Events alter focus of news
By John Simonds
Advertiser Reader Representative
To see how life and news have changed in the past seven weeks, revisit The Advertiser of Sept. 10. The lead story told of 22 elementary school students being treated at hospitals for itching, apparently caused by mites or spiders from nearby trees.
"Ailment again sends students to hospital," read the five-column two-line front-page headline. In the early Sept. 11 Advertiser, an updated Page One story ("Mystery itch strikes again") said Makalapa Elementary School would be closed for two days in response to an outbreak that began a few days earlier.
Since then, concerns about it have been lost in issues of terror, war and the spread of more serious illnesses. Scarcely a word has appeared on the grade-school itch.
Also in the Sept. 10 Advertiser, an Associated Press article said "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today declared a war on bureaucracy in the Pentagon," a story about the secretary's plans to reduce the size of his work force.
Ironic hindsight creeps into re-readings of several pre-Sept. 11 news stories, but more telling is the contrasting scope of concerns and coverage, the events and issues, the reconnecting with human interest and for many a daily sense of survival on history's edge.
Where a caller in early September gently suggested causes of the puzzling itch, a caller a few days ago urged a way to control the spread of anthrax (requiring all mail to be hand-delivered to camera-monitored postal counters) and an excited caller demanded to know why city officials failed to notify postal authorities about Tuesday's Bethel Street anthrax scare.
Events that seemed important in early September have moved to back pages or out of sight. A "What ever happened to Gary Condit?" story appeared on A10 Friday. Problems in the City Council and Police Department appear to have shrunk. A teacher shortage has given way to rising unemployment and layoffs. Hawai'i's economy has gone from a lingering infection to danger list, requiring intensive care of a special legislative session.
The war effort and its differing views, recovery from the wreckage, healing from losses, security against disease and other terrors, the economy and fear of the future are news topics that dominate. Photographs of people and scenes in Afghanistan have put a close-up face on this war. Allies, enemies and children have been pictured in photos moved mostly by The Associated Press.
Some readers object. Publishing photos and comments of Taliban leaders undercuts the war effort and is demoralizing, a caller complains. Pictures of Afghan children and reports of civilians killed in "collateral damage" are less important than the victims of Sept. 11, says another.
Another caller criticized coverage of authorities questioning Canadian visitors taking photos of Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. "These are extraordinary times," she said. "These people are visitors in our country. They need to follow our rules and use common sense."
Likewise, she said, for Indian cruise-ship workers questioned for photographing a downtown power plant around midnight Oct. 8. Authorities released them without charges, a fact that failed to impress three callers, each wanting to know why more wasn't done to pursue the picture takers.
Despite world events, readers show interest in other parts of the paper, including the weather. One caller noted that though a Wednesday storm left a foot of rain in Hilo, weather statistics on Page A4 Thursday listed only a "trace" of rain there. WeatherData, which transmits the weather package from Kansas, collected Hawai'i rain figures before the afternoon storm hit Hilo. Normally, the copy desk updates The Advertiser weather page to reflect local changes.
John Simonds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8033.