English-language newspaper in Puerto Rico closes

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The San Juan Star, Puerto Rico’s Pulitzer Prize-winning English-language newspaper, closed Friday, the owner said, blaming the union for not agreeing to benefit cuts and layoffs to offset declining revenue.

The Star, a daily that has operated for nearly 50 years in the U.S. island territory, published its last edition Friday, publisher Gerry Angulo said.

The newspaper, which once employed Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy as its managing editor, had 120 employees, about 90 of them union members, including reporters and photographers.

Angulo said the Star has been losing money for years but the situation worsened with a recession in Puerto Rico and the broader decline in newspaper readership and advertising.

“I’m not going to subsidize the paper,” he said. “The paper has to hold its own.”

Union leaders and the paper have been in talks on a proposal to reduce medical and pension benefits for the unionized workers. The paper did not publish three days last week because the employees were on strike.

The publisher also sought to have the Star distributed by a local Spanish-language newspaper, eliminating unionized distributors and other circulation employees.

Javier Colon, an 11-year distributor in the paper’s circulation department, said workers objected to that proposal, but “we have never opposed certain changes if they were to improve and keep the newspaper alive.”

The announcement of the closure contradicted an editor’s note published Friday that said the Star would no longer publish on weekends and major holidays “in response to last weekend’s undeclared strike by some employees.”

Marisol Lara, a delegate of the Puerto Rico’s Union of Reporters, Graphic Artists and Affiliated Branches, said the closure came as a surprise since they were expecting only that the paper would cut to publishing five days a week.

“We had a meeting (Thursday) and we were told the newspaper is closed,” Lara said.

Angulo said further negotiations were not likely to result in reopening the paper. “The way things are now, the union is firm in its opinion and I’m firm in mine,” he said.

The Star, which opened in 1959, won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1961 for a series of editorials criticizing Roman Catholic bishops for interfering in the race for governor in the island. The paper published a Spanish-language edition from 1997 to 2007.

A fictionalized paper based on the Star was the setting for “The Rum Diary,” a novel by Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson once applied to work as the paper’s sports editor but was turned down by Kennedy, best known as the author of “Ironweed.”

Former employees were saddened to hear of the paper’s closing.

“I was a little taken aback,” said Eneid Routte-Gomez, who worked at the paper for 32 years beginning in the early 1960s. “Every time they threatened to close, it would pull back up again.”

Puerto Rico still has three major Spanish-language newspapers and several smaller ones, as well as a weekly business newspaper in English.