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October 2003

The Year of
Switching Commanders
Farewell to Friends

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

10/5/03 Reinventing the wheel
Actually, there's nothing wrong with getting reporters and editors to think harder about the philosophies of their jobs instead of the nuts and bolts. Gannett Corporate creates an initiative every few years to bang the basics back into their employees' heads. This time around it's called Real Life Real News. But it will likely wind up being another News 200 fiasco, a way of justifying all those mid-level editors by having them fill out progress forms and shoehorn local stories into Mainland-derived must-do lists. Under News 2000, we were regularly chastized by Gannett for featuring too many Asians in Hawaii newspapers and not enough blacks -- the percentages were supposed to match Mainland demographics. And they'd give us "news tips" as if they were newly discovered, like "Use quotes!" or "Always give the person's age!" or "Headlines should reflect the story!" It was a huge waste of time.

10/6/03 Aloha to the Pacific Aerospace Museum, and to Jane Pultz
Anyone need a six-foot globe? I spent a good part of this weekend trying to save exhibits and artifacts at the Pacific Aerospace Museum at Honolulu International. I was curator and historian there for more than a decade.
It was troubling and sad to see it torn down, more a victim of state government stupidity than post-9/11 security issues. I wrote a fairly angry piece about it in Sunday's paper. There's a chance some of the stuff will resurface in a planned aviation museum at Ford Island. I could go on and on about how maliciously ignorant state agencies are about education, but what would be new about that?

It was a sad and reflective weekend for another reason as well. Friend and publisher Jane Pultz died on Friday. She was returning to Lanikai from an appointment when she apparently suffered a massive heart attack, killing her instantly. Her car continued weaving down the Windward highway before banging up against an embankment. Thank goodness no one else was hurt. Jane's Press Pacifica published my first book way back in 1977 or '78, and her enthusiasm for the book-publishing business was contagious -- she inspired me to do it myself. She is missed.

10/9/03 Newsroom pandemonium
Dave Donnelly today has an amusing item about Arnold Schwarzenegger visiting the old Star-Bulletin newsroom. (Jeez, give Muscle-Boy a break, he was only elected yesterday. Give him until next week to fail miserably as The Governator.) One of the fun things about newsrooms is you'll never know who'll show up.
In the mid-'80s I was just sitting at my computer, beavering away, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a rather tall black man in a nice suit from behind. What got my attention was the suit -- who the heck wears a suit to a Hawaii newsroom?
Then one of the sports guys introduced him to the copy desk as Muhammed Ali. Without thinking, I grunted "Oh suuuuuure he is" and the guy whipped around and the next thing I knew there was this enormous fist shaking right in my face. Seriously, this fist was as big as my entire head. "Do you DOUBT?" said that famous voice and I looked, and by gosh, it WAS Ali. "Do NOT be filled with DOUBT!" he added, tapping me on the end of my nose with that ham-sized fist.
I stammered," "Watch it, pal. I'm the Great White Hope!"
Ali's face changed to comical shock and he went "Ooooh!" and danced away. Behind me, writer John Christenson was on the phone with his back to us, completely oblivious, and Ali put him in a headlock. "What the hell!" Christenson shouted, grappling at his neck and dropping the phone. "Get the fuck off me! You asshole!" Ali laughed and released him and Christenson spun around and ... began hopping up and down like a kid on Christmas. "It's Ali! It's Ali!" he sang. "It's Ali! It's Ali!"

The next 20 minutes or so were complete pandemonium as Ali barged through the building creating utter chaos. He was funny and charming and cool and in his wake all the ladies were swooning. It was the most amazing display of pure, blinding charisma I've ever seen.
Eventually Christenson remembered he was interviewing somebody and grabbed his dangling phone. The person was still there. "Muhammed Ali was choking me!" I heard him say. "Really! No kidding. Sorry I left you hanging. No, I'm not sorry. It was Muhammed Ali, man!"
Yeah, journalists always keep their cool.

10/13/03 Leaving this world to the sound of thunder

Sunday was pretty much a day of reflection as we said goodbye to Curtis Lono Victor at his sister's home in Waimanalo. I didn't get to know him as well as I would have liked, but he did earn the love of an excellent woman, and that should tell you a lot right there. He was only 47 when he died.

10/16/03 And aloha to another
Kekoa Kaapu, one of the early champions of saving the Star-Bulletin and one of the concerned citizens willing to join a lawsuit to do so, has died at 66. He was quite a character. I often thought he was nuts. But in a good way. He was vitally intyerested in public affairs and often had unorthodox ideras about implementation -- one of his schemes was to fund the Star-Bulletin's survival as an "urban renewal project"!!! -- and his ability to think outside the box, both politically and socially, won him both admiration and puzzlement. Here's something that will be overlooked in the obits: He trained as a brown-shoe naval aviator and during the early '60s became a world-class glider pilot, setting international records here in the islands by using our Pali updrafts.

10/20/03 Elementary Public Finances #101
No baseball today, so I'll have to muddle through somehow. The Yankees and the Marlins have both been playing superb ball, but the Series just doen't havbe that legendary feeling that having the Cubs or Red Sox involved. I can say that as a fair-weather Cubbies fan, once the Cards do their tradfitional mid-season fade.
One thing to root for, however, is the apparent demise of the extraordinarily stupid plan to build a "West Oahu" campus of the University of Hawaii. It was the local version of EuroDisney. The scheme was being bruited about even when I was a student at Leeward Community College three decades ago, and even then we couldn't understand why they'd build a whole new campus when LCC itself could serve, while continuing as a community college. Spending tax dollars on more capitol "improvements" when we can't maintain the structures we do have is putting money in the wrong pockets. Somebody figured that out.

10/21/03 Work work work!
When the newspaper changed hands and a new union contract went into place, our job descriptions loosened up slightly and I was able to start shooting photos again, which, unlike most of the rest of the writers, pleased me because my background and college degree are in photojournalism. Inspired by Bill Owens' brilliant "Suburbia" book from the early '70s, I decided to create a weekly feature photograph showing ordinary people doing ordinary things, and talking about how they feel about it in their own words. I settled on the concept of "Hawaii At Work," because everybody has something to say about their jobs, and there are a million different kind of jobs out there and I liked the idea of a little social anthropology and study of the American work ethic, which is one of the highest in the world. The feature is a success and has run weekly ever since in our Monday Business section. I did it alone for several months but then had to move on to other projects and, ironically, also because some of our photographers whined about a "just a writer" poaching on their territory.
Well, it's the sincerest form of flattery, isn't it, that Honolulu Magazine completely lifted our Hawaii At Work concept and recycled it as their cover feature this month? They didn't even bother to refocus the idea. The double irony is that Honolulu editor John Heckathorn had a steady gig writing a guest column for the Star-Bulletin and quit just as the "Working" issue of Honolulu came out, claiming he was worth far more than the paper could afford to pay. Well, if you want good ideas on how to cover Honolulu, a Star-Bulletin subscription is pretty cheap.

10/23/03 Maybe they ... pulled it .... (snicker)
Well! We now know what attracts Gannett Advertiser award-winning photographer Jeff Widener's zoom lens. Maybe he'll show you his enlarger. Maybe if you go in the darkroom with him, something will develop. Nyuk nyuk nyuk. Not able to find the picture online, so apparently this was a special only for the printed edition.
Don't blame Jeff. There's a whole assembly line of people responsible.
Speaking of Advertiser photographs, their (otherwise well-done) special last month had a familiar theme and title. Yes, they called it "Hawaii at Work," based on the Star-Bulletin's long-running picture feature of the same title.

10/24/03 Uh, wrong famous battleship, guys
CNN rather breathlessly reported yesterday that President Bush stood on "hallowed ground" aboard the USS Missouri, "where so many U.S. sailors are entombed from the Pearl Harbor attack."

10/27/03 Staff comings and goings ... and the staff who's going Ouch!
Moving on is photographer Ken Ige, the only phot-dog beloved by the entire staff, ha! He's realizing a dream of becoming a fireman, and is already missed. Hurt in action are reporter Rose Bernardo, struck down by an unlicensed car as she walked to work; Ed Page editor Mary Poole, who broke a foot and bruised a hip as she tripped in a Kailua blackout, and editor Nancy Christenson, who dinged both head and elbow in a bike accident. Their names above are linked for get-well notes. And joining the Biz staff is Allison Schaefers, formerly of the Honolulu Advertiser.

10/31/03 And now, the junk-mail empire as well
Gannett's record quarterly profits went to good use this week -- they acquired Clipper Magazine, Inc. "one of the nation's largest independent direct-mail advertising magazine companies." In other words, they generate a lot of junk mail. "We are truly excited and expect great results as Clipper continues to grow throughout the country. Clipper will be a strong and welcome addition to Gannett," qouth Doug McCorkindale, Gannett chair and CEO. In other words, again, ve vill absorb you, und you vill like it!
NEXT! November 2003
Rolling Elevens

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