Student training in film production. Hiki Nō students in action.
Image: pbs HAWAII

Local News Network Hiki Nō builds innovative young thinkers

Hiki No, the nation’s first student news network that began in February of last year, translates to “Can Do” in Hawaiian. It’s a befitting title for a network just over a year old that’s now assembled more than 70 participating public, private and charter schools.

Springing from a $200,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Hiki No is spearheaded by PBS Hawaii President and CEO Leslie Wilcox, along with Hiki No Executive Producer Robert Pennybacker, managing editor Susan Yim and online editor Lawrence Pacheco. The student network, which just received the prestigious 2012 EDGE Award in Washington DC, provides a vital voice–beyond tweets, yelps and wall-posts–for the younger generation in Hawaii.

“We really haven’t turned anyone down; if any school has an interest, we’ll help them. There is a matter of resources, yes, but what [the students] find out later is that it’s more about the time and the will to do it,” says executive producer of Hiki No, Robert Pennybacker.

From news coverage ranging from APEC, to unraveling feral cat population problems, to profiling a young soccer player, the Hiki No news stories often unearth valuable insight from small communities that wouldn’t otherwise get coverage from traditional statewide media.

When asked what sets Hiki No apart from other news sources, Pennybacker said, “When a kid is doing a story that involves other kids, you tend to get a more honest view of things. There was a really touching story done by one of our first elementary schools, Kainulu Elementary, and they were talking to the families of deployed military personnel and the programs they have to try to cope with it. One of them was getting a dog and raising the dog so that it’s easier to cope with a father being in Iraq.

“I think kids interviewing kids provided a real honesty that I don’t think would’ve happened with an adult.”

The network, accessible to schools at no cost, strings a diverse array of communities together. At Ke Kula Ni’ihau O Kekaha, a charter school on the coast of Kauai where the majority of the students are from Niihau, most of the students present newscasts in their native Niihau dialect.

While this learning opportunity certainly provides a head start for any aspiring journalist, Pennybacker explains that he’s not aiming to churn out a whole generation of journalists. “This program really can help them in any aspect of their lives; there’s problem solving, critical thinking and working as a group, which isn’t something that happens a lot, besides sports, in a school setting.”

After many rough cuts and edits with teachers and the Hiki No team, students send their carefully sculpted finished productions to PBS Hawaii, where they will be aired as a 30-minute newscast at 7:30pm on PBS Hawaii, Thursdays, also viewable at [pbshawaii.org].

Also on PBS Hawaii, “Pacific Heartbeat,” a 5-part series, continues Sat. May 9 at 8pm with “Under a Jarvis Moon”