Oahu Publications plans a new round of job cuts — the second in the past year — at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, raising worries that the smaller newsroom won’t be able to sustain the quality of the newspaper’s journalism.
The Honolulu-based publishing company, which also owns MidWeek and a number of other Hawaii publications, will let go of 10 editorial employees — including prominent columnists Lee Cataluna and Mindy Pennybacker — within three weeks.
Also being laid off, based on seniority, are reporters Kathryn Mykleseth and Jayna Omaye; copy editors Jeff Clark, Celia Downes and Sarah Montgomery; artist Kip Aoki; clerk Jeremy Nitta; and page designer Joe Edwards — unless others in the newsroom come forward for “voluntary layoff,” according to Star-Advertiser staff members.
The move comes about a year after the company downsized the Star-Advertiser’s newsroom by trimming 15 editorial positions through a combination of voluntary layoffs and job cuts — part of a companywide cost-cutting initiative to offset losses in print advertising revenue.
Dennis Francis, the company’s president and publisher, did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment.
The job cuts will leave the Star-Advertiser, whose newsroom is represented by the Pacific Media Workers Guild, with 85 editorial employees, down from about 110 a year ago.
Marcel Honoré, who serves as the union’s unit chair, said the job cuts — which were announced to him in the form of a letter delivered to his mail slot in the newsroom at 5:30 p.m. Friday — “caught us completely by surprise.”
Honoré noted that the union has been in talks for a year with the company’s management to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
“As you can imagine, the negotiations are a lot of push and pull, tugging back and forth, but we were given no indication that the layoffs were coming,” Honoré said.
Under the current contract — which technically expired in August 2016 but remains in effect pending the negotiations — the union is prohibited from going on strike or otherwise staging a protest against the job cuts.
Honoré said the union has so far been given only vague justification for the job cuts: the decline in advertising revenues from major national advertisers — the same financial predicament that forced the newsroom’s downsizing last year.
“We’ve asked for more details, but that’s about as specific of a reason as they’re giving us at this point,” Honoré said.
Honoré added that the fact that the company has shared little in the way of plans to stabilize its finances is hurting morale.
“There’s a lot of sense of anxiety here right now toward what plan, if any, that the company has to maintain the quality of the state’s largest newspaper of record and keep it a vital part of the community,” Honoré said.
“I can say that we do have people here that are dedicated to their craft, that are dedicated to contributing to the state and keeping people informed — especially now more than ever — and we’re going to fight for the dignity of this newsroom and we’re going to do what we can,” Honoré said.
“But what we’re going through is a hard blow.”
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