by Alan D. McNarie
The rumors are true. In the E-mail this morning. “This will be the last edition of Big Island Weekly. Stephens Media, which publishes Big Island Weekly, launched the publication in 2006 as a way to offer readers and advertisers a free, alternative newspaper. The company has decided to cease publishing BIW in order to shift resources to other Big Island publications, some of which will be launched in the near future.”
I have mixed emotions about this. Several years ago, we had a thriving alt weekly called the Hawaii Island Journal, of which I was proud to be the Senior Contributing Editor. Stephens Media repeatedly tried to buy the Journal. Then owner/editor Lane Wick and owner/publisher Karen Valentine refused to sell it to them. When Lane and Karen eventually retired and sold the Journal to the owner of the Honolulu Weekly, Stephens Media started up an obvious copy-cat paper, the Big Island Weekly, to compete directly with the Journal and siphon off some of its ad sales. The strategy was eventually successful; I blame the demise of the Journal as much on miscues by its new Honolulu owner as I do on the Weekly’s competition–and the burgeoning Web probably also played a role– but the Journal did eventually fail, strengthening Stephen’s stranglehold on the island’s print media.
For a while, I wrote for the Weekly, since it was pretty much the only game in town for investigative journalism. Under then-editor Yisa Var, the Weekly and I did some good work. But Var eventually left, and Tiffany Edwards Hunt started a true alt paper again–the Chronicle–so I left the Weekly to throw in my lot with her. Meanwhile, Stephens continued to consolidate its empire, sacrificing jobs and journalism for efficiency: firing union activists, eliminating the press at the Tribune-Herald and printing it at West Hawaii Today; placing the editorship of both papers under David Bock, consolidating the editorship and offices of Big Island Weekly with that of the chain’s North Hawaii paper. I’m saddened by this latest move, but not surprised.
Saddened, because the Weekly, whatever else it was, did give an outlet and voice to a number of decent freelance writers, who are now going to be missing those little paychecks. And because, as a journalist, I now feel a little more alone this morning. The Chronicle welcomes any of the Weekly’s advertisers who want to keep an alternative voice alive on this island; if we can increase our shoestring budget, maybe we can even hire some of those disenfranchised columnists. But we’ll soldier on, regardless, and try to keep journalism by journalists for the community, rather than by MBAs for their stockholders, alive on the island.