By David Shapiro

Saturday, June 8, 1996


Explaining what
newspaper people do

LOCAL school career days are among the great humbling challenges of my job. The program this week at Kailua Intermediate was typical of how these events usually go. I get thrown in with doctors, police officers, firefighters and soldiers.

The others regale students with tales of adventure - of emergency room miracles, criminals caught, towering infernos and desert warfare. They hand out posters and let the kids play in their mobile labs, shiny squad cars, hook and ladder trucks and assault vehicles.

Then the kids came to my class. "And so, Mr. Shapiro," they ask, "what is it that you newspaper people do for a living?"

"Well," I say, "We sort of sit at our keyboards on deadline with beads of sweat forming on our foreheads as we pray that the words will come to describe the interesting things all these other people are doing to make news."

"Did I hear somebody say that Brother Noland is in the cafeteria?" a kid asks.

Hey, give me a chance, I plead. What we do is important. Darned interesting, too. I would have brought the press for you to play with except they're using it to print today's paper.

These kids are our dilemma. With all the technology and infotainment choices available to them, they know more than ever. And they manage to get along comfortably without the benefit of traditional news. Newspapers need to find new ways to reach them.

I thought I had a pretty good story to work with in piquing their interest this week - the dispute between Council Chairman John DeSoto and Councilman Andy Mirikitani.

Mirikitani went ballistic on a Council employee and DeSoto responded by trying to evict Mirikitani from the Council offices and banish him to the City Hall tower.

"It's hilarious," I told some students. They looked at me like I was crazy, as if my story only reinforced their good judgment in ignoring such news. Their bright young eyes asked, "You actually expect us to waste our precious time paying attention to idiots like these? Get a life."

It's not that they're ignorant of what's going on around them. They can recite the details of every violent crime on Oahu. To wit:

"How many of you read newspapers?" I asked. No response. Finally a couple of guys in the back row took pity on me and admitted they look at the comics once in awhile.

"Do you watch the TV news?" I asked.

"Not really."

"Do you listen to the radio news?"

"No."

"Then I guess you haven't heard about the guy down the street in Enchanted Lake who was arrested for shooting his wife," I said.

"Oh yeah, no?"

"He went bury her under the cement."

"No, no. That was one other guy in Crestview."

"Yeah, yeah. The Enchanted Lake guy was one old guy."

"Yeah, he went shoot her in the garage."

AND on it went for 10 minutes. Every kid had a fact to add or an opinion to offer.

So how do they know this stuff if they don't read the newspaper or watch the TV news? Is it osmosis? Do they have designated readers assigned to cut through the City Council stuff and pass along the interesting news?

If so, I only hope the designated readers buy the newspaper and don't get it by kicking open the newsstand, as one kid recommended.

I once asked another class at Kailua Intermediate what we could do to make the newspaper more interesting to them.

One student suggested, "Maybe you could jazz it up a little by making the pictures move."

We're still working on that.



David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at editor@starbulletin.com.
Volcanic Ash runs every Saturday in the Star-Bulletin.

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