Going Digital

Veteran TV journalists Yunji de Nies and Ryan Kalei Tsuji are the faces of the Digital Billboard Network. They provide 60-second news reports of the day’s top stories, which appear on screens located in more than 70 stores across the island. LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

By launching a daily digital news digest seen in dozens of retail locations around O‘ahu, Hawai‘i’s major daily newspaper Honolulu Star-Advertiser proves it can remain atop the information revolution by delivering news in a cool, novel way.

Don’t be afraid to go out on the limb. After all, that’s where the fruit is.

Following that conventional wisdom, Honolulu Star-Advertiser is branching out where traditional print medium has rarely gone before. Will it pluck the sweet fruit of success in presenting digital news while remaining the dominant print medium in town?

History is in the making as Hawai‘i’s major daily newspaper ventures into new-age technology to prove that business resilience is both marketand marketing-driven.

Without much fanfare, O‘ahu Publications Inc., parent company of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawai‘i’s largest media entity, has launched a daily digital news digest anchored by veteran journalists Yunji de Nies and Ryan Kalei Tsuji.

The one-minute newscast features top headlines from the Star-Advertiser and runs on the Digital Billboard Network (DBN) of television screens in more than 70 stores across O‘ahu. It also is featured on staradvertiser.com and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, reaching an audience of 1.8 million people.

Yunji de Nies previously served as a news anchor at KITV, and as a White House correspondent for ABC News.

DBN appears on a 24-inch TV screen atop Star-Advertiser newspaper racks in retail locations such as Longs Drugs, Aloha Island Mart and Jamba Juice. There are 71 screens set up islandwide with an average daily viewing audience of 166,000-plus. OPI plans to expand the service, and with political advertising season coming up, the jump to more than 100 screens is inevitable.

The unique media platform is hailed by Dennis Francis, president and publisher of Honolulu Star-Advertiser, as “a fantastic way to keep readers up to date with what’s happening in Hawai‘i.”

He rightly reflects, “Readers are consuming news in a variety of ways today.”


Why is the state’s kingpin of print news suddenly venturing into digital production?

The short answer is “why not?”

Clearly, folks are accessing news and information in many ways today — on cell phones, on computers at home and office, on the internet, through social media with family and friends, and at retail displays.

When her news day is done, she returns home to husband Kent Walther and daughter Kaya.

Newspapers thus are facing disruptive forces spurred by technology, the internet and entrepreneurial news aggregators. The kingpin has had to become a lynchpin in order to survive the information revolution.

The good news is that Americans are spending more time with news than ever before, according to Pew Research Center. Digital platforms — computer-controlled electronic displays — are playing a larger role in news consumption.

Media studies show that on any given day people spend 57 minutes on average getting news from newspapers or traditional media. They also spend an additional 13 minutes getting news online, increasing the total time spent with the news to 70 minutes. This is one of the highest totals on measure since the mid-1990s, according to Pew Research surveys.

Nearly half (49 percent) of people in their 40s and 44 percent of those between 50 and 64, get news through one or more digital modes today — rates that are comparable to those 18 to 29 (48 percent).

More than a third of Americans say they get news from both digital and traditional sources of television, radio and print. Social media adds instant engagement to the mix.


This brings us to DBN anchors de Nies and Tsuji, who are familiar faces to Hawai‘i television viewers and give the network instant recognition and appeal.

“Ryan and I are old friends. We worked together at KITV, and we’re both from the Big Island,” de Nies says. “We have mutual interests in telling stories, current events and news engagement.

“We collaborated on the digital news project, came up with a format and it all came together.”

Her first name means “lotus” (yun) and “wisdom” (ji) in Korean. “I’m supposed to be a balance of beauty and brains,” de Nies quips.

She spent five years anchoring the evening news at KITV and was an ABC News White House correspondent before that. She is an honors graduate of Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.

“Yunji and I alternate every week,” co-anchor Tsuji explains. “We get the top five headlines emailed to us each evening from the paper. We pick the top three stories — usually two hard news and one feature — and present these with photos and video.

“News is becoming more accessible,” he continues. “It’s exciting for us to be part of DBN because it is breaking new ground for retailers and the marketing of newspaper content.”

Growing up in Hilo, Tsuji aspired to be a TV reporter. The Waiakea High School graduate attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and political science as well as a master’s in public administration.

During college, Tsuji served as manager and assistant coach for the nationally ranked Rainbow Wahine volleyball team under Dave Shoji. His TV news career took him to ABC-affiliate KITV (2012-2014) and OC Sports, where he currently covers UH athletics.

His company, RKT Media Hawai‘i, specializes in web and social media videos. He and de Nies anchor a weekly Facebook live show called Hashtag Hawai‘i on Wednesdays at noon.


The millennial-aged co-anchors have not abandoned traditional news media, but are enthusiastic about integrating digital platforms to reach and interact with a new generation of audiences.

Retail advertisers are equally intrigued with the ability of DBN’s ground-breaking SiteView technology that captures demographic data of screen viewers, such as age and gender. No other advertising medium can supply sophisticated solutions and reports like that.

DBN was three years in the making, according to Dave Kennedy, chief revenue officer at Honolulu Star-Advertiser. It is the first newspaper in the U.S. to launch this new media platform that uses ground-breaking demographic capture technology. Publishers everywhere are watching the Hawai‘i market to determine DBN’s effectiveness and value to retail and public information clients.


In addition to retail applications, DBN taps into the news touchpoints of consumers.

Pew reports that more people (57 percent) get news “from time to time” rather than at “regular times.” These so-called news grazers encounter news throughout the day and wherever they happen to be.

DBN is targeting these audiences who drop in at stores, restaurants, cafés, pharmacies and wherever newsstands are found. Rather than a static poster display, there is now a TV screen with looping (continuous play) videos.

As one customer remarks, “This is very cool.”

Indeed the screens are attractions and even startling to those unfamiliar with new-age digital signage and billboards. (“This sign talks to me!”) It shows how far retailers have come to intercept customers for a minute or more of their time.

DBN screens can even be customized for store sections, such as cosmetics, food products and hardware. Hello, target and niche marketing.

Business analysts call that a reach for, not only incremental revenue, but something more important today: Relevance.

If consumers can’t relate to a brand, the disconnect can be disruptive.

“Staying relevant is not easy, nor is it always convenient,” says Kennedy. “One must be willing to be a disruptor or be disrupted out of consumer consideration.”

Kennedy is right. To watch the transformative evolution the Star-Advertiser has gone through since its merger and consolidation in 2010 demonstrates how innovation and adaptability drive business viability.

Now it is stepping into the digital age while carefully preserving the profitability of its print product. It’s a delicate balance to be sure, Kennedy admits. But he and Francis are mindful of the wise adage: “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”