Today, March 29, is a dubious but memorable milestone for me. It was the first time ever that I was fired from a job…two years ago.
It was the day my last Show Biz column was published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
I had a full-on career for 44 ½ years, mostly at the Honolulu Advertiser, longer if you count a couple of prior years I worked (while in high school) for a Sunday tabloid called Hawaii’s Youth, which the Advertiser published, tapping six youths from different high schools to do reportorial chores. That was the infancy of my journey as a journalist.
The conclusion of my print career happened – while free-lanching for the Star-Advertiser — when the COVID 19 pandemic was festering, but not in a manner I anticipated. I skipped the first anniversary of my dismissal, but decided to reflect belatedly on that awkward instance when I was terminated.
An abrupt call from my immediate editor at the newspaper brought my service to an end; she said all freelance contributors had to be released to cut production costs. OK, I accepted the decision and the dismissal, agreeing that if there were to be cost considerations, freelancers should go before fulltime staff. How naive of me.
That bottom-line alibi turned out to be an outright lie. In retrospect, I was one of only two contributors – the other was Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi, the esteemed travel writer – who were immediately erased from the ranks. No two-week notice consideration, which is customary in the trade, but a freelancer has virtually no privileges.
I would have expected the courtesy of doing an aloha column – you know, a reflective piece on the joy of writing about folks and events here and elsewhere – to simply say mahalo for the mana‘o and memories shared over the years.
But here’s the thing that bothered me then and still is snarled in my memory. By the end of the week, and over the next few weeks, I noticed that the paper continued to retain a corps of contributors, who report and write weekly for a very nominal fee (one has told me he columnizes for free). Still happening, in the third season of the pandemic, because the paper relies on outsiders to produce stories or opinion pieces to augment the daily news gathering. The freelance pay is so minimal, it’s gas money at best.
What irked me is that my editor – and perhaps other management staffers – did not have the decency to speak the truth; the selective termination decision came from a higher-upper, the publisher – and my supervisor never challenges her boss. “I need my paycheck,” she once revealed, and thus would neither question nor discuss matters concerning replaceable hired hands. Do as told, or head for the exit door.
My tenure at the paper included a dozen years of freelancing columns after I retired which notably meant I had been part of the reportorial scene for more than 50 years.
One door closed but another opened In May of 2021, I launched my own website and resumed the Show Biz column/blog, much like the old days but, at a pace I can freely handle in retirement.
Still doing it, even attracting readers from the past, and the tempo varies – with a mix of columns and reviews and reflections – because I still maintain twice-a-week PT sessions, frequent doctor visits, and occasional lunches or dinners with friends and family.
I am quite busy, thank you, in different ways. Like, I still create my hand-made Wild Cards, note cards with local-themed motifs. And I do annual lapel pins for Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween and Christmas, adding a limited amount of. yuletide table decorations as gifts to family and friends, including former colleagues and a roster of island entertainers.
With chronic back pain, I proceed activities with caution. Had a procedure done during the pandemic that involved the implantation of a battery in my butt, with wires connected to my spine. It’s an alternative pain management procedure (yes, I said no to actual back surgery).
So I lumber on, doing what’s doable when the mood hits.
Nope, there’s no salary; my monthly pension checks go directly into a bank account.
I have no editor, thus no outside stress, and nope, I can’t be fired. I can take a coffee or lemonade break when I want one and sometimes factor in a deserved short nap.
I’ve found my passion, set my own clock, and proceed to Do It, too, to keep the mind and spirit alive. I have no staff, unless you count my wife who catches typos frequently. My Apple MacBook Pro and my Apple iPhone are my work-related resources.
I learn from yesterday, as I live through today, and anticipate a cheery tomorrow.
Meanwhile, at the paper, the newsroom no longer has that buzz because – much like those dutiful freelancers — the reportorial staffers work from home. Something’s just not right here … newspapering is not what it used to be.
Wayne Harada’s Show Biz column regularly appears at https://www.wayneharada.com