Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Honolulu JOA Partners Agree to Seek Buyer

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Honolulu JOA Partners Agree to Seek Buyer

Article excerpt

Gannett Co. Inc. and Liberty Newspapers -- after trying unsuccessfully for months to get out of their joint operating agreement in Honolulu -- have agreed to seek a buyer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The deal came out of confidential talks aimed at resolving antitrust lawsuits filed by the state of Hawaii as well as a group of citizens and newspaper union members challenging the planned shutdown of the afternoon paper.

A court-supervised agreement gives Liberty until the end of June to find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin. But whether it can find a taker is another question. The sale would include the paper's subscriber and advertiser lists, but no subsidy, no presses, and no JOA, which now guarantees the Star-Bulletin a share of the profits. The buyer would have the option to contract with Gannett's morning Honolulu Advertiser, the Star-Bulletin's JOA partner, to print the daily. The Star-Bulletin, which now shares the Advertiser's building, also would have to find new offices and set up its own business departments, functions now handled by the JOA.

Both papers are anxious to resolve the legal hassle, which has made the Advertiser put expansion plans on hold and left Star-Bulletin employees worried about their job security.

Star-Bulletin Managing Editor David Shapiro said he believes a sincere effort will be made to sell the paper. "There are people looking at it," he said. "Whether it'll turn into anything remains to be seen." As for the paper's viability without the JOA subsidy, Shapiro said the Star-Bulletin could succeed as an independent paper if it converts to the morning cycle and leverages its content through Web partnerships, which are now barred under the JOA.

But the paper would be fighting an uphill battle. Reflecting a trend toward morning readership and Hawaii's ailing economy, the Star- Bulletin has steadily lost circulation, dropping from 88,000 in 1993 to about 66,000 today, while the Advertiser has held steady at about 110,000. …

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