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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Sometimes readers can change lives

By Anne Harpham

There frequently are stories in the paper that make readers shake their heads over a stupid decision, an injustice or missed opportunities.

Too often, they are things readers can do little about directly and immediately — except complain.

But every so often a story comes along that gives readers an opportunity to make a difference.

One was Will Hoover's Page One story April 4 about Waialua High School's robotics team's success in regional competition and its inability to travel to the national competition because of a lack of money. Despite appeals to various companies, it couldn't come up with the $30,000 needed to get to the national competition in Florida. The team had won the right to go to nationals by placing first in the regional competition.

Hoover told their story on a Thursday and by Friday, Susan Harada of Castle & Cooke Hawai'i was rallying support from her company and others. The robotics team will now go to nationals.

Harada's generosity is the latest example of how people respond to stories of those who need help. For example, the community has been generous to families who need help with medical bills or are looking for bone marrow donors.

Believe it or not, reporters get a good measure of satisfaction out of those "feel-good" stories. It isn't just uncovering a scandal or breaking a major story that drives us.

And quite often these are stories about a problem on a deeper level. Harada and others were able to solve Waialua High School's immediate problem. But as an editorial last week pointed out, there needs to be a program in place to make sure that public school students do not miss out on these kinds of opportunities.

A newspaper needs to shine a light in all areas of the community — focusing not only on the large issues, but also on the closer-to-home issues. It is mostly thanks to Harada, Castle & Cooke and other companies that the Waialua robotics team will go to Florida at the end of this month. But it makes us feel good to have played a small role in helping to make it happen.

Hoover said that when he wrote the story he didn't think there was any chance the team would go to nationals. Indeed, the story said that even if an 11th-hour sponsor came through it was too late because the team had told FIRST Robotics Competition officials they wouldn't be going.

But neither Hoover nor the school factored in Harada and her dream to make it happen. Because she came through, the national competition was willing to be flexible on its deadlines and the people who wanted to help were willing to raise $30,000 in two days.

"We do stories all the time about bad, troubling, controversial or tragic news," Hoover said. "That's the responsibility of the news business — to inform the public of matters they need to know about — even though those matters are often unpleasant.

"It's not often that a genuine 'good' news story like this comes along. So from that standpoint, it was a pleasant surprise."

Senior editor Anne Harpham is the reader representative. Reach her at aharpham@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8033.