Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005


School fight warranted Page One

By Anne Harpham

One of the issues that often confronts a newsroom is whether reporting on an event triggers copycat behavior.

That is why we rarely report on hoaxes and threats, for example.

Newsrooms must grapple with deciding whether the importance of reporting on an event outweighs the risk it will encourage other bad behavior. And they also face decisions on where the story is placed in the paper, and whether that can play a role in triggering future similar news events.

There was no question we would report on a fight that occurred on Monday at Nanakuli High School.

But after the story was turned in Monday afternoon, top editors did discuss how the story should be played in the Tuesday paper in light of this paragraph in the story:

"Maj. Michael Tamashiro, commander of the Kapolei-Wai'anae police patrol district, said some students were swearing, pushing and challenging officers with some in the crowd shouting that they wanted attention from news media."

Do we encourage such behavior by giving prominent play to an event in which at least some of the participants appeared eager for reporters and news cameras to notice them? Should the story not be put on Page One for that reason?

In the end, editors decided the Nanakuli fight merited Page One coverage. It was the latest in several such events at O'ahu public high schools recently, and the brawl had to be quelled by police using pepper spray.

As Advertiser assistant managing editor Stephen Downes put it: "If large groups of students are out of control on campus and are challenging police officers, the problem is larger and more troubling — not too mention more dangerous — than kids seeking attention from the media. That makes it a news story worth covering, regardless of the initial motivation."

A story Wednesday morning on projections of the cost to taxpayers of a proposed increase in the state excise tax to finance a rail transit system on O'ahu did not adequately explain how the number was obtained.

As the story and headline noted, the Tax Foundation of Hawaii calculated that a family of four earning $82,000 a year now pays about $3,500 in excise taxes and would pay about $875 more a year if the tax increased by 1 percentage point.

The story failed to note how the Tax Foundation arrived at that calculation. It involves more than just applying the 4.16 percent excise tax assessed consumers when they purchase an item or pay for most transactions.

At its simplest, the state's general excise tax looks like a straight 4 (or 4.16, to be exact) percent tax. For instance, if you buy $100 worth of goods at a store. the business will charge you $104, with the difference going to the state.

Because the excise tax is imposed every time a product is sold or resold at the wholesale and retail level, it has a multiplying or pyramiding effect, meaning the average customer ultimately ends up paying more than just that $4 on that $100 purchase.

The Tax Foundation of Hawaii calculates that about 60 percent of all the excise tax revenue generated in the state is charged before the final sale. That calculation was part of the $875 additional tax estimate used in the story. In other words, some of the $875 would be embedded in the cost of the item before the final excise tax is charged to the consumer. That's what should have been made clear.

Senior editor Anne Harpham is The Advertiser's reader representative. Reach her at aharpham@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8033.