Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Cthulhu Who? The descent of the Honolulu Weekly

I'm saddened to watch as the Village Voice, the alternative weekly I was raised on in New York City, is being dismantled by its new owners. We desperately need to have alternatives to the monolithic viewpoints of the commercial and conglomerate newspapers. The Village Voice set a standard for alternative publications nationwide. As its new owners gut it and remake it in their corporate ideological mode, faithful readers across the country are in mourning.

Now I live in Honolulu. I read alternative news and views primarily on-line. It works well for national and international issues, but less well for local news and analysis. We can make intelligent choices when there are a variety of voices to be heard.

Honolulu is big enough that it should have a vibrant alternative press of its own. The strongest player has always been the Honolulu Weekly, and under many of its editors it has stepped squarely up to the plate and done its best against significant challenges. It probably isn't easy being an underpaid editor and still facing the high expectations that people have for alternative media.

The pay situation and other internal controversies broke out at the time of the paper's 10th anniversary as a series of web pages and even a program on HPR. Some of the pages are still on-line:

Given the working conditions described, I have even more appreciation for many of the editors, now moved on to other media positions, who made impressive contibutions to the alternative scene. I've clipped many articles over the years and used to rush out to the newspaper rack each Wednesday in anticipation of my alternative fix. So you see, my expectations really are quite high.

One has to give each successive new editor a chance, I suppose, but at some point it's time to demand results. In February I wrote about the waste of space that resulted from a totally contrived controversy: the Weekly's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed and then the letters and defense of the exercise that followed.

Let's face it, the number of pages that the Weekly devotes to alternative coverage is quite small. I'd prefer to read about real, rather than contrived, controversies. The editor essentially made his own actions into a long-running story that was, in the end, pretty purposeless because the Weekly didn't have to prove to anyone that it could exercise its free speech rights. If those rights were in question, somehow, they never mentioned it. They created a story and then devoted precious column inches to it that could have been devoted to something else. Almost anything else.

It's also not "alternative" to mount a series of personal attacks, attacks on the media, and to open its few precious pages up to smears. Yet that seems to be the current style. Last week's edition gave most of the letters space to a lengthy smear by Malia Zimmerman. She elaborated an encounter with an unnamed man whose alleged obscene actions she extrapolated to defame all of the protesters who challenged the ill-planned statehood rally at Iolani Palace. Editor Chris Haire gave her this space without noticing, perhaps, that she seldom appears in print these days or wondering why that might be.

All the letters pro or con Haire's writing are also a waste of space--he's not news. I'm also tired of the attacks. His attacks on and dismissal of Rep. Bev Harbin without researching her voting record, for example, do not amount to responsible journalism, it's pretty low quality stuff. I think he can do better. At least, I can say how I, as a reader, react to this--I don't enjoy attack dog tactics and would rather have thoughtful analysis or informed criticism in its place.

There's also a question of style vs. substance. My English teachers taught the class to write plainly, so as to be easily understood, not to try to convince the reader how smart we are. The purpose of our writing might be to entertain, or to communicate, or to pursuade. If the writing obscures, it fails. The reader should not have to penetrate an erudite verbal haze to discover the intended meaning.

Take the following excerpt from this week's issue:
Say what you will about Thursday night's debate between Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Ed Case–it was a snooze fest along the lines of My Dinner with Andre, it was as painful as reading James Joyce's Ulysses without taking a bathroom break while a blind dentist gives you a root canal and a cannibal gives you a back rub—but at least it let us the voters know that these guys were for real. And not in the parlance of the hip hop wannabe. Actually "for real," as in not some Disneyland animatronic simulacra.
A blind dentist? A cannibal giving a back rub? Animatronic simulacra? I somehow missed experiencing any of that as I watched how the two politicians presented themselves on the one occasion we would have to see them together. The difference in presentation style has already been done to death elsewhere. It's no longer an interesting perception for me. As to letting us know that "these guys were for real," c'mon, now, I knew that.

Here's another snippet from the same page:
Wait. Burris didn't just do what I just think he did. I mean, it's bad enough that he was afraid to voice his own opinion--in his very own blog--that he said Case "probably" did a better job than his 81-year-old counterpart, but Burris actually felt the need to put "won" in question marks, as if winning a debate is an impossibility and determining who came out on top is something that a blogger is unable to do?

Come on, Jerry. Who were you afraid of offending? Your readers? Your bosses? The all-knowing, all-powerful 10-ton, 10-tentacled, octopus-headed Cthulhu-like beast to which all Gannett employees swear eternal servitude?

It's as simple as this: Case either won the debate or he didn't. And you either have an opinion or you don't have a blog.
I thought Jerry had a clear opinion, and find the overboard attack tasteless and not terribly informative. Why, Chris, must there be a winner? At least explain yourself. It's also gratuitous, unnecessary, and unprofessional, in my view, to invent a motive (fear) for another person's writing style and then attack it with such vitriolic (if obscure) invective.

Some Weekly editors have gone on to significant positions at the Advertiser, but I'm guessing Chris won't receive an offer from those minions of Ctulhu any time soon.

I'm quite open to seeing where the Advertiser blogs go--they have just started. Dave Shapiro's blog has already proven immensely popular. Dave is not an editor of the Advertiser, or he might feel some constraints. Jerry Burris is an editor. It's good to see some more writing from him. I don't expect him to be as reckless as, say, a Weekly editor can be.

I still have high expectations for the Weekly. There will be another editor, then another. I wish the paper well in its struggle with Gannett for rack space. At the same time, I hope for a change in focus and tone. This will be up to Laurie Carlson, the publisher.

Maybe she thinks things are just fine as they are.

Oh, if you're not sure what a Ctulhu is, find out here.


Post a Comment

Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

<< Home


page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Newer›  ‹Older