Publisher of the Year: Dennis Francis Honolulu: Star-Advertiser

By Zintel, Ed | Editor & Publisher, November 2013 | Go to article overview

Publisher of the Year: Dennis Francis Honolulu: Star-Advertiser


Zintel, Ed, Editor & Publisher


As he looks out on spectacular palm tree-lined fairways bordered by crashing waves on any number of golf courses he regularly frequents in his beloved home state of Hawaii, Dennis Francis often thinks about how his favorite pastime is so much like the newspaper business he leads.

"In golf you're competing against others, but really, you're competing against yourself," says Francis, president and publisher of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "That's what I tell my staff. Yes, you're always competing against other newspapers and other media, but all you want to do is your best. We want to win for ourselves. That's the ultimate goal."

Ever since 2010, when Francis, 55, merged Hawaii's two rival and heretofore struggling newspapers into one now thriving one, he has made himself and all those who work with him winners. For that, Editor & Publisher selected Francis as Publisher of the Year.

Not surprisingly, Francis was golfing on the big island of Hawaii when he received the news that he had been so honored from David Kennedy, the Star-Advertiser's senior vice president of marketing.

"We were both so ecstatic," Kennedy said. "I don't know how Dennis could put his attention back on golf after I spoke with him, but knowing him, he went right back to being that intense competitor he is. He loves any kind of challenge and his focus is unreal."

It's that focus that led Francis to revive the newspaper business in Hawaii. According to Kennedy, the Star-Advertiser was born as a result of Francis' response to a "mortal challenge". When Honolulu's two then daily newspapers--Gannett's The Honolulu Advertiser and Liberty Newspapers' Honolulu Star-Bulletin--ended a longtime joint operating agreement in 2001 with the intent of closing the Star-Bulletin, Black Press Ltd. in Canada stepped in to buy the smaller paper, the afternoon Star-Bulletin.

Black Press also bought MidWeek--a free weekly newspaper distributed to every household on the island of Oahu--from the Newhouse family to acquire its publishing infrastructure: printing press, distribution, advertising and accounting. A nine-year Honolulu newspaper war ensued.

A Bold Idea

David Black lured away Francis, then Advertiser general manager, in 2004 to be the Star-Bulletin's publisher. Francis was a veteran of the newspaper industry, having directed circulation departments at papers and agencies in Ohio, South Carolina, Washington D.C., Vermont and Hawaii, and he knew the Hawaii market. The Star-Bulletin still faced challenges, but Francis not only kept it going, he also launched a new glossy magazine division to provide an additional revenue stream.

In early 2010, Francis pursued a bold idea: The Star-Bulletin's parent company, Oahu Publications Inc. (OPI), would buy the Advertiser from Gannett, combine the staffs and create a new paper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser: The move was considered incredibly daring; most thought the much larger Advertiser would eventually be the sole surviving daily paper in Hawaii. Instead, Gannett left the islands and the new newspaper Francis envisioned was born in June 2010.

Today, Francis heads a profitable company that includes the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; The Garden Island on Kauai, published Sunday-Friday; MidWeek, which publishes separate editions on two islands with total distribution of 300,422 and combined readership of 350,804; USA Today Hawaii Edition (circulation 8,209); four zoned weekly community newspapers; three official military weekly newspapers with OPI employees working on military bases side-by-side with active-duty personnel; a magazine division that produces nine glossy publications; and a special sections department that produces four weekly publications, nine special-occasion publications, and weekly in-season programs for University of Hawaii athletic events. Dining Out, an insert in the Sunday Star-Advertiser; was running about 40 ads per week in June 2010. …

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