Monday, June 18, 2012


YOU WIN AGAIN: The news is out all over town that it's news when there's real news in the paper. It’s not news to readers that the local Kaua`i newspaper has, if it's possible, sunk to a new low.

We set out to find out the percentage of actual news articles in the past month or so and how much was fluff and filler. And we ran into a problem- we couldn't find any news because even newsworthy subjects were treated as feature stories.

After throwing out rewritten press releases- which is where most "news" has come from recently- and recounts of court doings covering a full gamut of petty crimes, the percentage of actual news storries came out to be around 4-5% ... and that's being generous.

It may be the fact that there's no editor any more and, according to sources at the paper, Publisher Casey Quel Fitchett (who?) is the prime editorial decision maker. It may be the lack of actual journalists with the bulk of words being written by long time photographer Dennis Fujimoto.

But it just may be intentional. The lack of coverage of the scandalous doings in the Office of Prosecutor Attorney Shaylene-Iseri Carvalho and the distinct dearth of coverage of administration activities that are not straight from the mayor's public relations people can't be by accident. Nor can the publication of any kind of list containing local people's names so as to boost circulation. The lists of honor roll students during the last week seemed more numerous than the actual number of schools.

But an article in today's New York Times makes the decline from previous depths that few thought could be exceeded all the more perplexing.

According to the article:

Three years after telling his shareholders that he would not buy a newspaper at any price, (Warren) Buffett has moved aggressively into the business, buying 63 local papers and revealing a 3 percent stake in Lee Enterprises, a chain of mostly small dailies based in Iowa.

That's right- Lee Enterprises, which owns the local Kaua`i newspaper, is in turn owned in part by Berkshire Hathaway's Buffett, known as one of the most liberal of the super-rich people in the country if not the world. He's someone you'd think would have a commitment to decent journalism if he owned your local newspapers.

But oxymoronically enough the article- which is essentially about the Buffalo News which Buffett has owned since 1977- touts his commitment to informing the communities in which his Lee Enterprises papers operate, even in a time of severe decline in the newspaper industry.

For his new employees, the best indicator of what Buffett may do (at Lee) is what he has done with The Buffalo News. Interviews with more than a dozen current and former editors paint a picture of a profitable paper that is run with little involvement from its owner. Some journalists say that the owners will hold out as long as they can to buy the latest printing presses and that they wish the paper dedicated more resources to the highly ambitious journalism that wins the biggest awards.

(M)any workers agree that the owners do not skimp on sending journalists to town meetings or on enterprising local journalism, which is in line with Buffett’s belief about intensely locally focused papers.

The article makes Buffett's commitment to journalism clear even while cuts to newsroom staffs- such as the News' decline from 200 to 140 newsroom people- take its toll. But while Buffett seems to be hands off editorially he is depicted as one of the few newspaper owners that maintains a commitment to informing the people served by his new Lee newspapers.

How that jibes with our local newspaper's recent apparent commitment to steer clear of coverage of election year issues people need to know about is anyone's guess. But a clue might be gleaned from the sentence after the one quoted above.

“In Grand Island, Nebraska, everyone is interested in how the football team does. They’re interested in who got married. They’re maybe even more interested in who got divorced,” Buffett said, adding that he was not interested in sprawling markets like New York or Los Angeles. “If you live in South Central Los Angeles, you’re not interested in who dies in Beverly Hills.”

Oh, swell. Does that mean that all we're going to get is local gossip? Even that would be an improvement over the warmed over press releases that pass for news these days.

When there are actual articles that aren't simply rewrites of county or non profit PR they are of the sort that violate every tenet of journalism- unabashedly promotional pieces depicting their advertisers' latest wares.

With the news that Buffett owns Lee might we expect more, given what the Times article depicts as his commitment to "sending journalists to town meetings (and to) enterprising local journalism"?

Time will tell, but the local Kaua`i newspaper has nowhere to go but up.

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