I hate starting stories with “I.” Some curmudgeon reader probably snapped at me years ago for doing that, and I’ve subconsciously winced every time the thought popped into my mind when presented with a blank screen. But when writing about the scrappy paper I’ve called home for half my journalistic career that has somehow survived to its 20th birthday even though at one time or another it’s broken or ignored just about every newspaper convention, I suppose breaking this is the least of my transgressions.
At a time when news organizations across the U.S. are changing, shrinking or just going away entirely, MauiTime turning 20 is a legitimately big deal. Especially given that the year of its birth (1997) bears no resemblance whatsoever to the times in which we now live. Back then, newspapers were still largely, sometimes even exclusively, made of paper (though MauiTime was publishing on its own webpage–MauiTime.com–as early as Volume 1, Issue 1). Besides, the whole philosophical foundation of MauiTime–a group of people, chosen for their special skills in writing and observation, who decide what the community at large should know about–is under assault by social media algorithms.
The same tech that makes it so easy for you to read the latest MauiTime story on your phone also made it ridiculously easy (and lucrative) to spread right-wing propaganda during the 2016 election. News organizations like MauiTime that depend on advertising dollars are struggling in this new mobile digital world, where barely half a dozen big companies (Facebook, Google, et al) vacuum up nearly two-thirds of all digital advertising money, and there’s every sign it will get worse in the coming years. When you factor in the fact that I haven’t gotten a raise in, well, seven years, or the new hip trend for partisans is to dismiss anything they disagree with as “fake news,” it’s easy to wonder why I’m still at it.
My own career in journalism began a year prior to MauiTime’s birth, so it’s easy for me to identify with its growth. There was a computer on my desk the day I started as an intern at OC Weekly in January 1996, but it was only for writing stories (if memory serves, it wasn’t even connected to the internet for another six months). I had a phone, phone book, notebook and directions to the nearest library. My standing orders were simple: find true, interesting and unique stories that will show readers what’s happening in their city/state/country.
The cushiness of such an assignment were unmistakable, even in the early days. I could go practically anywhere in the county, talk to people, read, talk to more people, then write what I knew and get paid. That was it. I didn’t have to climb telephone poles or escort inmates to the showers or do any of the difficult labor required of the other million horrible jobs out there. I was a young, single, straight, college-educated, white male reporter on the make.
Looking back, I can’t help but shake my head at the hubris of me accepting the MauiTime editorship in 2003. I was certainly experienced enough, talented enough, progressive enough, but honestly, what was I thinking? Sure, Southern California is one of the most cosmopolitan areas in the world (my own high school in Whittier was nearly all Latino even when I went there), but nothing in my background properly prepared me–the poster child of middle class privilege–to take over an alternative weekly on Maui, a place eternally in tension from its dependence on a service economy staffed by overworked, underpaid locals who cater to mostly rich tourists.
I knew Hawaii was a different state than any other in the U.S.–the paper’s owner, Tommy Russo, would never have hired me if I didn’t at least comprehend that–but the effects of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the decimation of the Hawaiian people and the plantation-spurred influx of multitudes of workers from the Philippines, Azores, Puerto Rico and Asia were still hazy to me.
Here’s an example. In 2012, I wrote a story about Maui Adult Day Care Center in Kahului. The story was fine for the most part, lauding the center for the vital service it provides to aging seniors, but soon after it published a reader (who remained anonymous throughout our email correspondences) noticed that I had identified various people in the story by their race, but had not done so for those in the story who were white. The reader pointed this out to me, and called me a racist.
My reaction was about what you’d expect from a liberal, straight white guy: I got angry and argued with the reader. But over time, I realized that the reader was right and I was wrong. What I had done was racist. What I had done was othering people who weren’t like me.
For too long, I had been content in my experience as an editor, never even entertaining the notion that bad habits I’d learned long ago could be doing damage I didn’t even recognize. It was a low point for me, sure, but it certainly crystallized within me the need for more introspection–and that’s never a bad thing.
The evolution of MauiTime mirrors my own coming to grips with these realities. In the late 1990s, the paper was literally run by two white transplants in Lahaina. It ran a lot of surf stories, feel-good features and published one of the best calendars of local events anyone on the island could find. It was, in every sense of the insult, “HaoleTime” (a name we still periodically hear today, with some justification).
But honestly, looking through the archives of the paper’s early years, it’s hard to imagine the paper you’re reading now is that same publication. My goal, from my first day as editor, has always been to provide readers with valuable information, told as honestly as we can. We were never to talk down to readers, but would challenge them when we could. We would provide entertainment, of course, but also news and culture. We would try to be as colorful and vibrant as the island around us. And, where possible, funny. That last part is so damned important. Without even a smattering of humor, we’d be like The Maui News, and no one wants that.
That’s why we have Eh Brah, which is probably our most popular column. It’s why we have Caeriel Crestin write our Sign Language horoscope column (to my delight, I once watched a young woman wandering the aisles at Safeway, her eyes glued to the latest Sign Language installment). Sure, we like to be irreverent, but if we can also make you laugh (or at least smile), then we’ve accomplished something great.
With each passing year, the diversity of the voices in the paper continues to increase. Current writers Lantana Hoke, Jen Russo and Barry Wurst all grew up on Maui, as did former writers like Starr Tendo and Anu Yagi. There is still much room for growth, but one of the greatest accomplishments of MauiTime is providing a platform for these talented individuals. Though all have different perspectives, they bring to the paper thoughts, stories and analyses that other publications around here wouldn’t publish.
Which, to close a very wide circle, is why I’m still here, and why I love my job. Relic of a bygone media era or not, MauiTime remains an open, transparent source for political, food, arts and cultural news on Maui. Each of our stories comes from a named author. My own contact information is published each week on Page 3 of the print edition–has been for as long as I can remember. And we use the same journalistic techniques (interviewing sources, requesting documents, etc.) as any big newspaper. Our readers clearly respect all this, because they’ve stuck through us for 20 years.
To close, I’d like to thank people who, through the years, have done outstanding work behind the scenes to bring MauiTime to you. People like Judy Toba, who for many years kept the paper’s administration side running, and Shannon Kekahuna, who does that job now. Jenn Brown has been doing odd administration jobs around here for as long as I can remember. Then there’s Dina Wilson, who did double duty as a circulation driver and proofreader. And Ron Pitts, who I met at the South Shore Tiki Lounge a decade ago, has ever since been faithfully drawing those Eh Brah cartoons you all love so much without complaint (even though we don’t pay him).
Without people like this, MauiTime would never have survived the last decade.
Anthony Pignataro was Editor of MauiTime from August 2003 to May 2008 and again from June 2011 to the present.
Illustration: Ron Pitts