Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Journalist Helen Thomas spoke to students at Waialua High yesterday, where her audience included, far left, students Teri Lopez and Glenelle Mattas.

Celebrated reporter
wows Waialua students

By Debra Barayuga

After Helen Thomas saw her name in print for the first time in her Detroit high school newspaper, she "was hooked for life," she told a group of budding journalists at Waialua High School yesterday.

Many, if not all, students in Gail Kuroda's news-writing class had no idea who Thomas was, but they do now. And they came away impressed with the former White House correspondent with a remarkable resume who confessed she "goofed off" in class and didn't get A's.

Thomas, 82, visited the rural North Shore school yesterday to highlight the importance of journalism in the schools and encourage minorities, particularly women, to enter the profession.

"I think it's the greatest profession in the world because it's an education every day," she told the sophomores, juniors and seniors.

"It's a career that demands you keep learning and always be a part of the world -- you never can stop."

It's also an important job because journalists inform people, she said. "You can't have a democracy without informed people."

Waialua was chosen for the visit because of its isolation and because it recently was awarded a $2,500 grant from the Newspaper Association of America Foundation to increase diversity in newsrooms, said Jay Hartwell, faculty adviser to the student newspaper and radio station at the University of Hawaii.

Kuroda, in her second year of teaching newswriting at Waialua, said she hoped Thomas' visit would inspire her students, who are geographically and economically disadvantaged, not only to pursue a journalism career, but to aspire to be in the "top echelon."

Thomas is regarded as an icon in journalism, and not just because she is a woman in what was traditionally a male-dominated field. In her 59-year career, she has covered eight presidential administrations since John F. Kennedy as a White House correspondent for United Press International -- at one time one of two largest wire services in the world. She ended her first presidential press conference in 1961 with "Thank you, Mr. President," a custom that has stuck to this day.

She became UPI's first female bureau chief in 1974. She was also the only print journalist to accompany President Nixon on his historic visit to China in 1972 -- one of the best stories she said she has covered.

She has logged thousands of miles on Air Force One, globetrotting with former Presidents Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and current President George W. Bush, and attended every presidential economic summit.

Relentless but respectful of the people she has covered, she earned a reputation for not being content with "no comment" or "off the record" responses.

Thomas said the most valuable training she has received came from "on-the-job" training on high school and college newspapers, learning the basics including deadlines, the importance of accuracy and ethics of the profession.

She said there is still no true equality for women in journalism, and "no woman should rest until there is equal pay for equal work."

Thomas left UPI in 2000 and writes a column for Hearst Newspapers that appears in the Star-Bulletin. She recently came out with her third book, "Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President: Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House."

Alyssa Yamanouchi, a Waialua sophomore who has been working since grade school toward her goal of becoming an anchor on a local TV news station, was inspired by Thomas' visit.

"I like the fact that she's a woman and that she's strived for success in journalism," Yamanouchi said. "It makes me feel I can be a journalist and go to the White House."

Having Thomas speak to their newswriting class was akin to having the president himself visiting, she said.

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