Framed in the courtyard of The Maui News, three journalists smile happily at the photographer. Under their thinning, gray hair, their faces beam with the deadline-honed satisfaction of having earned pau hana for another day. But they've been in this business long enough to have seen the future, and all the uncertainties lurking there. You can see it in their eyes.
The photo was taken by graphic and digital artist Tobi Uehara at a party for retirees a few years ago. The guys in the photo are Ron Youngblood, Ed Tanji and me.
Ed and Ron were the retirees. I was still on the job and put the photo on my bulletin board in recognition of concepts like bygone, or the good old days.
Rick Chatenever, from left, Ed Tanji and Ron Youngblood pose for a photo in the courtyard of The Maui News in 2009.
TOBI UEHARA photo
Later, when my own retirement loomed, they were the ones I turned to for advice. That was the last time I talked to Ed on the phone. On Sept. 12, after he lost his battle with cancer, I put the photo up on my bulletin board at home.
I've been thinking about the conversations I'm not going to be having with Ed anymore.
We came from different schools. He and Ron were versatile, veteran newsmen; I was a lit major more into irony and metaphors who had talked his way into a newsroom 35 years ago and benefitted from lots of on-the-job training.
We worked in different departments-Ed and Ron the newsroom; me in special sections. Our chances to collaborate were infrequent, but cherished. In the days before handy laptops and WiFi, I remember dictating Maui Film Festival stories from Wailea on deadline by phone, punctuated by newsman speak:
"Quote 'What's not to like?' question mark, close quote, said award honoree Owen Wilson at the opening reception Wednesday. New graph!"
There was the marathon of breaking news coverage during the Dalai Lama's historic 2007 Maui visit, and the summer when my staff writer Liz Janes-Brown was in her own battle with cancer and Ed provided invaluable support. Ed was a patient, generous, twinkly-eyed mentor to a new generation of Maui News reporters, as well as a steel-nerved union rep for us all.
It was an honor sharing this exciting, exacting, humbling profession with him. Calling for adrenaline, guts, split-second precision and lots of ingenuity, newspapering doesn't provide the hiding places of other sorts of professional writing. You are answerable each day to your readers, your community. Your critics are just a phone call away. You are always smarting from your last mistake.
For Ed, the rigors of excellent journalism were a test for something even more important: a moral sense of right and wrong. He was the consummate professional, Maui's best.
But Ed, Ron and I were also products of a mind-changing time known as the '60s, when the dawning realization that the medium is the message would become the warning bell for the profession we begrudgingly loved so much.
The place of newspapers in what was no longer a media "landscape" but a rather network of satellites in space was a source of endless conversation. Objectivity-humanly impossible, yet a worthy goal to constantly seek-was pitted against new marketplace realities. New forums arose to replace news with opinion but still call it news. Celebrity became its own genre, parting company with honor, integrity or other traits once required to earn it.
The notion of a free press as democracy's cornerstone of responsible citizenship had been forged in an age of horses and buggies. It has yet to catch up with technology that now makes news instantly accessible everywhere. Paper, once essential for the exchange of information, is now heavy weight. It's costly in money and trees; and slow to move around, making the news old by the time you're holding it in your hands. That's the new challenge, and people with ink on their fingers aren't necessarily the ones to solve it.
We used to talk about stuff like that.
Ed Tanji's last column will appear in Friday's paper. Not only a writer to the end, he was also always the editor. Even in our mutual semi-retirements, he would email me corrections, reminding me someone out there was still catching my mistakes.
I'm already missing having him around keeping me honest. We all are.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org