The Honolulu Star-Advertiser published its first edition June 7, 2010, combining the best of the 128-year-old Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the 154-year-old Honolulu Advertiser.
The new paper and website, www.staradvertiser.com, took on a new look, but retained many familiar columnists, features and other elements from both papers.
“We hope to bring together the best of the people and put out a great newspaper,” said the Star-Advertiser’s majority owner, David Black. “It’s quite important that the paper continues to have elements from each of the dailies. We want readers to feel comfortable.”
The newspaper is managed by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press. Dennis Francis is president of Oahu Publications and publisher of the Star-Advertiser. The senior management team at the Star-Advertiser also includes Dave Kennedy, senior vice president/marketing and Roger Forness, vice president/technology.
The newsroom and administrative offices continue to occupy offices that had been home to the Star-Bulletin, at 500 Ala Moana Blvd., in Waterfront Plaza. The newsroom along with the sales and administrative staff are on the fifth floor.
By Burl Burlingame
The histories of Honolulu’s two primary newspapers do not run on separate tracks. Like a maile lei, the branches are woven together in a flowing tangle, with events happening over the years due simply to circumstance, coincidence and — often — bad blood and raw emotion.
The first issue of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser rolled off the press on July 2, 1856, a four-sheet weekly designed “to exert more than an ephemeral influence on the industrial and social condition of our community and nation,” as promised by editor and publisher Henry M. Whitney. His Advertiser was not the first newspaper in the islands, but it was the first to exist outside of royal control.
The energetic Whitney also created a successful Hawaiian-language newspaper; was the kingdom’s postmaster; published the first island tourist guides; and as a clerk at J.W. Robertson & Co.’s waterfront stationery store, began printing up a daily briefing of current events, posting copies in the store window. The Daily Bulletin soon became the Evening Bulletin, the first daily newspaper in the islands, debuting Feb. 1, 1882. Seeing how citizens crowded around the shop window, Robertson purchased the concept from Whitney and kept him on as editor.
Just a couple of weeks after Queen Liliuokalani was deposed, the Hawaiian Star appeared on March 18, 1893. Founded by businessman J. Atherton, it was the propaganda voice of the provisional government. The choice of a “star” in the banner was deliberate, a hopeful symbol of American annexation. The Atherton family wanted Hawaii to become an American state, and six decades later, they succeeded, largely through constant drum beating from the family-owned newspaper.
Another of the primary players in Honolulu’s newspaper saga also settled in Hawaii during this restless period.
After graduating from college in Maine, Wallace Rider Farrington kicked around various papers in New England. In 1893, the gossip column in the Advertiser noted “W.R. Farrington, an experienced young newspaperman, arrived on the Alameda and will be on the Advertiser staff.”
Before the year was out, Farrington was elected president of the Advertiser printing company. He would later serve two terms as the territory’s appointed governor in the 1920s.
In the summer of 1897, however, Farrington abruptly left Honolulu for faraway Fitchburg, Mass. He arranged for good old Henry Whitney to fill in for him. The Advertiser board of directors announced that Farrington’s reign had been “characterized by the cleanliness in journalism and honesty of purpose.” Within a year, however, he returned to Honolulu to assume editorship of the Evening Bulletin.
Farrington called his successor at the Advertiser an “aged lady who is shaking her curls in the editorial chair.”
During annexation to the United States in 1898, the establishment “haole” press exulted, including the Bulletin, the Star and the Advertiser. But potshots between the papers continued for years. When the Advertiser began a Sunday edition in 1903, it also debuted “The Bystander,” an anonymous column — written by publisher Lorrin A. Thurston — that regularly took the Bulletin to task for “verbal poverty and infelicity.” A half-century later, Thurston’s son continued the tradition with anonymous “Dear Joe” columns that accused the Star-Bulletin of communistic sympathies.
On July 1, 1912, Farrington’s Evening Bulletin merged with the Athertons’ Hawaiian Star, becoming the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The owners chose young Riley H. Allen, city editor of the Evening Bulletin, as editor. Allen had arrived in 1910, fresh from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and served as the newspaper’s editor until 1960, as astonishingly long run for any newspaper editor.
Allen was at his desk on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and when the sound of explosions began rolling into town from the direction of Pearl Harbor, Allen scrambled his staff. An extra edition was on the street within hours, and more followed. The Honolulu Advertiser’s press was stalled due to mechanical failure.
When the Star-Bulletin’s presses cooled after all the day’s many special editions, it allowed the Advertiser to use its facilities to get its first wartime edition.
Under martial law, Advertiser publisher Lorrin P. Thurston became the military government’s public affairs adviser. Things were more troublesome for the Star-Bulletin, which often questioned military authority and refused to use racist terms when referring to the enemy. An FBI memo from the period complained that the Star-Bulletin was “a newspaper that refused to be controlled.”
In 1953, Thurston broached his concept of a joint operating agreement with Star-Bulletin publisher Joe Farrington, son of the former governor and Hawaii’s delegate to Congress. Farrington wanted nothing to do with Thurston.
The Star-Bulletin publisher died the next year and wife Betty took over the reins of the newspaper and his congressional seat.
When Thurston’s nephew Thurston Twigg-Smith took hold of the Advertiser in 1961, the newspaper had less than a week’s worth of operating cash on hand, although it did have a spacious news building at the head of Kapiolani Boulevard. At the same time, the higher-circulation Bulletin was about to lose rights to its building and press. Twigg-Smith promptly called Star-Bulletin publisher Betty Farrington with a proposal of press marriage.
Both Farrington and editor Riley Allen opposed the arrangement, but the courtship dragged on. Allen retired in 1960, and Star-Bulletin editor Adam A. “Bud” Smyser recalled that it likely broke Allen’s heart when the Star-Bulletin board put the paper up for sale over Betty Farrington’s objections.
Twigg-Smith began courting potential buyers for the Star-Bulletin, selling his joint-operating scheme. He found a like mind in investor/developer Chinn Ho, a major stockholder and board member in the Advertiser. Ho resigned from the Advertiser board, sold his stock and put together a hui that bought the Star-Bulletin for $13.5 million.
The papers merged technical and financial facilities into a third company, Honolulu Newspaper Agency in June 1962; the first combined Sunday edition appearing immediately. The Star-Bulletin news staff moved into the Advertiser “News Building” in March 1963.
A decade after acquiring the Star-Bulletin, Ho sold out to the Gannett newspaper chain in 1971. In 1992, Gannett executives gathered in the Star-Bulletin newsroom and announced to the stunned staff that the paper would be put up for sale, and that Gannett was buying the Advertiser. Gannett satisfied antitrust requirements by selling the Star-Bulletin for $15 million to Rupert Phillips’ Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership.
Six years later, Gannett announced it was buying out Liberty’s interest and shutting down the Star-Bulletin in six weeks. Star-Bulletin employees, the Newspaper Guild and concerned citizens organized a legal challenge claiming Gannett’s actions violated antitrust exemptions in the Newspaper Preservation Act that allowed joint operating agreements. A federal court made the unprecedented action of issuing Gannett an injunction, requiring the company to keep the Star-Bulletin alive until the matter could be settled in court. Instead, Gannett consented to a settlement that allowed the paper to be sold.
Canadian publisher David Black purchased the Star-Bulletin for $10,000. The first issue of the Black Press-owned Honolulu Star-Bulletin was produced on March 15, 2001, the staff operating off of folding tables in a rented Honolulu office space.
Over the last decade, both newspapers have been hurt by declining advertising and circulation, plus competition from electronic media. Eager to cut losses, Gannett agreed to sell out to competitor Black in February 2010.
The two Honolulu newspapers, with a longstanding, troubled and intertwined history, merged into a single entity June 7, 2010.
This article was primarily sourced from “Shaping History — The Role of Newspapers in Hawaii” by Helen Geracimos Chapin, “Presstime in Paradise” by George Chaplin, and various articles by Adam A. “Bud” Smyser of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Bob Krauss of the Honolulu Advertiser.