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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

The last word.

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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A small group of newsroom people got together in 1997 and came up with a mission statement for The Honolulu Advertiser. What started as one of those strained, management-coerced assignments evolved into candid discussions among staff members about how the newspaper could improve while holding true to sturdy principles that would outlive every journalistic fad.

For more than a decade, that mission statement drafted by longtime reporter and editor Dave Koga has appeared on the editorial page, a declaration of our commitment to Hawai'i.

It appears for the last time today in this, the final edition of The Honolulu Advertiser.

The bulk of that statement relates to community service, our role as "a vigilant partner in helping the Islands shape their future." At times, we have tried to lead the discussion. In the early 1970s, before "sustainability" was a buzzword, editor George Chaplin created an ambitious community involvement project called "Hawai'i 2000" in in which people gathered to discuss their worries about growth and to pitch ideas for preserving the environment and the aloha spirit.

Our mission statement also made the bold proclamation that our aim was to be "Hawai'i's newspaper." This was not a swaggering boast but a commitment to be useful, to be a reliable recorder of the daily events in our Islands. Our job was to provide a factual executive summary of the news of the world, 365 days a year, dropped on the front step in Wahiawā or Kapolei or Kailua just hours after the last headline was written.

We also committed to being "truthful, accurate and fair," and so we would be hypocrites if we didn't acknowledge our own faults.

"Institutions, like individuals, can have periods of both notable service and of flawed performance. Newspapers are no exception," editor Chaplin wrote in his 1998 book "Presstime in Paradise." "... The Advertiser has had several owners and editors who have stood out as near-giants, others who have been able journalists, and a few who were either incompetent or outright scoundrels concerned less with the public welfare than their own opportunism."

For reasons rooted in racism, paranoia and plantation paternalism, The Advertiser opposed statehood until it was inevitable. For much of its first 100 years in business, the newspaper was elitist, often unreliable, a mouthpiece loyal only to the haole business interests who were its readers and advertisers. Its slanted coverage of the Massie case in the 1930s, its dishonest accounts of strikes and labor issues, and its partnership with the government to "expose" communists in the 1940s and '50s are all enough to make any 21st-century journalist cringe.

Even as our news coverage became more professional, we still occasionally blundered. There was con man Sammy Amalu, whose hoaxes and lies were naively swallowed and promoted by The Advertiser. We put tourism pioneer Grace Guslander in her grave 13 years before she actually died. We bungled the chance to publish the "Broken Trust" essay that helped topple the Bishop Estate trustees. We were embarrassingly late to the Internet.

But when there was big news, like the tsunamis that devastated Hilo, the sinking of the Ehime Maru, the Xerox shootings, those nail-biting election nights we covered it thoroughly, as expertly as any big-city daily.

The Advertiser committed to investigative reporting nearly a decade before Watergate. For every prize-winning series published over the past 40 years, there were probably 10 more that reporters spent weeks or months digging into, sometimes finding there simply weren't enough facts to get into print. Never did the paper's owners, first Thurston Twigg-Smith and later Gannett Co. Inc., consider that wasted time.

In 1971, The Advertiser's Gene Hunter was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on the reach of organized crime, the closest any Hawai'i publication has come to journalism's highest award. Later, Jim Dooley and his successors investigated shady land deals, public corruption, organized labor abuses, corporate fraud and government waste. While everyone remembers "Broken Trust," it was actually The Advertiser that broke open the story of Lokelani Lindsey's harrowing reign at Kamehameha Schools in 1997, and later work included important investigative stories detailing mismanagement and corruption.

There was hard news but also plenty of personality.

For 55 years, Bob Krauss chronicled the collision of old Hawai'i with the jet age and also became one of the most knowledgeable experts on the waterfront, Polynesian anthropology and ancient navigation. Wayne Harada set the standard for entertainment coverage, just as Ferd Lewis's sports columns broke news and checked reality in the tradition of Red McQueen. Jerry Burris and David Shapiro offered political analysis based on decades of reporting. Lee Cataluna had a way of writing exactly what we were thinking.

We had our soaring mission-statement ambitions, but we were kept humble by the knowledge that every edition, despite the best efforts of the 900 or so people who worked here at our peak, was an imperfect enterprise. When it was selling for 50 cents, some days we'd call it a $5 paper, crammed with scoops and insights and humanity representing the industriousness of our talented staff. Other days, well, it was worth closer to 50 cents.

Our flaws, put out in black and white for all to see, ensured that we kept a good sense of humor and the perspective to never take ourselves too seriously.

So we'll end proudly, yet humbly, not wringing hands or damning the corporate titans or warning that our passing will endanger democracy. We know that our work mattered and that we always tried to do right by our island home. We accomplished what we strived to be. To be Hawai'i's newspaper.