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 AJR  The Beat

From AJR,   November 1999  issue

Island Outrage   

Lawsuits filed after a community's afternoon paper closes its doors.

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      

What do you do if your community's afternoon paper decides to shut down before its joint operating agreement expires? You file a lawsuit, of course. Hawaii's attorney general's office and a group of readers in Honolulu, called Save Our Star-Bulletin, or SOS, each filed antitrust suits after the owner of that paper, Rupert Phillips of Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership, announced he was closing its doors. A reported $26.5 million payment from JOA partner Gannett, owner of the morning Honolulu Advertiser, is part of the deal. In mid-October, the state had success: A federal judge blocked the October 30 shutdown pending a trial, though the owners of both papers quickly appealed. "Hawaii has taken some big economic hits recently, and people are very much aware of the diminution of the strength of the state," says Dick Miller, vice president of the Honolulu Community-Media Council and professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii's law school. Losing a paper "is just one other kick that I'm sure many knowledgeable people feel is not going to help the state at all." Another member of the council, John M. Flanagan, editor and publisher of the 117-year-old Honolulu Star-Bulletin, has mixed feelings about the community efforts. "I'm a little conflicted since I'm employed by the person who's closing the paper," Flanagan says, "but obviously my interests are with the people who are suing him." The JOA was set to expire in 2012, and an early ending would translate into a loss of about 140 positions, though the Advertiser said it would hire 20 to 30 Star-Bulletin staffers.