Honolulu Newspaper War Briefing

PRELUDE TO NEWSPAPER WAR
1993 After years of mismanagement of his other newspaper holdings, Honolulu Advertiser owner Thurston Twigg-Smith abruptly sold the family trust to competitor Gannett, owners of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and with whom the Advertiser had entered into a joint operating agreement to consolidate printing, distribution and ad-sales functions. This came as a surprise announcement by Gannett executives John Curley and Douglas McCorkindale in the Star-Bulletin newsroom, who then raced out the door and peeled off their shirts and put on Advertiser aloha shirts to repeat the announcement to the now-frightened staff at the other newspaper.

THURSTON
TWIGG-SMITH

DOUG
MCCORKINDALE

JOHN J.
CURLEY

For weeks, the Star-Bulletin’s fate was in limbo while Gannett “searched” for a buyer. Gannett rebuffs an employee buyout, and eventually produces mystery Florida “newspaper broker” Rupert Phillips as the newspaper’s owner. No details of the purchase were ever produced in public, but Phillips and Gannett executives promised employees and the public that the JOA agreement will stand for the next 20 years. Phillips even urged staff members to take out second mortgages and car loans to bolster public confidence in the product, while McCorkindale claimed Star-Bulletin staffers had the best job security of any newspaper in the country. The newspapers switched hands on the same day Bush Justice Department lawyers vacated their offices for Clinton appointees, and Justice never got around to examining the JOA contract between the two newspapers and the government.

Phillips went back to the mainland and was rarely heard from. Out from under Gannett, over the next six years, the Star-Bulletin won numerous journalism awards while the Advertiser hemorrhaged an experienced staff under a succession of Gannett editors. Citizen ridicule of Advertiser news-judgment peaked when clueless Gannett editors sat on the now-famous “Broken Trust” essay by critics of powerful Bishop Estate, a document that, when made public by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, set into motion the biggest news story in Hawaii in the last quarter-century.

Into this charged and competitive atmosphere, Gannett bean-counters smelled more beans over the horizon.

If only they could poison the other guy’s well and not get caught …

Now go with us into the scary days of 1999 …

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