to work as my partner leading the Honolulu-based news service. Sara was born and raised in Hawaii and graduated from Punahou School, where she was editor of the student newspaper for two years. She's a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in Politics and minored in East Asian Studies. While a student, she worked as an intern at Honolulu Weekly and The Honolulu Advertiser. After graduation, she went on to a reporting career at two of America's great newspapers: the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, where today she is a real estate reporter and columnist. Sara starts at Peer News at the end of the month.

Still, there is competent and experienced local talent who might have been tapped for a senior position. Perhaps that will happen as the masthead is filled in further down the chain. Interest in Peer News is intense, including among university students hoping to find a career in journalism.

No one knows how big Peer News will be, whether it is intended as local or national in focus, or whether it is experimental or will become muscular enough to become serious competition. It could be a billionaire’s plaything or the next new wave in online journalism. It could mean new job opportunities for journalists now wondering where their next bowl of saimin will come from—or not. It could mean a future in journalism for Hawaii’s college students—or not. Certainly, the traditional media scene looks bleak, and Peer News has a corner on all the Hope.

One observation, though: all this is supply-side skirmishing. I suspect many of us depend on diverse Internet sources for news and commentary. Regardless of who owns the TV stations or newspapers, that will not change. Should there be a shakeup that separates us from our daily on-line news fix, that would be a concern. Otherwise, who cares about TV ownership, media conglomeration and struggles to control papers named “Advertiser” and the like?

Give me my broadband or give me death.

Peer News will need to be more than the newspapers its new leaders used to work for if it will be of use to web-surfing news junkies.


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