Dave Hoff's retirement this Friday has made me nostalgic about my newspaper career, not just for the good old days at The Maui News but at all the other papers I've worked for.
(Readers! Thank you! Your subscriptions and the advertisers keep the paper alive. Do you understand? Nonreaders: Do you really think catching the headlines online makes you an informed citizen?)
I started out as a cub at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin the summer after graduating from Punahou. By the time I arrived at 8 a.m. at the thriving, thrilling newsroom on Kapi'olani Boulevard, the desk people had long been there. Helen Altonn, an ace reporter on a breaking story, would be talking to an editor, pacing about in her high heels, chain-smoking. The great engines of the presses rumbled and roared through the double doors of the back shop.
I was a humble servant in the women's section, as it was then called, where Lois Taylor chronicled the goings-on in Honolulu society. I did the press releases and the "brides," and every now and then a little story. Bud Smyser, the editor, was well-connected to the movers and shakers of the day. I was in awe.
In college, I snagged a plum job as a summer intern on The Honolulu Advertiser, presided over by the great city editor Sandy Zallburg. He was larger than life, a paratrooper in World War II who landed at Normandy but never talked about it. "It was war, my dear. There's nothing else to say."
He spoke a smattering of languages, including Yiddish, and joked in each. He knew a little bit about everything, and was straight out of the stop-the-presses, green eyeshade school of enterprising journalism.
Sandy was an excellent writer, and one thing he did not tolerate well was sloppy prose. One day the court reporter turned in a particularly turgid piece. Sandy thought it was so bad, he threw it out the window. Alas, someone returned it.
I'll never forget the day he came up to me after I'd just turned in one of my first stories. "Kid," he said, "you can write."
I'd cover an evening meeting and repair to my car to scribble down a lead and organize some quotes. Then I'd drop a coin in the pay phone and call in the story. In those days scooping the Bulletin mattered and we always strove to do that.
I went on to work for The Houston Chronicle - I covered the astronauts' wives during the first moon landing - then The San Diego Tribune. We typed our stories to be scanned. Once I was sent to the Caribbean island of Montserrat to inspect the corporate headquarters of a La Jolla firm implicated in a Ponzi scheme. I found it all right, a brass nameplate, one of many at a postal kiosk set up by an island attorney who lived in a bougainvillea- smothered villa above the sea.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I loved my final reporting job at The Maui News. Even though the paper was small, the pay was big-city generous thanks to the Cameron family. Dave Hoff built a humming newsroom full of talent that worked hard to produce in-depth political coverage, big, enterprising pieces, sprightly features. There were computers now, stories pasted up for the press.
I'll never forget the day Kaho'olawe was returned to the state at a formal ceremony at Palauea Beach. I raced back to the paper, filed my story, then rushed back to Makena for the private ceremony on the island. Les Kuloloio was already offshore, piloting the last Zodiac out to the launch. He waved and I threw my gear, protected by a black trash bag, into the water and swam out fully clothed. I made the boat.
The others on the team did the rest - City Editor Christie Wilson, copy editor Roy Tanaka, News Editor Lee Imada. Those guys on the desk - Brian Perry is city editor now - work so hard. You readers cannot know the hours that go into a solidly reported and edited piece, the teamwork it takes, the sacrifice it requires day in and day out, to provide the community with a watchdog and the small miracle that is a daily newspaper.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.