IMR: Places: Ka Leo

[ Ka Leo ]  
Ka Leo
1755 Pope Rd., Bldg. 31-D
Univ. of Hawai`i-Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
Web: None

An edited, and thus much better, version of this essay ran in the 1998-'99 UH-Manoa Student Handbook, assembled by the very capable Cora Iezza.

I had some of the best times of my life there. But I would never go back.

Building 31-D — the nondescript brick-shaped building sitting in the armpit of Campus Center — is home to Ka Leo O Hawai'i, the UH-Mänoa campus daily and fourth-largest newspaper in the state.

It was also my second home, when I served as Editor-in-Chief for two years.

Strangely enough, a lot of people don't realize the newspaper's editor, and often the bulk of the executive staff, change at all. To most, Ka Leo will always be Ka Leo, and the newspaper's reputation (usually just a hair above mediocre) seems set in stone even though the people running it (and consequently the editorial opinions and coverage priorities) can shift from semester to semester.

Thanks to a controversy over a cartoon Ka Leo printed in 1990, for example, I was often presumed to be racist or at least anti-Hawaiian — even though I am part Hawaiian myself. And today, long after I've left the Big Chair (even publishing a short-lived alternative campus newspaper in the interim), people still give me story ideas or complain about the latest front page anomaly.

My years — Fall 1995 to Spring 1997 — were an exciting two years, dominated by tuition hikes, budget cuts and the Death of Education March and capped off by the arson attack that closed Campus Center for months. In the middle, there were more budget cuts, lawsuits, dozens of rallies and a volleyball championship or two.

We opened our pages to all flavors of belief, alternately enchanting and enraging every corner of the campus. We learned firsthand how fickle the university community could be when our columns in favor of same-sex marriage went by with a whisper, but our columns against were met with petitions and protests. Our decision to print the Hawaiian language, sans translation, made us far more enemies than friends.

We knew we couldn't please everyone, so we never tried. Instead, we just wanted to make the campus think.

And for most of my tenure (although due more to computer problems than professional conviction), Ka Leo published unusually little wire copy — stories taken from the Associated Press and mainland college papers. The proportion of stories tagged "Ka Leo Staff" — instead of "Kansas Times" or "Toonerville Blatt" — was almost unprecedented.

Yet, two years wasn't long enough to accomplish everything. As Editor-in-Chief, I had the privilege of experiencing the very best a lumbering bureaucracy had to offer. Dreaming big, my staff and I went to our esteemed peers on the Board of Publications with several ideas. A full redesign, an online edition, air-conditioning for the sweltering, decidedly unhealthy Ka Leo Building.

They diligently reacted with motions and amendments and special subcommittees. When most of my fellow editors and I left — whether by option, graduation or excommunication — none had come to fruition.

Air conditioners, it should be noted, did eventually come to Building 31-D. Mysteriously, however, they only cool the enclosed offices of the office manager and publications coordinator — both full-time university staff. I'm confident, of course, that student money will eventually trickle down to benefit actual students.

Bureaucratic frustrations notwithstanding, if you're thinking of becoming a journalist, it's a good idea to spend a sweaty semester or two on the Ka Leo staff. As any local journalist will tell you, having experience on your résumé is no less vital than your degree when it comes to getting a job. And without a doubt, the education you get in the newsroom is just as — or dare I say more — valuable as the one you find in a classroom.

But a warning to those toying with the idea of working there: Ka Leo can swallow you whole. For me and many of my coworkers — many of them now lifelong friends — there was little else to life besides bylines, headlines, one-point lines and deadlines.

There were days we'd be churning out copy well past nightfall. There were times we had nothing better to do but sit around the office and talk shop until sunrise. Utterances of "personal lives" and "free time" are answered only by maniacal laughter, and grades traditionally suffer. Going to class often lost out to getting that one last quote, or finding out why that fire truck was on campus.

I learned a lifetime's worth of journalism skills at Ka Leo... but as a result it'll probably take a lifetime before I graduate with a journalism degree.


I rant so much about Ka Leo, a friend once commented that I must've railed on the topic a thousand times since starting IMR. On a whim, I figured, why not check? Below are the entries in which Ka Leo figured prominently (though there are far more smaller references). I'm not up to a thousand mentions yet, but I'll get there soon.

Jan. 12, 1998
Jan. 13, 1998
Feb. 13, 1998
Feb. 23, 1998
Apr. 2, 1998

May 6, 1998
July 30, 1998
Aug. 24, 1998
Jan. 10, 1999
Feb. 9, 1999

Feb. 11, 1999
Feb. 25, 1999
Aug. 26, 1999
Sept. 2, 1999

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 13 October 1998 · Last Modified: 02 September 1999