IMR: 1998: January: 21 -- Thursday, 9:03 p.m.
Our Apartment, Waikiki, Hawai`i
I was up last night 'til 2 a.m., so I conveniently forgot to set my regular 6 a.m. alarm and slept in. So, Hawaiian is my first skipped class of the semester.

As a five-day-a-week course, I don't think a missed day in the second of fifteen weeks looks all that bad -- especially since a couple of habitual skippers have already revealed themselves. I shouldn't skip any more, though, as I'll definitely be missing a few classes when Jen pops.

I got to campus at about 9 a.m., and picked up my parking pass before heading to work at AIB.

Most of the day was spent trying to help Laurel, my boss, get her new Toshiba laptop to recognize an ethernet card. I was also called upon to help transport an old couch and coffee table from one end of the CBA dungeon to the other, a comedic exercise given the building's weird turns and narrow passages.

Just another day in the life of a webmaster.

Before I knew it, I'd missed lunch. Still, it also meant four hours on my timesheet, so I wasn't too upset. I wolfed down an instant styro-saimin from the Porteus cube and headed to my weekly 360 class.

The entire three and a half hours were consumed with discussion of the readings: chapters on the first newspapers in Hawai`i. Every student was asked to write a comment or question on a piece of paper and pass it forward. Since I had actually done the assigned reading, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask.

I singled out a single sentence in the introductory chapter, in which different types of newspapers were defined:

"Independent papers live short lives, except infrequently, like Ka Leo O Hawaii (1922-), the University of Hawai`i student paper that is supported by student fees and protected by an independently appointed Board of Publications which hires the staff and then leaves them alone."
-- Shaping History: The Role of Newspapers in Hawai`i
Helen Chapin, University of Hawai`i Press, 1996

(Yes, the instructor wrote the textbook. More common than you'd think.)

I basically told her the "leaves them alone" part was hogwash, alluding to the deep-seated politics and other shenanigans I muddled through during my tenure as editor. I suggested that in the strictest sense, there was no such thing as an "independent paper" -- a media outlet not beholden to another power.

Surprisingly, she agreed. She said that "independent" papers are often defined more by intent and ideals versus reality.

She even shared an anecdote about her days in the editor's chair. About an April Fool's issue (one I think we once pulled from the archives and chuckled over) that upset many and even embarrassed one university staff member into resigning from her position. The then-UH president called her into her office and gave her hell.

It wasn't prior restraint, she pointed out, but the scolding most certainly led to a more conservative hand during the rest of her tenure.

As Chapin moved on to other questions, tending to go off on tangents that lasted for ten, fifteen minutes, I flipped through the rest of the book.

I read about how in 1959, it was The Honolulu Advertiser (the morning paper) that was struggling to survive, and how the Honolulu Star-Bulletin was the premiere publication. I read about how the federally-sanctioned Joint Operating Agreement was seen as a way from saving the Advertiser from dying and leaving the Star-Bulletin with a monopoly.

To think, the JOA is now one of the main reasons the Star-Bulletin is still with us, afternoon dailies becoming an endangered species nationwide.

I read about how the nationally-syndicated "Ask Heloise" advice column was actually an Advertiser original. And how, of all the newspapers in the state, it is the Maui News that has the most technologically advanced pressroom.

As a fan of the Star-Bulletin, I was most intrigued about the history of the JOA and competition with the Advertiser.

Speaking of tangents...

Turns out part of the reason the Advertiser was struggling was because it backed Hawaii's oligarchy earlier in the century and opposed a fully-democratic system because power would shift from the missionaries to the "minorities" that made up most of the population.

So with World War II, while the Star-Bulletin printed pieces criticizing Executive Order 9066 -- which called for the internment of Japanese Americans in the west -- the Advertiser had little to say... save for a couple of pieces on the selection of some internment camp's director.

Also, the Star-Bulletin really played up the local Japanese Americans who enlisted and fought for the right to defend the U.S. in combat. They sent correspondents with the Varsity Victory Volunteers (from UH) and regularly covered the 442nd Infantry. Its pieces oozed with patriotism, and were picked up by other American newspapers.

Unbelievably, the response of the Advertiser was to run an editorial: "Less limelight please." It argued that Japanese Americans were no more deserving of attention than other nationalities on the war front. It suggested that with all the fanfare, Japanese Americans would overestimate their contribution to the war effort.

An interesting point, except Japanese Americans made up half the servicemen who enlisted in Hawai`i. And the Advertiser looked pretty stupid when it ran the list of war casualties -- 80 percent of the local boys who didn't come home had Japanese names.

Thus, many nisei -- second-generation Japanese Americans -- and their families boycotted the Advertiser. Even today, the Japanese make up the smallest demographic of the paper's subscribers. Meanwhile, the nisei's descendents grew up to form much of the political power structure in the islands... just as the Advertiser management feared.

The Star-Bulletin began to fall out of favor when media conglomerate Gannett bought it in 1971. Circulation fell as issues got thinner and neighbor island bureaus and other "home focused" elements were phased out.

As it became clear afternoon papers were dying out, though, Gannett suddenly dumped the Star-Bulletin and bought the Advertiser in 1992.

The book recounts how the Advertiser staff, after years of looking down on their afternoon peer as inferior because of its big-name mainland owner, were suddenly the bad guys.

As she lectured on and I read more, I realized the Star-Bulletin may be trying to learn from history with its recent shift in style:

"The Advertiser was considered the 'aristocrat' and 'business' newspaper for the Caucasian upper and middle classes, the Star-Bulletin the paper of the 'common folks.'"

It got me thinking. After the Star-Bulletin redesign, I liked the overall feel but I scratched my head at some of the little frills. Their new cartoon mascot (Moke the Seal), for example, or the huge Bird of Paradise that graces the cover of every Friday edition.

Now it makes a little more sense. The more people begin to distrust the corporate smell of Gannett, the better the 'common folks' flavor looks.

Last week, Chapin predicted the Star-Bulletin will eventually die. Today in class, I pointed out the recent leveling-off of long-declining subscriptions, the major redesign and the stronger emphasis on island communities.

"The Advertiser is indistinguishable from a paper in California," I said. "The Star-Bulletin, for better or worse, highlights local color."

Sure, it comes across as less serious, but I think that kind of presentation has an audience in Hawai`i. Besides, the Star-Bulletin kicks ass with its investigative pieces and packages, and it shamed the Advertiser with breaking the whole Bishop Estate controversy.

Chapin conceded she could be wrong, and cited the Star-Bulletin website in particular. I was satisfied... I thought the website was a great move too.

Jen's on the phone right now with cousin Jennifer. "Oh, I liked it a lot," she says about our unexpected healing session at her church. "I'm glad I went!"

I guess I can look forward to receiving more "eternal light" in the near future.

We're spending a quiet night at home, after driving up to Mililani the last two nights.

This afternoon, we finally used the Hard Rock gift certificate Kim gave us as a wedding present. We ate two of their famous "pig sandwiches" and split a big plate of nachos.

Perhaps it was because we were there at 5:30 p.m., but it was a pleasant dining experience. Much better than I expected.

The service was snappy and friendly. The music was loud but not too loud, and there was enough memorabilia hanging on the walls to make the wait for our food bearable. The food was great, reminding me of the awesome barbecue I ate when I visited Jen's family in Florida.

And yes, there is ice in the bathroom urinals.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 22 January 1998 · Last Modified: 24 January 1998