These days on the Big Island at least, you can probably save a tree and get better quality local island news by reading it online. The recent demise of locally owned Hawaii Island Journal* -the Big Island’s best and oldest “weekly” (officially three times monthly)- will certainly leave a hole to fill when it comes to more intelligent, eco-conscious, thorough culture, community, and (if not a little typically left-sided, a la most Weeklies) political coverage. There were direct insinuations, that the Big Island Weekly, owned by Nevada’s Stephens Media Group, helped put HIJ out of business. As a matter of fact, previous to this, Stephens had made attempts to purchase HIJ to no avail. The Weekly*, which entered the field in the last few years, has a business m.o. similar to Mesa (Go!) Airlines: enter the market (subsidized and able to offer lower prices), put the competition out of business, then control the market (raise rates, and in this case, without diverse competition, cut out the more cutting edge editorial policies). We’ll see how that goes.
As it stands, Stephens also owns the island’s dailies West-Hawaii Today and The Hawaii Tribune Herald. These newspapers (more specifically the later – though they often share pieces) are mainly entertaining to read if you like spell-checking or making fun of improper English; let’s just say Grammar Girl would have a field day. Though you’ll get a decent article now-and-again, often anything controversial is reported via one-sides stories with reporters not always bothering with the concept of an unbiased or balanced perspective. There’s also a convenient over-use of the “…wasn’t available for comment” line, which seems to find it’s way into many articles when their “journalists” don’t want to go out of their way to make a few more phone calls (or when hearing the other side might let the truth get in the way).
Stephens was under fire in 2005-2006 for “union-busting”, after which many of their best writers subsequently left the paper. After much brouhaha, in March 2008 the National Labor Relations Board ruled that at least two of the firings violated federal labor laws and ordered the paper to hire the reporters back – though it’s still uncertain how the paper may now proceed (though you can keep abreast of the issue via the Hawai’i Newspaper Guild website).
If their control of print media wasn’t enough, last year Stephens caused alarm by becoming a part-owner in television station KHHB (channel 5). Though newspapers are usually not allowed to own TV stations, the FCC said they would allow this because it is a low-power station.
Beyond Stephen’s media, we have the fun to read aloud Hawai’i Free Press. Let’s just say it would make Rush Limbaugh proud. The editor (the same guy behind the lies that Obama was a radical Muslim, as uncovered by a Washington Post investigation) is now touting his paper as the only free press on Hawai’i Island but…. Coincidentally, in the wake of HIJ‘s demise, a new free paper, The Island Sun, has emerged, focusing on an immersion in Hawai’i issues and cultural roots. Only one issue so far, we’ll have to if they can step it up: from design to substance. Still, it’s doubtful it can ever replace what is missed with HIJ going under. But is there hope?
HIJ editor Peter Serafin is out and about making a case for the importance of maintaining alternatives to monopolies. The powers that be don’t seem very concerned about protecting independent media sources, but there’s still some small hope someone will step in and purchase the defunct paper. As Peter mentioned in his July 1st testimony to the Hawai’i County Planning Committee (posted on Hunter Bishop’s site):
A number of investors are in discussion to buy the paper and relaunch publication. Anyone interested in participating in this effort, or anyone with any questions is welcome to contact me at SaveTheJournal@mac.com.
Whether or not new owners will take on the bills, including payment to the freelance writers of the past few issues, is another story. Actually, they have unpaid editorial bills from April 19th to the final June 14th issue! Seems publisher Laurie Carlson (Pacific Catalyst Publishing, which also owns the sister publication Honolulu Weekly) closed shop, without much warning (to the point of waiting ’til Serafin was on his first vacation since starting with the paper 2 1/2 years ago!), and left it in a state where there are no funds to pay their contributors (thank you very much), who are now left footing her outstanding bills (myself included). According to Bob Brooks who works for the Advertiser and is in charge of HIJ accounting:
Unfortunately, the Journal has no money but we do have about $30,000 in accounts receivable for unpaid advertising. Our adviser has stated that the first payment priority is salaries and next is taxes. As money is collected, we will be issuing checks; however I don’t expect that it will be any time soon, if ever, as many of the accounts are long past due and may never be collected…. Pacific Catalyst Publishing Company, LLC, is a limited liability corporation. All of the stock is owned by Honolulu Weekly; however the Weekly has no liability for the debts of the corporation as it is a stockholder.
Back to the local blogs which are – and have been for quite some time – picking up the slack for local island news reporting (and likely will continue to do so, as printing prices rise and quality editors and journalists are lost). If you’re interested in what’s really going on in the islands, here are a few site links – some by writers who used to work in the local newspaper biz – and all worthy of bookmarking!
[* note: though there are many disparaging words for Big Island Weekly ownership, most support the local staff that work there.]