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Star-Advertiser forecasts continued growth

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The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the byproduct of the consolidation of two distressed dailies, expects to grow revenues next year and share another $1 million or so with the community as it did during its first year in business.

"Revenues were on pace this year, and we are looking to next year with cautious optimism," said Dennis Francis, president and publisher of Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press Ltd., the Star-Advertiser’s parent company.

The Star-Advertiser, which was profitable in its first month, is projecting 3 to 4 percent growth in 2012, Francis said.

"Our first-year numbers were in line with most other profitable dailies around the country," Francis said. "I think most businesses now are feeling like they are beginning to come out of the recessionary times."

The newspaper, the 60th-largest daily in the nation and the largest in the state with an average circulation of 124,000 daily (139,000 on Sunday), published its first issue a year ago today. Its creation was the result of Gannett Co.’s decision to end nearly four decades of newspaper ownership in Hawaii and sell The Honolulu Advertiser to Canadian-based Black Press, owner of its longtime rival the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The Star-Advertiser has become the flagship daily among the more than 100 Black Press newspapers in western Canada, Washington, Ohio and Hawaii. The Akron Beacon Journal, Black’s second-largest newspaper, sells 95,000 copies daily and 125,000 on Sunday.

The consolidation was the first in modern times outside of a joint operating agreement (JOA), where competing newsrooms merge other operations to save costs. The 30-day consolidation of the two completely separate newspapers improved the Star-Advertiser’s media position, Francis said.

"We have an extremely large media footprint in comparison to other local media," he said. "Our reach is unparalleled here in Hawaii and frankly much of the nation."

Star-Advertiser daily readership ranks sixth out of 77 designated market areas measured nationally by Scarborough Research, said Dave Kennedy, Star-Advertiser senior vice president of marketing.

"The Star-Advertiser is read by more than a half-million Oahu adults every week. That is more than 7 out of 10 reading our paper every week," Kennedy said. "When you combine that with MidWeek, which is direct-mailed weekly to 268,000 Oahu homes, three military newspapers and staradvertiser.com, Hawaii’s No. 1 website, our combined unduplicated reach is 9 out of 10 adults. That is quite an arsenal to offer our advertisers."

It would take decades without attention paid to news quality or marketing for the Star-Advertiser to lose its value for readers and advertisers, Francis said. And that’s not going to happen on his watch, he said.

"I think the future of newspapers is quite bright here and even nationally. The argument that newspapers are old media and that they are dying is overblown," Francis said. "There are approximately 1,300 daily newspapers in the U.S., but only five or six, less than 1 percent, have gone out of business that were not part of a JOA in the last several years."

The Star-Advertiser earned two national writing awards in its first year from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and two third-place regional awards for column and explanatory writing in the Best of the West Journalism competition, which spans 13 states.

The addition of 30 experienced Advertiser journalists gave the 116-staff newsroom the expertise and depth to cover more stories, better than other news organizations, said Star-Advertiser Editor Frank Bridgewater.

"I don’t mean just the regular daily and the big breaking stories, such as crime, bad weather and tsunami threats, but also special projects and the everyday stories about people, neighborhoods, entertainment and the University of Hawaii and prep sports — all accompanied by superior photos and graphics," he said.

Oahu readers said they were 82 percent satisfied with the paper in a recent SMS Research survey, Kennedy said.

"Our readers have told us that they like the newspaper, and staradvertiser.com gets 20 million unique page views a month," Francis said. "Nowhere else can you get the comprehensive, in-depth, credible local news we provide every day in print and on the Web."

Later this summer the newspaper’s website will go to a paid content model, he said. More than a third of U.S. newspapers are already charging for their content, and the majority of them are expected to introduce paid content in the next 18 months, Francis said.

"Breaking news and a large part of the website will still be free," he said, "but the bottom line is that it costs us money to gather the news and it makes no sense not to charge for our unique content."

The Star-Advertiser is determined to produce a quality newspaper and has made extensive internal investments, Francis said.

"We continue to make technology upgrades that will modernize our news and sales staffs and give them all of the tools that they need to do their jobs well," he said.

The Star-Advertiser also made significant community investments, Francis said.

"It was important for us to come out of the gate as the new Star-Advertiser recognizing our significant role as a partner in this community," he said.

Cash and advertising were given to the Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Diamond Head Theatre, Parents and Children Together (PACT) and numerous others, Francis said.

"I would say that our support has been several times larger than what both newspapers were previously doing," he said.

Star-Advertiser coverage, cash and advertising space donations made the Aloha Council of the Boy Scouts of America No. 1 in the Pacific region for recruitment last summer and helped it grow 4 percent for the year, said Rick Burr, the Aloha Council of the Boy Scouts of America’s scout executive/chief executive.

"We attribute those results to the Star-Advertiser," he said. "They were really helpful in educating the public about who we are and how long we’ve been here."

Similarly, Star-Advertiser donations helped the American Red Cross grow its corporate donor program, said Coralie Chun Matayoshi, chief executive of the American Red Cross, Hawaii State Chapter.

"The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s significant donation of advertising space has made it possible for us to highlight our mission and increase awareness of our corporate supporters so that we can raise much-needed funds to continue to help those in need," Matayoshi said.

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