By Helen G. Chapin
On the occasion of being named to the Society of Professional Journalists
Hall of Fame
East-West Center, January 19, 2002
I want to express my thanks and surprise at
being chosen by SPJ to be inducted into its Hall of Fame. It is
an honor to join the ranks of David Shapiro, Gene Tao and Bud
When I learned of this honor, I asked myself what paths brought me here tonight. Then I knew. They are journalism and history.
First, journalism. Like many of you, I worked on junior and high school newspapers. My first job out of high school was with a newspaper--the old Hilo Tribune-Herald for $50 a month. As general flunky it was a great job and I felt very lucky to have it. I got to drive to the receiving station on Haili hill to pick up the wireless teletypes, and then drive them back downtown to the Tribune-Herald plant. This was heady stuff for a 17-year-
old. When Mrs. Fernandez, society editor, was on vacation, I wrote society news. When the proof reader took time off, I read proof. I also organized the morgue and brought (later) Editor Ray Yuen his lunch. Next I attended the University of Hawaii, worked on Ka Leo, became editor and then a stringer and feature writer for the Advertiser. But life, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, is not a straight line but a zig zag path. I moved away from Hawaii and upon returning found that the Advertiser only had an opening on the night shift. This wouldn't work because by this time I had two small daughters. So it was back to school to finish a B.A. and M.A, then again went to the mainland where I earned a docorate in English at Ohio Sttate and taught at several colleges before returning to the Islands for good in 1978 with my husband Hank Chapin.
Second, History. You'll remember this was a time of "roots" and ethnic identity. My roots are in the Greeks of Hawaii. My forefathers and mothers came 10,000 miles around the world to settle in these remote Islands, and in my childhood they recounted lots of folktales and oral stories. But I wanted the facts and found these in the 19th and 20th century newspapers and wrote them up for the Hawaiian Journal of History.
Along the way I just started reading the newspapers for their own sake, which led to Shaping History: The Role of Newspapers in Hawaiian History (UH Press, 1996). It took eight years to write, but Sandy Zalburg made me feel better when he said it took him 10 years to write that fine book, A Spark Is Struck: Jack Hall and the ILWU.
Shaping History has a simple thesis, which you all know: The newspapers record history and make or shape it at the same time. Hawaii's journalism history is remarkable, however. The missioaries introduced a newspaper print technology with Ka Lama (The Light), in Hawaiian in 1836. The Sandwich Island Gazette and Journal of Commerce appeared in English in 1836. An inspiring story is the rise of a Hawaiian Nationalist press in 1861, reaching its height in the 1890s. Less inspiring stories include feuds, press wars, libel charges and theft. In the days when newsprint took six months to arrive from Boston or New York, newspapermen would race down tothe wharves and appropriate any consignments they could. There was even a murder--that of a newsman, not over a news issue, but for fooling around with another man's wife. Some things never seem to change.
The rise of an Ethnic press is particularly noteworthy: Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, African American, Jewish, and others down to the present day Vietnamese. In the 1920s, when the Territory tried to shut down the Japanese language schools, Frederick Makino, Hawaii Hochi editor, fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won.
Other fine stories include the Star-Bulletin's steady fight against the military government's censorship of all newspapers during World War II. After the war ended the laws were declared unconstitutional, and the Bulletin was vindicated. In the 1950s, Bud Smyser, Star Bulletin editor whom we are honoring here tonight, unrelentingly fought for Statehood. In the 1960s, the Advertiser battled to save Diamond Head from highrise development.
Four years after Shaping History, I finished A Guide to Newspapers of Hawaii 1834-2000, published by the Hawaiian Historical Society in 2000. In it are 1,250 separate titles (including a few newsletters. for their historical importance). They cover papers from handset type to satellite computer technology, from an independent country and monarchy to a republic, territory, and state. The papers include 17 languages and ethnic groups in 29 categories. New titles are still showing up, like Harbor Times from the 1950s, which Chieko Tachihata of Hamilton Library just discovered.
So here we are tonight with the most diverse press in the United States and probably the world. You and I are all part of this rich
journalism history. Following the Honolulu Press Club's presenting of awards
over 50 years ago, SPJ took over and widened those awards, added Outer Island membership, and expanded coverage to include radio, tv, magazines and other media. SPJ also sponsors valuable internships for young journalists and--my favorite--stages the annual Gridiron show in which journalists hold public figures' feet to fire.
My hand is still in. I serve on the editorial board of Kalamalama, Hawaii Pacific University's publication named after the Islands' first newspaper. Did you know that the American Association of Colleges and Universities voted Kalamalama the best college newspaper in theU.S. in 1998? When I taught a class in the history of journalism on the UH Manoa campus a few years ago, the students had not heard of the paper, so I brought bundles of Kalamalama to class. Larry LeDoux, who you all know, is faculty editor. And Dr. Helen Varner, Dean of Communcation, is also here with her husband, Dr. Foy Varner. Today at HPU there are 500 communication majors.
HPU is an international school. Here tonight, too, are several students who themselves are international. From Sweden are Marcus Franke and Jenny Lundahl, respectively editor and associate editor, along with two local girls, Karen Mirikatani and Alicia Michioka, former and present business managers. I am happy to announce that HPU may be the next Island university to qualify for an SPJ chapter.
In conclusion, keep up the good work. You've got a rich leagacy worth fighting for. Despite dire predictions, print journalism is still alive. Again, many thanks for giving me this honor, which I believe is really a tribute to Island journalism 1834-2002, of which all of you are a vital part.