Thursday, June 10, 2010

Musings: Real World

The sky was equal parts gray and blue when Koko and I went out walking in a world seemingly populated only by birds, and happy, exuberant ones at that. The clouds bore unusual lines, like parted hair, as they drifted southwest, clearing the way for a showy dawn.

It began with a pink smear that deepened into coral, then shifted to orange and grew, soon staining the entire northeastern sky, casting the pastures and cinder cones and shrouded mountains in shades of soft, shimmery salmon, creating alpenglow in the trees and leaving jewel-like triangles and squares of rich light upon the ground.

And then it was gone.

My tenure with MidWeek newspapers was also short-lived. Just as the premiere Kauai issue was being distributed, I was being told they wished to “sever our professional relationship,” which was the only relationship we had.

It wasn’t me, since I’d already been lauded for my “professionalism and enthusiasm,” or my work, which was termed “outstanding,” but this blog, or more accurately, a critical observation I made about the debut of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is owned by the same man who owns MidWeek.

“You shouldn’t have called the paper manure,” the messenger told me.

I didn’t. I called it “the hybrid of the two mediocre Honolulu dailies,” which it arguably is. The manure reference was to the lead editorial, or more specifically, a few lines in it:

We will strive mightily to be on the side of angels. We will work constantly to do, and shout, the noble thing.

And as I pointed out to the messenger, their reaction to my comment was proving me true.

But the decision had already made, by “higher ups,” the messenger said

“How high?” I asked.

“All the way to the top,” I was told.

It seems they feared my comment “could affect the paper’s profitability.”

“It really took me by surprise,” I told a friend later.

“Why, because the retribution was so quick?”

“No, that they find me so threatening.”

Besides, I told the messenger, I used to criticize The Advertiser all the time when I wrote for Kauai People, which Tiser published, and they never said a peep.

“Well, this is a whole new order,” I was told.

Apparently. And it got me wondering, if that sort of fealty is required of a lowly freelancer on the Kauai MidWeek, what sort of line-toeing and suck-upping will be expected of the reporters in the Star-Advertiser city room?

After the messenger and I said goodbye, I went out onto the grounds of the low-income rental housing where I work part-time. A resident quickly flagged me down. Her smile was wide and bright, a sharp contrast to the last time I’d seen her, when she’d been anxious and crying, worrying how she would pay her rent. I’d listened, given her Kleenex and a hug and directed her to a place that could assist until her unemployment benefits got sorted out.

“You helped me so much,” she was now saying. “I was so worried and stressed out, it was making me sick. I’d been in a funk for months. I was spiraling down. Getting that month of free rent took all the pressure off. I got my car fixed. A friend came over to help me clean my house and I realized it'd been eight months since I dusted, I was so depressed. What can I ever do to repay you?”

“You just have,” I said, and gave her hug.

Walking away, I recalled the words of the messenger: “This is business, Joan,” I was told. “This is the real world.”

No, I thought. This is the real world.

23 comments:

coast haole said...

I can't help it ......but here goes, obviously "don't bite the hand that feeds you" seems to be the operative here, but a daily news paper that can't take criticism from within or without is not worthy of lining the bottom of a bird cage let alone wrapping dead fish. I will never buy an issue of that rag, shame on them!!!

Sandhya said...

So much for a free voice in journalism. This is so small.

The advertiser tried to constrain your voice when you spoke about Kauai's point-of-view at the beginning of the Super Shuttle debacle, and turns out your reporting was at the forefront. Don't let anyone silence you.

Mokihana and Pete said...

The gem is in the view of 'real' from any point of view ... give me a hand and then the rest of the whole makes sense of all the other nonsense.

Thanks for this.
Mokihana

Anonymous said...

Obviously, both are the real world.

Anonymous said...

whoa . . . I'm so sorry for them. I thought Rupert is bad, but Rupert wannabes are way more scary. his name is BLACK (as in VADER), isn't it? so much for small communities and temperance, anymore. we BIG TIME, now, sadly.

Anonymous said...

The good news is, your blog is here for all of us to read. Recent studies have noted that the majority of folks now rely on the Internet for news and information, rather than print media.

Please keep reporting, Joan!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Joan's writings are good and interesting, beats the daily rags everyday!!

However, put yourself in another pair of shoes. If you owned a big company and had lots of employees and one of your employees kept saying "you suck", would you keep paying them? I think 99.9% would not.

Maybe journalism is a different beast.

Anonymous said...

You all can pull an Andy Hardy and build your own virtual paper.

Between all the disgruntled and unemployed writers surly there is enough to make a viable weekly.

Don't forget the cartoons!!

Anonymous said...

Now, how many people here actually remember Andy Hardy??

"Susan needs an operation...Let's put on a show!!"

Ah, the good ole' days...

Anonymous said...

So... It's a shame the Star-Advertiser comes off fresh and right away axes someone for exercising freedom of speech, even if the word "manure" is involved.
In the same token, in a previous blog entry, you criticized the Garden Island for not wanting to silence forum posts that insulted Caren Diamond. What is it called again? Isn't it called hypocrisy?

Joan Conrow said...

Actually, I didn't criticize TGI for not wanting to silence forum comments.

I would just like to see them require people to use their real names, as they do with those who submit letters to the editor. There's a difference between a newspaper and a blog.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to see them require people to use their real names, as they do with those who submit letters to the editor. There's a difference between a newspaper and a blog.

I'm curious about what difference between papers and blogs makes required real names on comments desirable for one but not the other.

Joan Conrow said...

Newspapers are public records.

Anonymous said...

I've known Ben for some time now, he hates that girl...he makes anonymous comments that are libelous, that is different than an opinion that has your name on it. Joan signed her name when she dissed the new paper , Ben didn't have the balls, or maybe as a non practicing attorney Ben doesn't want others to know it's him spreading the venom and lies...

Anonymous said...

If you take someone's money, you dance to the tune he plays.

It should be no surprise that an employee or contractor who disses the employing/contracting organization will usually get cut off.

Don't do it unless you've weighed the options and can live without that income and any additional "stain" the situation may place on your ability to find other work.

If you can live with that, and still want to opine, then do it...but, still, don't be surprised or resentful or dismayed at the results.

Personally, my inclination to "toe the line" is a sliding scale congruent with the money I'm making.

In other words, I can be bought, but I'm not cheap.

Anonymous said...

"I've known Ben for some time now,"

You must be talking about Ben Montgomery, the one who posts as interesting on TGI and here as dwps.

A. Punohu said...

when I learned journalism at the feet of the late, great, Jean Holmes at KCC when she taught there and earned an "A" for effort believe it or not, I learned one thing from her that stood out among everything else she tried to drill into our heads.

That lesson was simple. If its your opinion it belongs in the editorial or op-ed page. If its news, it needs to be balanced and relating to both sides of an issue. She stressed research, and listening to leads and getting out and talking to the people.

Thats why she was known as the "Peoples Editor". She would never write anything where she had not talked to and included the opinions of the people directly involved. She would never just regurgitate what some official told her, or some agency or for that matter some candidate for public office.

SHe took every lead seriousely. SHe thouroughly investigated everything. WHen she wrote an article or reported on the news she did it to change minds and present both sides in as clear a way as possible, and she always said its not up to you to decide for the reader what he or she should think. It's up to them to make up their own minds about a news piece. She said that your job is to present as much facts and opinions, and then inject enough humanity into the story to make it relatable to people.

She also said don't be afraid to buck the system or write a controversial story. And don't ever bend on what you know to be the truth of a story. Jean Holmes took amazing amounts of heat, pressure, ridicule and stress from the way she wrote.

But she emerged from all of that, to make what the Garden Island Newspaper was for 20 years under her capable hand. A force to be reckoned with. A newspaper that you could count on to present the peoples side of complex issues.

I know that Joan follows this idealogy in her minds eye when she is writing. A true newspaper would never staunch good, honest newspaper reporting.

PS...even though she gave me an "A", she also said my spelling and grammar sucked. It still does. But she said thats what editors are for. Spelling and grammar. Not to change the story or the facts. Gotta love Auntie Jean!

Anonymous said...

Newspapers may be public records, but based on what? They're privately owned. Would newspapers hold any real weight on a court of law? Only if the reporter is called to testify and reveals sources, which a responsible professional should not do.

And as far as I'm concerned, the online version of TGI is a public forum. It's not printed, so I'm pretty sure there's a fundamental difference there.

And... I don't think this was brought up here, but a comment is never libel or slander unless it's proved as such. The burden of proof falls on the person who's offended. Which leads me to write the next paragraph...

That (burden of proof) is probably the main reason that little-unhappy person who writes so many worthless blogs entries gets away with deliberately offending so many people. Nobody cares about him, therefore no one would bother to bring him to court for writing false accusations and inciting boycotts, which is a federal offense, btw. Yes, I'm talking about that bearded guy whose blog is conveniently titled "windmills" or something like that, after all, it's all about hot air and nothing else in there.

I'm sorry for you loss Joan. And if anyone would ask me why would I want to work for a company that I criticize, I'd promptly answer: to change it, and make it a better one for the public.

The Advertiser did suck, and the Star-Bulletin was an adventurous and exciting paper. It's all in sewer lines now, as it seems...

Manure actually smells better than this outcome.

Anonymous said...

"...a comment is never libel or slander unless it's proved as such."

Also, an opinion is never libel nor slander. It is not construed as propagating a "fact". That's what's fun about opinions.

Anyone could say here or shout from the street corner or write a "letter to the editor" (probably wouldn't get printed) that "it's my opinion that Joan is a ____" (Think of something really really bad).

I couldn't legally be touched.

All blogs and blog comments are considered (the "reasonable and prudent man" test) opinion vehicles. Therefore, anything goes.

I'm also for "hard hitting reporters" who present both sides, etc, but usually that means the one being "hit hard" is not the employer or any higher-level owning entity.

Keep hitting outward, not inward. Or live with the consequences.

Reminds me of Jim Carey in "Liar Liar" when he's beating himself up in the bathroom and says to someone walking in: "I'm kicking my own ass!"

Don't do that!

But, then, I've always adopted the principal so well-stated by WC Fields:

I'd never want to work for a company that would have me as an employee.

Anonymous said...

PS - without the reasonable assumption that the forum of presentation is opinion-only, shouting or printing "Joan is a ____" without preceding it with "It's my opinion that" would actually result in an actionable statement.

Be careful out there...

Joan Conrow said...

Your comment made me laugh, which I always appreciate.

Still, as a friend said, they might as well fire you now and get it over with, because sooner or later you were going to say something they didn't like.

So I'm living — and not unhappily — with the consequences.

Anonymous said...

I once got fired from a job that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. What I thought should have been legit expenses was somehow mischaracterized by them as embezzlement. But, considering my position in the company, they let me off a $40K hook by offering me a non-compete agreement for 18 months. An offer too good to refuse.

I went home, called one company and landed my first independent consulting job. 9 years later I retired and moved to Hawaii with a really fat bank account.

I wouldn't have been able to do that had I stayed with that company.

Dawson said...

"The Advertiser did suck, and the Star-Bulletin was an adventurous and exciting paper. It's all in sewer lines now, as it seems...

Manure actually smells better than this outcome."


Good point. Manure, for all its nose-wrinkling funkiness, is a byproduct of life.

This has the smell of something that died.