Last Newspaper Standing

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Last Newspaper StandingIt didn’t take long for the other shoe to drop after the eyebrow-raising buyout of the Goliath Honolulu Advertiser by the David Star Bulletin.

But the reasoning for the new pay wall for on-line readers of the new Honolulu Star-Advertiser (S-A) had us in stitches as Publisher Dennis Francis claimed they were just following the lead of the New York Times, as if the two had anything in common journalistically other than the fact that both call themselves newspapers.

It reminded us of when our own local Kaua`i newspaper informed readers of their then-owners by printing a blurb on the masthead saying “A Pulitzer Newspaper” — as if they were actually somehow associated with the prize instead of the chain of small fluff and pap publications.

But if a story in today’s S-A is any indication news seekers may not be missing much if they eschew the “newspaper of record” — because if you’re the only newspaper in town you are, by definition, the newspaper of record — in favor of other news sources.

While the S-A was busy telling its readers about how the APEC will conclude at Ihilani resort in Ko Olina and wondering how the sharing of the wealth with out-of-town facilities might effect traffic, those who turned to KITV’s web site got the real story.

In an un-bylined report, they repeated their exclusive from yesterday’s 6 p.m. telecast saying that:

APEC’s two most important events with 21 world leaders attending will not be held at the Hawaii Convention Center in Waikiki. KITV4 first reported in May that law enforcement officials raised security concerns about the glass throughout the convention center. If a bomb was detonated even fairly far away from the building, shards of the glass ceiling and glass walls could injure people inside and outside the building, sources said. As a result, security experts recommended against having APEC leaders’ meetings at the convention center involving President Barack Obama and heads of state from APEC’s 21 countries, sources said.

The worst part is that the exorcizing of the real news wasn’t because the KITV report was too late in the day to make the morning paper, but rather because the S-A either intentionally ignored or didn’t bother to seek out the KITV’s earlier May and January reports on security — which, given the history of these kinds of gatherings should be issue number one.

That or, more likely, they simply regurgitated a pre-packaged press release without, as they are wont to do, any attribution — a lapse of ethics that neither the Times or even the local Kaua`i paper would allow.

If the S-A insists on being a paper where never is heard a discouraging word there are few, if any, that are going to pay the $120 a year for very long especially if all they get is a watered down product that reports only what their advertisers and the Chamber of Commerce want readers to know.

The worst part is that the reasonable rate of $1.95 a month is available to mainland subscribers.

Some may say that $10 a month is not a lot of money to pay for news. But the problem is that those who read news on-line don’t read just one source. And if this trend continues it will be ten dollars and ten dollars and ten dollars and… well you get the point.

There has to be a way for newspapers to reap revenues for the on-line versions of their newspapers. But having all the individual publications each charge their own fee for their limited coverage isn’t it.

We’ve long advocated for an “all you can eat” pricing for a massive consortium of newspapers including those with a national readership such as the NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal as well as the vast number of city and community newspapers… all for one reasonable fee, perhaps to be distributed via a “per-click” system.

Systems like ASCAP and BMI have been working for music publishing and radio play for decades and nascent music subscription services are cropping up everywhere and will soon be ubiquitous, as the large record companies as well as the independents come around to a business model of necessity.

But apparently the “news industry” feels like it has to go through all the wrong moves that the music business did rather than learning from them and creating a business model with will serve everyone going into the future.

All that will happen as medium sized newspapers like the Star-Advertiser become providers and aggregators is that the number of independent news sources will be diminished. And of course each one thinks that they will be the sole survivor of a war like that. And in the S-A’s case that would be to ignore their own history wherein the size of the publication had nothing whatsoever to do with who “won” the contraction of Honolulu newspapers.

We fully expect the quality of the Star-Advertiser to diminish further with this pay wall as they become even more alienated from their readers. And if today’s coverage is any example that inexorable march has already begun.


Home on the Range

Journalist Andy Parx has covered Kaua`i government and politics for over 30 years in print and on local TV. He currently writes a daily on-line news, commentary and analysis column at "got windmills?- The Daily Tilt."

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