Cover Story

Critical Thinking

In the introduction to Honolulu Weekly’s 18th anniversary issue, the editors noted that the paper was old enough to vote. Three years later, we can celebrate reaching legal drinking age. “Drink is good,” quipped our founder and publisher, Laurie Carlson.

How did an under-age publication get away with all those years of bar-hopping, clubbing and reviewing everything from the latest cocktails to local wine, spirits and beer? Let’s just say that we at the Weekly have always looked older than our years. Putting out 52 issues a year on indie means ages you pretty quickly.


As Colleen Knudsen, senior account executive for more than a decade, commented, “It’s like giving birth every week. And every baby has to be perfect.”

That is, indeed, how our teams edit, design, market, sell and distribute every issue of the Weekly. How do we keep going? As Joe Edmon, our director of new media and production, puts it, “As soon as we put an issue to bed I forget about it. On to the next.”

Our editors and regular contributors–Shantel Grace, Wanda Adams, Katrina Valcourt, Don Wallace, Bob Green, Joan Conrow, James Cave, Doc Berry, Nina Buck, Matthew DeKneef, Tiffany Hervey, Matthew Kain, Maria Kanae, Debbie Millikan, Raymond Ngo, Niko Rivas, Curt Sanburn, Margot Seeto, Kalani Wilhelm, Christa Wittmeir–and I do feel attached to our babies, but we know to let go, with the help of midwife Mary Pigao. Yet once a year, at the Weekly, we allow ourselves to feel sentimental. Our twenty-first is my first anniversary issue as editor, and casting back over this proud alternative newsweekly’s history since it published its first edition on July 17, 1991, seemed a daunting prospect.

But it’s been fun. We’d already started looking back to inform the present: Our February 2012 cover illustration for Kevin O’Leary’s story, “The Pupule Express,” reprinted John Pritchett’s stunningly prescient and newly colorized original for “Mass Confusion” by Julia Steele from September 25, 1991. We are honored that Pritchett, who remains our weekly political cartoonist, has contributed the cover for this 21st anniversary issue.

Okay. So why care that the Weekly has reached this august age?

Ask yourself whether any other publication in Hawaii gives you such independent reporting (muckraking, even), cutting-edge arts coverage that’s entertaining in and of itself, truly informed–and truthful–food criticism, two original film reviews a week–plus two book issues filled with original reviews? Well?

For example: Honolulu Weekly won first place for investigative reporting in the 2012 Pai Awards for “Beach Memorials” (December 11, 2011),by Curt Sanburn. The judges for the Hawaii Publishers Association said that this was a story they hadn’t seen in other local press, and that it was reported with a depth and sensitivity that gave voice and presence to an underrepresented population.

The Pai judges also gave us a second place in general excellence for a non-daily newspaper. As an alternative newsweekly, we aim to go where others don’t think to tread, and to provide a different take than does the mainstream press. In the same vein, the Weekly received a Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) first place for general news/enterprise reporting for “The Co-branded Kingdoms” (October 12, 2011), by Matthew Kain, who visited Disney’s new Aulani resort and included perspectives from Hawaiian cultural leaders and the impoverished neighboring community of Waianae.

Consider what you get from the “balanced” mainstream media. “Teach visitors to beware isles’ natural dangers,” urged an editorial headline in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the island’s sole daily newspaper since its owner, Oahu Publications, bought and killed the competition (see “Playing Media Monopoly,” September 14, 2011).

A little deconstruction is in order. It wasn’t the visitor’s fault, in this case it was a tour operator that took young people on a Big Island coastal adventure during high surf, which swept two away, one to his death. It was the fault of the visitor industry. Yes, the editorial acknowledges, further down, that the tragedy “reminds the travel industry to do its utmost to warn unwary tourists and take extreme care of groups venturing along Hawaii’s unpredictable coasts,” but headlines, the words in the big type that many readers don’t always get past, matter. A responsible head would have read, “Tour groups should not expose visitors to harm.” And it’s not just the tourist industry that fails us. What about the young girl, a YMCA camper, who was struck by a boulder–during a safety briefing, no less–at Kaena Point? It would seem a general outcry is in order.

Look no further than the Weekly, which takes seriously the duty of the press to proactively serve and inform the public interest. Our “Hawaii Survival Guide: The Lazy Guy’s guide to staying alive in paradise” (November 30, 2011) was a finalist for community reporting in the 2012 SPJ Awards. While the Guide lists our islands’ manifold risks and how to avoid them, it also grabs the reader’s attention and entertains. For ultimately, the Weekly stands for experiential learning, and keeping readers abreast of the many unfolding ways in which we can enjoy and treasure life.

Yes, this includes critical thinking, what educators, bless them, call letting your brain out of the box. Independent thinking, and an independent press, seek the truth beyond the popular or plantation wisdom, behind what we’re told. So when the competing Oahu weekly newspaper runs a cover story on the top new chefs (all male) to watch, the Weekly counters with a cover on women chefs, and asked why they are routinely overlooked. “Meet the Chefs: From nine Honolulu women” (September 5, 2011), by Martha Cheng, was an SPF finalist in feature writing, along with “Molokai Salt Goes Global” (October 19, 2011) by Chris Pala.

Although we are technically an alternative weekly newspaper, and we stay on top of breaking news, I tend to edit and think of the Weekly as a magazine. It’s because in our pages you get thoughtful coverage with a voice, or, rather, voices. You get perspective. And we listen to you, our readers. So be sure to vote for your Honolulu bests in our online poll. And keep us honest with your letters and calls.

Cross-currents

After leafing through the ledgers of past volumes and issues, we found some correspondences we’d like to share with you as we toast our 21st birthday. Like surfers in the lineup, trying to stay in prime position, we look for reference points on land, sea and sky, and find that much, ugly and beautiful, still hasn’t changed. Which, ultimately, gives us hope and energy to keep trying to preserve what we love about Oahu.

As we came of age, we’re proud to say, we evolved–well, everything’s relative. Note the riders in the pickup truck in Curt Sanburn’s “Ho, Cuz!” (opposite page, left) a down-low tale of low riding teenybopper life from 1991; to be contrasted with Don Wallace’s warnings against parking your tail, or your children’s, in the death-trap bed of a moving truck in “Hawaii Survival Guide,” 2011.

“Skin cancer and low pay. Those are the two real hazards of being a lifeguard,” says a young, characteristically understated Mark Cunningham, one of Julia Steele’s portraits of different workers in “Hard Labor” from 1991 (opposite page). Stationed at Pipeline, Cunningham talked about watching and taking preventive tactics. “You can tell [who’s going to get in trouble] by how they approach the water.” Many were warned–and/or saved–by the future star of “Come Hell or High Water,” a 2011 bodysurfing flick featured at the Doris Duke Surf Film Festival this summer.

Throughout the years, the Weekly has reconnected several times with Cunningham, who retired young and is now an activist with Defend Oahu Coalition (“Keep the Country Country”), frequently featured in our environmental/land use reporting. He appears, along with Tim Vandeveer, Mark Manley and other keepers of the green flame, in our cover story on the state’s attempt to buy and preserve Turtle Bay from further development (“Turning Turtle,” 2008). “I’m not against hotels per se. I’m against this precious jewel getting urbanized,” Cunningham says, noting that the North Shore is designated rural by the City and County “and supposed to stay that way, which is why Kamehameha Highway is still only two lanes.”

Two lanes, but for how much longer? Revisit Ragnar Carlson’s “Malaekahanaville” (SPJ first place for business/enterprise reporting, 2009), an exposé of the push to widen the highway and urbanize farmlands at Laie.

The Weekly’s other regular coverage includes native Hawaiian culture and politics, beginning with our 1991 cover story by Julia Steele on the fight to take back Kahoolawe from the military and clean and rebuild the island. Now Joan Conrow, who predicted in 2008 that Superferry would end up as a military vessel, is on the beat covering ceded lands and the future of Kakaako makai under the Office of Hawaiian affairs.

We were writing about food security and organic farming in Waianae back in 2006, with Catharine Lo’s cover story about sustainability “Within Reach,” and we remain one of the few, in not only, local publications to give the other, non-cheerleading, side on the GMO seed industry’s steady takeover of Hawaii agricultural acreage. Right, don’t even get us started on how housing development is taking over the rest, just see our Ho’opili coverage from 2007, beginning with Kawehi Haug’s “Lunch on the Mall,” through the present, in a half-dozen cover stories, diaries and features in 2012 alone.

The Weekly was the first to apply the “localvore” 100-mile dining test to our islands, in one of my favorite pieces ever, “No shoyu. No milk. No bread. No rice,” by Sue Kiyabu in 2006. Wanda Adams, in our 2012 “Grow Your Own,” updated home food growing to small urban lanais, strips and plots.

The great green Pat Tummons covered sewage pollution and overflow for us in 1991, and Lucy Jokiel gave an in-depth report on the execrable landfill spill in 2011. As if our oceans weren’t taxed enough by human activity, they’re warming and rising to the detriment of fish, coral reefs and coastal populations, as Ragnar Carlson reported in his piece on the “blue line” and Bill McKibben’s [350.org] in 2008-10. That’s why we’ve got Doc Berry on the perpetual case of environmental and energy reporting to try and keep our leaders honest and let us know what we can do, ourselves, to tread lighter on our limited island earth. See Doc’s feature in this issue, along with Matt Kain’s feature and a Sierra Club op-ed on the ever-present boondoggle of Rail.

No War

A long time ago, my activist mentor Phil Estermann introduced me to a local woman named Laurie Carlson, who had helped launch the Kokua Food Co-op and was back in town after getting her business degree from Yale’s School of Organization and Management. She wanted to create a progressive weekly newspaper for Honolulu. Cool, I thought.

And here we are, 21 years later. My big thought is that Ms. Carlson has amazing fortitude to have kept this printed voice alive and kicking all this time, and that we all owe her team our gratitude for giving the whole island a free something-to-read at lunchtime.

My first story for the Weekly was about how innocent coconut trees get jerked around all over the island. Then came my first cover story about the kids who used to jam up Kuhio Avenue on Saturday nights showing off their slammed mini-trucks.

As editor for three wild years, I was fated to lead a great editorial team (Hey, Chad Blair!) through the horrors of 9/11 and the Iraq War. We published a Q&A with Noam Chomsky and called it “The Hateful Truth.” We published Dennis Kucinich’s “A Prayer for America” and Ian Lind’s “Why I Am Not At War.” In disgust, we watched the corporate news media cower before the Bush/Cheney cowboys. Dissent isn’t patriotic, watch what you say, they said. “NO WAR!” we shouted back, in unison with millions around the globe, in huge cover type, as Fortress Oahu readied our troops to invade Iraq. Then we published “The Stupid Issue.”

Now I write what I can about things I care about. In my head, I’m thinking about the filthy bathrooms at Makapuu and about what’s going to happen to Dillingham Boulevard if Mufi’s train gets built. Auwe!

Stay tuned!