It’s old news but sad news about the state of your daily newspaper.
For all practical reasons, the newsroom of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has virtually shut down. Most reporters – the heartbeat of local news gathering – have been working from home since last fall. The work-at-home decision clearly is one way to reduce overhead costs.
But there’s something to say about devoted reporters and editors, toiling side by side with common goals of putting out a daily paper. The water fountain chit-chats are long gone. The camaraderie is nil.
“They closed the newsroom for good – can you believe it?” one veteran newsroom reporter told me in an email.
“It’s very sad and hurtful,” another said.
“(We’re) told everyone work-from-home is the new rule of law; I’m sure it’s saving the company a ton of money but the real expense is the lost of a vibrant newsroom.”
You’ve heard of “breaking news,” the usual media term whenever something worth your attention is announced. Well, “heartbreaking news” is the unannounced (to the public) situation at the Waterfront Row HQ of the morning daily. If TV reported this newsroom policy, I missed it. Honolulu magazine once dubbed the vicinity Death Row, since the early vibe of Restaurant Row (the site’s original name) disappeared.
So it’s a time to mourn, really.
As the state continues to struggle to return to restore the new normal for its citizens, the paper is shrinking and sinking its own ship by this work-at-home decree. I mean, haven’t the schools reopened for most campuses and government workers back to the daily routine since the protocols have been relaxed?
Sure, skeletal crews are still toiling at the paper; editors, page designers and select hired hands essential in getting the paper out still are bound to desk stations.
But the heartbeat of journalism is the corps of news-gatherers, working the phones and bellowing to colleagues and yakking about the latest restaurant to open or close, as part of the rhythm of newsroom life?
I know. I’ve been there. For 45 years full-time at the then-stand alone Honolulu Advertiser, located at the Kapiolani Blvd./South Street landmark, then another dozen years as a retired free-lance contributor writing a column for the combined Honolulu Star-Advertiser, till I was summarily dismissed because of the looming health threat in the spring of 2019. Cost-cutting was the convenient alibi, but I couldn’t live on what I was paid, anyway, since I worked from home and paid for my own entertainment fees when reviewing shows. Still do, for my online presence now.
You knew the paper was suffering, when the daily four-section product became a two-second minimalist, when the pandemic was invasive and shutting down everything. It cut out a Saturday edition (online only, still) but restored the sports section so the daily paper now has three sections. The fourth – formerly Today, Island life when there were two papers, and then Detours as part of the merger– is seemingly gone forever. The arts community misses the separate entertainment/features section most papers traditionally retain. The newish Crave tabloid, like the Sunday Dining Out pull-out, is mainly an avenue for potential advertisers, lured to buy a Wednesday and a Sunday combo ad. Many of the food reporters work from home, too.
Full-time beat reporters no longer have an office desk or phone. Go figure.
As one source indicated, “they (the bean counters) set up offices on the fifth floor for when people need a space to work, but no dedicated desks. And the newspaper is really bad; it’s embarrassing. I don’t have to tell you that.”
It’s also clear that the union has no muscle to argue the necessity and validity of the newsroom vibe. Not sure if some, or most, reporters like working from home, paying for their own smart phones and utilizing their own computers to file a story. The side amenity: no bosses to bother you.
The cutbacks might have been an essential decision when COVID was a daunting enemy, but the villain now appears to be at the publisher level with a mission to keep costs down.
The office communal esprit is what’s missing, for veteran reporters who know that camaraderie is part of the vitality of the newsroom.
“I miss the buzz and energy of the newsroom – a truly unique workspace. And especially in our business; you need to be able to bounce off each other, walk around, shoot the bull, compare notes, etc.,” said one longtimer. The vacuum might also impact cub reporters, at the start of their print careers. “How are the rookies supposed to learn, the ropes without being able to see the pros in action, yelling at each other and over the phone,” said the vet, hanging in there but can’t wait to retire. …
On cloudy, rainy days like today and yesterday, don’t you feel like singing a weather-related song?
That ominous, threatening layer of clouds lingering yesterday over the islands produced a lot of liquid sunshine, prompting me to think about weather tunes.
Here are 10 tunes — to search for in your disc collections or to request your favorite deejay to play — to keep you in the rainy-cloudy-stormy vein:
“Rhythm of the Rain,” by The Cascades.
“The Rain in Spain, Stays Mainly on the Plain,” by Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” (varies if film or stage).
“Set Fire to the Rain,” by Adele.
“Get Off of My Cloud,” by the Rolling Stones.
“Singing in the Rain,” by Gene Kelly.
“Both Sides Now,” by Judy Collins or Joni Mitchell.
“Cloud Nine,” by the Temptations.
“Stormy Weather,” by Lena Horne.
“Come Rain or Come Shine,” by Margaret Whiting and various artists.
“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” by B. J. Thomas. Of course, the childhood-era “Rain, Rain Go Away” might be the simplest song on the rainy list, and if there’s rain, there just must be rainbows, so credit Judy Garland for her “Over the Rainbow” original, and home-grown Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole” for re-inventing his version fused with “What a Wonderful Day.”
Do you have a weather-related song you wanna hear on a cloudy day?
How often do you schedule a staycation, where you shuttle over to a Waikiki hotel? If memory serves well, my last impromptu Waikiki stayover was for two nights at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel maybe a decade or so ago, when our home was tented for pest control. No, we didn’t have issues with creepy crawlers; we simply take precautions periodically.
But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?
So the missus and I wound up with an unplanned vacation – well, a staycation, a “trip” minus an airline flight.
We originally planed to stay three nights at the Ala Moana Hotel by Mantra because on Tuesday morning, Dec. 7, the day of infamy was make-lemonade day. No water!
Can we live without water, hot and cold?
For how long?
Besides a shower, what about an unflushable toilet?
What’s the alternative to the unexpected dilemma, with no clue on how long this disruption would last?
Answer: Plan a staycation. The wife wasn’t going to tolerate the lack of a hot bath, and worse, the issues with the toilet. A Board of Water wagon arrived, and while we hauled out City Mill painting/gardening buckets (had two new ones in the house) to fetch water, we still weren’t willing to play out the waterless issue for lord knows how many days and nights.
Went online to find a hotel. Didn’t want to mess with the Waikiki traffic, and didn’t know there was gonna be Dec. 7 parade on Kalakaua Ave. that evening.
We had no more Christmas shopping to do, but the opportunity to be at Ala Moana Center was a plus; we hadn’t been mall-ers for a spell, what with the pandemic.
The Ala Moana had rooms going for as low as $179 a night, so that seemed fair and acceptable, so I logged on, intending to book perhaps two, maybe three nights, to avoid returning home too early if the meddlesome water main break continued.
In my online booking, something strange happened; the system — outsourced and located in Australia, I learned — was a bit crazy, so a wrong arrival date and departure date appeared without my input. It didn’t even apply a LOCALSONLY discount that appeared when I signed on. The only way to undo this was to call the hotel directly, and a sweet reservationist assisted, correcting the check-in date and suggested we do the three nights, just in case, because the hotel was approaching a fully-booked status.
She noticed I hadn’t asked for the kamaaina discount and I said I did, so she inserted that data in the reservation. The discount would cover a $35 daily charge for self-parking at the hotel (vs. parking illegally and walking to the hotel adjoining the shopping center).
The lemonade started to get a bit sweeter.
The staycation was a blessing, and wound up being a post-anniversary observance, since our home had two guests for much of November. And Nov. 23 was our 53rd wedding anniversary that included a sweet dinner at Roy’s with our niece visiting us to see her Army son, who had concluded one assignment before moving to another.
Staycations mean you can drive home to pick up a few things that you may have forgotten to pack, so yes we drove home on Wednesday Dec. 8, to pick up a charging cord with a magnetic head for my Apple watch. We brought a few more clothing items and a couple of snacks, too, and learned that the water was restored early Wednesday, though the roadway was not restored for traffic, so we wondered if we should cut short the vacation. We had made dinner reservations for Wednesday night, so proceeded back to the hotel and later drove to the Nordstrom end of the mall, for our meal at Ruscello, a favorite destination. (FYI, I no longer walk the whole length of the mall because of back ache issues, so a short drive is part of my new normal).
The staycation, however, intruded with three Thursday Dec. 9 calendar items – my wife had a bone density test to take, and a Zoom session in the afternoon, and I had my usual Thursday PT session in the morning. We intended to return home early Thursday, so she could get to her appointment in her car, and I’d do same with mine. We would then return to the hotel afterwards.
However, overnight Wednesday, I developed a feverish feeling – both my legs and feet were icy cold, due to the hotel’s air-conditioning — so I told my wife it’s probably best that we conclude the staycation after two nights.
Staycations allow this kind of casual and informal play-out. We were enjoying the novelty of hotel life because we hadn’t traveled since the pandemic cancelled everything two years ago. And two evenings were just the right dose.
We don’t normally go all-out to mark our anniversary; the last one was the 50th, to which we invited the entire family. This one was perfectly personal, just us two; it didn’t require high-end dining with champagne and the works.
We had dinner at Liliha Bakery at Macy’s the first night; she had the hamburger steak, I had the loco moco with two easy-over eggs over the burger on a bed of fried rice. Boring? Perhaps. But ono.
We learned that Cafe 410, the Ala Moana restaurant, had been closed throughout the pandemic, but was reopening Wednesday morning with a breakfast-buffet format; it was not grand nor bountiful, comprised mostly of bacon, pork sausage, pancakes hidden in those domed bowls, a small selection of breakfast fruit (pineapple chunks, watermelon, honeydew melons), and a station with croissants, bagels and bread for toasting. I don’t recall the cost, but the waitress insured we’d get the kamaaina discount. And when asked about the numbers in the Cafe name, she said it’s the hotel’s address on Atkinson. Now you know, too.
The hotel stay was leisurely and comforting; we took a selfie in front of a decorated Christmas tree in the hobby but it was a lousy shot. No matter.
We both had hauled our computers with us in separate roll-aboards, since we have different needs. And over two days, I had a few hours to shape and nearly complete my traditional Christmas column, to be posted in a few weeks. We were still connected to our daily do’s, including checking emails.
The staycation cost $700-plus for hotel and meal charges but you only live once, and you can’t take it with you. And FYI, the hotel didn’t charge a penalty for an early departure and the refund for the unused third night was credited to my charge card.
For an imperfect few days of rain and no running water, this was the perfect staycation at a time we needed a break from routine.