Death knell for a newspaper?November 12, 2008
As a long-time newspaper junkie, it was with a sense of dread that I heard of the latest round of buyouts at my local paper, The Honolulu Advertiser.
Not privy to Gannett’s (parent company of the Advertiser) business plans, from the outside their actions seem wholly incomprehensible. After a year that has included mass layoffs, Gannett has chosen to buyout many of the paper’s experienced journalists and editors to bring in employees from the mainland. Can it be that it’s cheaper to relocate employees who are used to higher salaries than are paid here in the islands?
It goes without saying that journalistic experience is imperative to the life of any paper. Knowing what questions to ask. Understanding how to weave the answers into compelling stories. Realizing that both inclusions and exclusions may lead to either greater understanding or increased confusion of issues. Yes, journalistic experience is essential.
However, with the forced retirements at the Advertiser and the shipping in of mainland Gannett employees, the paper is losing something just as valuable – local experience.
While every community revels in its own distinctiveness, Hawaii’s uniqueness is not just a part of hometown pride. Stemming from two centuries of Native Hawaiians, Polynesians, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese and various European groups coalescing to form a united culture, our values and language have evolved in a very specific island way.
By removing those who have not only known, but have been a part of this culture, the Advertiser is effectively positioning itself as the “outsider,” literally as the much maligned haole.
In a community that’s notoriously wary of outsiders, how will this new crop of reporters and editors be able to cover anything but in the most superficial way? Citizens will be polite and say what they think the reporter wants to hear. But, chances are they will not invite the reporter into their homes or behind closed doors. This is where the truth of our community lies. Not with the vocal minority who are longing to see their name in print.
Advertiser newcomers will have to cope with absent subtexts while dealing with a new language filled with words borrowed from a myriad of languages. Will they understand why a political initiative’s fate may lay with tūtū’s centuries old kuleana to mālama kekahi i kekahi? Why the fishing industry wants to know about one blalah hui pounding choke poke aku Ewa? Why it’s important to report which Hangwanji has the best grinds come Obon?
Without a sense of history, without a sense of culture, and without the ability to uncover local kaona, I fear the Advertiser’s usefulness as a paper for Hawai‘i has finally come to an end.
Try wait, bumbai da Star-Bulletin wen stay local.