Categorized | Business

WHT eliminates editor position; Flickinger out

(Editor’s Note: Tiffany Edwards Hunt, publisher of Big Island Chronicle, was a reporter for West Hawaii Today, under Reed Flickinger’s editorship for five years. Also, Hawaii 24/7 publisher Baron Sekiya and Hawaii 24/7 editor Karin Stanton worked under Flickinger for more than a decade each.)

Tiffany Edwards Hunt | Big Island Chronicle

Stephens Media has eliminated the editor position at West Hawaii Today, leaving Reed Flickinger without a job and David Bock serving as the company’s “roving” news director, WHT publisher Tracy Fosso confirmed Thursday afternoon.

After Flickinger left WHT, remaining staff Thursday in the Kona office, including his wife who works in the advertising department, were in tears, and the Big Island journalism community was abuzz, speculating about the meaning.

Tracy Fosso said the decision was “purely economical,” not about Flickinger as a person or his tenure with the company. Flickinger spent 29 years at WHT, and worked his way to management from a reporter position.

Fosso said Stephens Media made “management structure changes.”

She said Bock, as the news director, will oversee the editorial department at WHT “in addition to other Stephens Media publications.”

Asked if Bock will be based at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo as he historically has, Fosso emphasized Bock would be the “Stephens Media Hawaii roving news director.”

“My biggest disappointment is not being able to work with the people in the West Hawaii newsroom,” Flickinger said Thursday afternoon. “Because of them it’s a good place, a good publication. I respect their skills, their expertise, their personalities. It’s a big loss. Beyond that, life happens.”

Bock could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Carl Hall, executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild based in San Francisco, wasn’t aware that Flickinger had been let go, but said he was “aware of the ongoing consolidation of the Big Island press operation.”

Hall said he was aware the printing press operation moved from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to the Kona side, and negotiations for the company to subcontract production work.

“We are going to try and defend jobs on the Big Island and quality jobs in journalism,” Hall said. “It is unclear how (the editorial restructuring) is going to affect business, how stories are going to be assigned, how the staff is going to be structured.”

At issue is the fact that Stephens Media staff working for WHT in Kona are non-union, while those at HTH are union workers.

“One question about the consolidation of management is, will there really be one staff at two locations, or will there be two separate staffs at the two locations,” Hall said. “In the Bay area, one of our larger employers combined, and they were union and non-union. Because a majority were non-union, they had to reorganize. It has to do with how the functional integration occurs and where the majority are, whether they are non-union or union.

“What’s this going to mean as far as separate editorial voices and separate staff?” Hall asked. “Is this an editor with two staffs?”

Asked whether this meant the two different newsrooms would be combining, Fosso emphasized, “The only structural change is the editor position has been eliminated.”

Traditionally, the public has perceived WHT to have a stronger editorial presence with Flickinger leading the newsroom, while HTH with Bock at the helm has been less vocal.

Asked about this, Fosso said, “‘Local’ is the primary emphasis. We anticipate no change in the local emphasis.”

She said Stephens Media has been reviewing all departments for “steamlining” and the elimination of the WHT editor position is a result of “streamlining efficiency.”

“We have to do the best we can to keep our business in the healthiest position it can be,” Fosso said.

Meanwhile, Nancy Cook Lauer, who has worked out of Hilo as a reporter for Flickinger the last four years, and alongside him three years before that as fellow Stephens Media employee, seemed as stunned by the news as her colleagues in Kona.

“Reed is an old-skool journalist. He probably never would win ‘Miss Congeniality’ in a beauty contest, but he cares deeply about the news and we as reporters always knew he had our backs. This morning, the newsroom was in shock,” Cook Lauer said.

“He certainly leaves a legacy, after 30 years of working for the community,” said Karin Stanton, editor who worked as a reporter then city editor under Flickinger from 1992 to 2004. “Being the editor of a newspaper is a huge responsibility and Reed took that seriously. It is definitely the end of an era for Big Island journalism.”

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