Saturday, July 24, 2010

 

The final auction of not a failed, but a successful business is too creepy for words


by Larry Geller

I didn’t go to the preview held yesterday of the Advertiser auction for a couple of reasons. Bad vibes. A profound sense of loss. The Honolulu Advertiser was purchased not because it failed, but because it was successful, then killed. Capitalism ran amok in Honolulu when the leading paper was bought in order to shut it down.

The auction, to be held today, will clean out the old Advertiser building of all the stuff left over after 150 years of documenting Hawaii’s history.

Ian Lind has photos today in Previewing the auction of the remnants of the Honolulu Advertiser, and Burl Burlingame has an article and pics at Death of a Newsroom.

What’s left in the building is what Black Press tasted, chewed on, and spat out.

It’s the garbage left after a picnic. No, it’s the garbage after a bear raids the picnic and makes off with all the goodies. Whatever it’s like, you get my point. I didn’t feel like witnessing that, so I didn’t go yesterday to have a look.

The Honolulu Advertiser was a perfectly functional, in fact profitable, newspaper that could still be operating today, but was bought and swiftly terminated to eliminate competition and then looted for its good parts. Only a fraction of the staff were kept. Neither those left out of work nor the reading public were served by the unexpected loss of Honolulu’s leading paper. It doesn’t even matter what we think of how they were doing, or of Gannett, their last owners.

Strangely, competition did not eliminate the weaker paper. Competition itself was eliminated. Competition in newspapers is a good thing, keeping both on their toes. We lost what many of us had fought for years ago, a two-newspaper town.

It’s crazy. One day we had two newspapers, the next day the more successful (and likely to continue) one was killed in order that its blood might sustain the weaker.

The destruction of the Advertiser says nothing about the good people working on the new Star-Advertiser, it’s about a business decision made somewhere in Canada. What’s left to auction at the old building isn’t actually garbage, you could move in and run a newspaper there today, given access to a press.

The auction will bring an end to anything Advertiser, leaving just a haunted shell of a building. At the same time, what used to be the Star-Bulletin continues with what was then the losing format but with a shiny new monopoly, and the Advertiser’s ad contracts and subscription list.

I don’t claim to understand why the S-B didn’t succeed. The new Star-Advertiser resembles it closely, though. As the only newspaper in town it may now prosper, and I hope it does. In fact, it must, for all of us as readers, for the journalists and staff working there, and for the political and economic health of our state.

Having wished them well, still, I have to ask: How can they auction off a portrait of Bob Krauss? How can they? And might that be his wheelchair in Burlingame’s photo?

I’m glad I didn’t go over there to see that.




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