Where we've been, how we've changed
By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor
First there was none. No features section. The inaugural Pacific Commercial Advertiser, as it was then known, boasted four pages on July 2, 1856 — three in English, one in Hawaiian, mostly composed of ads in miniscule type.
Then came For Women to Read, Society, the Women's page, Hostess and Homemaker, followed by Living and, finally, Island Life. And these section names tell the tale.
Perhaps more than any other segment of the paper, features sections evolved radically over the next century, transforming newspapers from the exclusive preserve of (mostly male) businessmen to the place where daily lifeis reflected — our culture, our foodways, our practical problems, our interests and our idiosyncracies.
In The Advertiser in the late 1800s, only Hawaiian royalty, visiting elite and the exclusive set known as "the 400" found their way onto the hallowed grounds of the Society page, populated with stories of ladies' luncheons, poi suppers, lists of "at home" days, news of weddings and engagements and the arrival of the famous aboard ocean liners. In addition, there was poetry, melodramatic serial fiction and coy little columns just short of gossip.
Average Islanders made the paper only when they were involved in a crime or some socially acceptable (and racially segregated) civic club, or when it was an ethnic holiday. Sensitivity to ethnic and gender stereotyping hadn't been invented yet. One telling headline from 1906 says: "Prepare to shed cooks/Chinese commence New Year tonight." Cartoons about the battle between the sexes were common fare, and the woman was usually the butt of the joke.
For most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the editors seemed more interested in news of a sensational murder trial in San Francisco and the supply of Kōloa potatoes than they were in local news. During World War I, pleas for help for starving children in Europe took precedence, while the perilous health and economic status of Hawaiians were largely ignored.
In the early 1900s, the editors didn't seem to know what to do with women, attempting a series of fleeting features — "For Women to Read" (overwrought fiction, quackish medical advice, fashion and beauty tips), and "In the Markets" (reports on what was plentiful and on sale in local markets). Stories focused on shopping, food and cooking, and the paper sponsored a popular series of annual cooking classes. There were lots of items about who was visiting whom.
FOR THE HOMEMAKER
In 1938, a weekly section called Hostess and Homemaker was introduced, devoted to stories on cooking, household tips, occasional profiles of well-known socialites and how they entertained, ideas on budgeting and managing a home and "keeping hubby happy." Home economists from the local utilities wrote regular advice columns. Stories about local and ethnic foods began to appear: a piece on the origins of sukiyaki in August 1938; a demonstration of Filipino mirienda (afternoon snack) dishes in January 1939.
During World War II, the talk was all of how to economize, making use of plentiful local produce and eschewing meat. At one point, C.Q. Yee Hop market announced suspension of the sale of all meats. The stories of how women were doing war work, managing home and children without their partners, interacting (both positively and negatively) with so many servicemen, were not told.
In the post-war years, features sections became daily affairs and previously ignored subjects began to be written about. Stereotypes slowly began to drop away.
In the 1960s and '70s, young reporters began to adapt the principles of what was then called The New Journalism, in which color and style were seen as just as important as getting the facts. Reporters such as the late Pierre Bowman and Scoops Casey wrote about Hawaiian activists, the birth of contemporary Hawaiian music, hippies and writers, artists and protesters. Divorce, single parenthood, health issues, the effects on families of a wide variety of life situations, racial tension, the future of pidgin English and the local lifestyle all were story topics during this period.
This was also the period of the "first woman to" story, acknowledging the movement of women onto career paths, although in what today seems a somewhat condescending tone — as though it was a surprise that a woman could be, say, a pilot or a banker.
The Hawaiian Renaissance brought critical mass to a cultural revival, and media attention followed. Longtime staffer Bev Creamer recalls working for months to get the notoriously media-shy Hōkūle'a navigator-in-training Nainoa Thompson to talk to her. Finally, through the aid of astrologist Will Kyselka, her phone rang one night at 10 p.m. and Thompson began to talk; all she had to write on was a paper towel and she took her first notes that way. Later, he invited her to come to the Hōkūle'a launch on the Big Island; they did dozens of interviews over the next 25 years.
In the food section in 1978, Mary Cooke (who had won an important award for having written the story of the last "hoe hana" women in the plantation fields), inaugurated the long-running "Coping with Cost" column, enticing readers to send in inexpensive recipes and rewarding them with prizes. After Cooke's retirement in 1987, Patsy Matsuura launched "My Best Recipe," another well-regarded reader participation feature. Both efforts resulted in books that are now collectors' items.
By the 1980s, the features section was mainstreamed. Among our 'ohana, ideas flowed freely and they careened in many directions, from the serious to the silly.
We tried to be topical but real. In 1995, when the TV show "ER" was mega-hot, Creamer moved heaven and earth to get The Queen's Medical Center to let her and photographer Greg Yamamoto spend a night in the trauma care center.
In 1998, a chance comment by a middle school teacher led to The Danger Zone. It detailed how young people often begin to go astray in the tween years, and the efforts teachers, parents and others were making to thwart this trend.
In 1999, we ran a series, The Next Generation, about the complexities of acculturation in immigrant families, where younger people often had to serve as their parents' interpreters and cope with the tension between tradition and contemporary life.
In 2006, Zenaida Serrano of our staff documented the history of Filipinos in Hawai'i as they celebrated the 100th year of Filipino immigration to the Islands.
Our many stories about events at the thriving Filipino, Japanese and Okinawan centers are all signs of how second, third and fourth generations of one-time immigrants have woven themselves into the fabric of the Islands where once they were all but faceless on our pages.
We had fun, too. Reporter Will Hoover, who moved here to write a column called Paradise Found, was continually coming up with characters to interview — including a homeless man with the cart full of newspapers who thought he was a financial adviser. Once we dressed Will up and sent him out to be a department store Santa for a day. His column, Pineapple Stew, was as wacky as its name.
Reporter Vicki Viotti says she still gets comments on a 2001 piece in which she, a bit out of shape, teamed up with super-athlete reporter Katherine Nichols to do a series about getting fit.
Being real wasn't always easy. As the 10th anniversary of the death of astronaut Ellison Onizuka approached in 1996, Creamer landed the first in-depth phone interview with his widow, both of them weeping as they talked for almost three hours.
Esme Infante (now Nii) did a famously contentious piece in 1995 about what really goes on after the senior prom that prompted shock and outrage throughout the community.
We also indulged in something readers seemed to crave: nostalgia. In 1993, features editor Susan Yim came up with the idea for "Hawai'i Ways, Hawai'i Days" as the theme for our biannual Progress edition — essays by readers about their life experiences. It was so popular, it turned into a weekly feature that ran for years. Even Israel Kamakawiwo'ole wrote a few.
As women, still the most frequent readers of the section, went out to work, we had to get practical: Stories got shorter, "coping" was the in-house buzzword.
BOOK CLUBS, K-DRAMA
The Advertiser has long striven to make our relationship with readers a conversation. In 2002, we launched a book club. In 2005, when Korean dramas became a widespread addiction, we added a column that's still running weekly. We've done Q-and-A features on topics from romance to cooking.
The Island Life section acquired an e-mail account before the rest of the newspaper did. We launched Click, a personal technology page, in the early '90s. Since then, the newspaper has partnered with radio and TV, and founded a website in 1999. Our Taste section hooked up last year with the culinary site "Share Your Table" to exchange video and print material. And the newspaper equipped reporters with phones that allowed them to post stories from the field. Our many and varied blogs invite comment and interchange. We Facebook. We tweet.
Over the past half-century, the features section has documented how our plantation lifestyle has disappeared, how simple single-wall wooden homes have given way to air-conditioned, California-style mini-mansions, how much more eclectic our foodways have become (and how famous our chefs), how the voyaging canoe Hōkūle'a became a rallying point for the Hawaiian Renaissance and how Hawaiian-language immersion schools have revived not only a native tongue but a way of thinking.
Even as TV shows such as "Hawaii Five-0" and "Magnum, P.I." and other media have perpetuated a romanticized vision of the Islands, we've reported how Hawaiian music, crafts and hula have reinvented themselves without losing touch with their roots, covering the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition for more than 20 years running.
One cannot speak of entertainment without mentioning the 30-plus-year career of recently retired entertainment editor Wayne Harada. His Rolodex contained the 411 on every key musician, producer, entertainment figure, radio announcer, promoter and key player from here to Broadway. From his student internship days to his retirement in 2009, Harada interviewed absolutely everyone, from Elvis to Cameron McIntosh. He covered the golden age of Isle entertainment — Alfred Apaka, Don Ho, the Barefoot Bar, "Hawai'i Calls," the Society of Seven, the Tihati extravaganzas — and, as with our readers, his tastes were entirely eclectic, from the Cazimero Brothers to "Cats."
Nor can we forget Bob Krauss, who, though not strictly speaking a member of the features staff, was a newsman with the heart of a feature writer. He once trekked O'ahu without a wallet to prove Hawaiian hospitality was still alive. He chronicled the careers of important cultural explorers such as anthropologists Kenneth Emory and Yoshi Shinoto. He traveled to the South Pacific on his own dime to watch Hōkūle'a arrive. No one who was there will forget standing on the deck of his beloved (and doomed) Falls of Clyde in 2006, after his death, watching Nainoa Thompson and crew sail his ashes out to sea on Hōkūle'a — such an honor for a man not Hawaiian.
In all these years of reporting, we've noted that, no matter how much has changed, we still take our slippers off at the door, never visit without something in hand or come home from a trip without omiyage, hang omamori good-luck charms from our rearview mirrors, buy chi chi dango on Girls Day, put an envelope in the calabash at weddings, hold first birthday lū'au for our babies, paste Chinese New Year calligraphy on our doors and hang parol on our homes at Christmas. And we're learning to adapt new foods and customs from other cultures: Vietnamese and Laotian, Sāmoan, Micronesian and others.
Now it is time for yet more change. But in the news business, as in life, change is the only constant.
Editor's note: Wanda Adams, editor of The Honolulu Advertiser's Taste section, was The Advertiser's features editor from 1989 to 2000.