Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, November 24, 1997

When a flack turns journalist or vice versa

DON'T tell my boss, but I adore my job - so much, in fact, that I'd do it for free if not for those pesky little bills in the mail. There's something about being a working journalist that stimulates the mind, soul and adrenaline.

It's like having a license to snoop and tell. It's accepting the daily challenge of capturing the public's attention, and conveying words and images in the most compelling way possible. To paraphrase that macho beer commercial, man, it doesn't get any better - or more fun - than this.

Of course, people who can write and communicate well could make a lot more money by jumping journalism's ship and boarding the more lucrative power boat known as corporate public relations.

It's common knowledge, for example, that Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate spokeswoman Elisa Yadao is going to take a big pay cut when she leaves KS/BE after eight years to become managing editor of the KHNL newsroom on Dec. 1.

There's been much discussion in the journalism community about Yadao's return to the fold. Since reporters and editors are naturally inquisitive, the questions are flying.

Yadao said she won't be involved in any coverage of Bishop Estate or Kamehameha Schools, but how long can she ignore the biggest local story of the year?

Will KHNL be hindered or helped by the inside knowledge that she was privy to while at the estate?

But more important, does Yadao realize how lucky she is to be welcomed back as a journalist after presenting only one side of the issue for nearly a decade?

In the Nov. 1 issue of Editor & Publisher magazine, New York writer Jennifer Nicholson Graham lamented how difficult it was to get rehired in any newsroom after she served as a government press secretary.

Her column, humorously titled "flack Like Me," recounted the disdain that greeted her as she made the rounds of editors with her resume in hand. Graham tried to put a positive spin on her experience as a PR practitioner, saying that she had learned things that many longtime reporters still don't get:

"Former flacks will never alienate sources by leaving self-important voice messages such as, 'This is John Smith. Call me immediately.'"

"Former flacks have been misquoted. They won't do it to anyone else."

"Former flacks will never address a public official or company CEO by his or her first name (or worse, nickname), unless invited to do so first. They understand that the rules of polite society aren't suspended for the Fourth Estate."

"Former flacks, having previously earned big bucks, have acquired all the material things they need and will not whine about pay."

GRAHAM concluded that "if a former flack returns to journalism, despite a pay cut and despite the disparagement of peers, you know that this a person who truly loves the trade, who will give his all every day. So bring the flacks back."

Maybe so. But why is it every time I meet PR people who used to be reporters, they always manage to bring that up in conversation? It's like they are attempting to bond by pointing out, "Hey, I used to be just like you." Sad.

It's the same reason, I guess, that Yadao won't be bragging about her past life as defender of KS/BE trustees after moving into her new digs at KHNL. Good luck, Elisa.

And God bless the press.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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