Under the Sun
Thanks to the community, we still get paid to do this
AS we made a mad dash to the airport in Kona, Dean the photographer could not stop smiling.
We'd spent the day on assignment for a feature story, floating in kayaks down the Kohala flumes that had once been used for sugar-field irrigation and had been newly opened for tours.
We let the sun burning through the truck's windshield and the warm, stiff breeze dry our clothes, still damp from the ride through the tunnels and ditches high in the dense, remote mountain forests. In front of us, lava fields spread toward the blue ocean horizon.
"Hey, Cynthia," he said, beaming. "Can you believe we get paid to do this?"
It was one of those times when the job rewarded us with more than a salary, when the sheer delight of being able to experience something so we could tell the Star-Bulletin's readers about it was, as they say, priceless.
I remember that day as one of the last untroubled occasions before a storm of uncertainty swirled around our personal and professional lives. By the time my story and Dean's photos were published, we'd already learned that the newspaper was to be shut down.
AS JOURNALISTS, we'd covered scores of events about people losing their jobs when companies large and small shuttered their doors as Hawaii's business landscape evolved through the years. Sugar plantations, pineapple canneries, landmark restaurants and stores with names and reputations rooted in the state's character were all closings we recounted on news pagers.
Suddenly, in September 1999, we were the ones about whom stories were being written.
Even though the Star- Bulletin had changed hands six years before, I took as truth the new owner's word that the paper would continue at least until 2012, when an agreement for joint operations with the Honolulu Advertiser would end.
But stuff happens when the overriding quest for profits and an absentee owner -- who came to the islands maybe once a year for a newsroom pep talk and to throw management a buffet lunch at the Pagoda -- are involved. He had little investment in the community and when presented with a deal to walk away from Hawaii with a bundle of cash in his pocket, he chose to close the paper that had been a fixture in the islands for 117 years.
WHAT ENSUED was a whole bunch of legal wrangling and courtroom battles until Canadian media man David Black decided to take a chance on us. But before his arrival, it was the people of Hawaii, labor unions, including the Newspaper Guild, and state and city officials who raised such a ruckus that the shutdown was set aside and the paper was put up for sale instead.
Needless to say, the months between the closing announcement and the sale were rough for those in the trenches, not only at the Star-Bulletin but also at the Advertiser. Many Bulletin staffers had good friends at the rival newspaper, and it was difficult to see 'Tiser employees cast in with the lot of their corporate masters. For some, the hurt still has not receded.
IT HAS BEEN five years since the newspapers' divorce and despite the pain, the split has by and large been good for the community. Advertisers have a choice few other towns and cities enjoy, the competition has expanded employment in the industry and, most importantly, readers have the opportunity to hear two daily voices.
The Star-Bulletin is now leaner and greener. The staff is smaller and younger as reporters, editors and others have come and gone, some to other publications, some to the mainland, some to jobs outside of journalism. But the newspaper endures and the mission of helping the community that helped us continues to call to us. We still get paid to do this.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org