Editing Maui Time Weekly was the best job I ever had. It was tough (I usually put in around six days a week getting the paper out the door) but it was also fun. I got to be snide, I got to play pundit and I got make the rich and powerful (or, at least some of them) angry. The paper was small, with a tiny staff and a tinier budget, but there was also an undeniable power trip to the job: each week, I got to decide how stories were told, what piece received cover promotion and, ultimately, what went into the paper each week.
Yesterday I blogged about some of the things I did in my five years as editor. Today I’ll write about a dozen things I didn’t do during that time. For anyone even remotely familiar with the paper, I’m going to warn you now that this post will be pretty rough…
1. Increase the amount of money budgeted each week to pay freelance writers. When I began the job, pay was listed as $45 for what we called an “up front” story–news, arts, music, food, all between 500-800 words–and $100 for a cover story, which required more reporting and research and typically ran 2,000 words. I succeeded in getting the cover story payment raised to $150, but I was also limited to running just one freelance cover a month. Those pay rates didn’t change again.
2. Do much of anything when, during my last week as editor and after nearly four years of me journalistically pounding on the Maui County Department of Liquor Control, a certain investigator in the office contacted me, saying he wanted to spill the beans on corruption in the department. Though he refused to allow me identify him in print or even use any of what he told me in a story, his call genuinely surprised me and should have spurred me to interview him at length. But by that point I was exhausted, and passed the tip off to a freelance writer who did contact him. Though the LC investigator never really provided much in follow-up and continued to insist on anonymity with the freelance writer, basically ending any story possibility, it does not excuse my failure to pursue him earlier.
3. Properly handle the transition from the column “Holoholo Girl,” which began the first week of my editorship and lasted until August 2007, when Associate Editor Samantha Campos moved to California, to “Restless Native,” written by Starr Begley (now of The Maui News). Holoholo, which after stirring up considerable initial resistance (more than a few readers were pissed that I dumped Amy Alkon’s syndicated “Advice Goddess” column), eventually built a strong readership for itself. And while Restless Native was also an excellent column with a solid readership of its own, it was very different. Whereas Holoholo was about the troubles of being single and cultured on Maui, Restless Native concerned the life of a young mother. Restless should have run in the front of the paper, where readers would be more apt to give it a chance on its own rather than see it as a straight replacement for Holoholo.
4. Lose my cool when then Haleakala Times editor Rob Lafferty (a usually intelligent and progressive person) called me and cursed me for 20 minutes after I told reporter Joan Conrow that papers like the Times were mostly dull and milquetoast. As Lafferty yelled at me, I sat there calmly, patiently repeating my arguments in simple, rational terms, just as I’d earlier practiced with my publisher, Tommy Russo, who happened to be sitting in my office, listening. The high point of the conversation was when I gleefully told Lafferty, “For a guy who doesn’t like it when I print curse words in the paper, you certainly use the word ‘fuck’ a lot.”
5. Get into very many arguments with Russo over Maui Time‘s stories. There were one or two dust-ups over stories (usually food-related) but on the whole, he granted me considerable, even lavish, freedom of action. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
6. Surf. Imagine this for a moment: guy moves to Maui, lives within sight of the ocean for virtually the entire six years he’s on island, hangs out with a half-dozen surfers and never once paddles a board into the waves. Yes, it’s tragic.
7. Show sufficiently good judgment concerning nasty letters addressed to Campos and Begley. Put simply, I let both writers see too many nasty, personal attacks that offered no actual story critique. In addition, I let too many letters that were at least somewhat professionally critical of both writers appear in publication.
8. Lose heart over the immense, astonishing turn-over in writers I had to deal with as editor. While I have no doubt Maui Time‘s terrible pay rates were at least partially responsible, the island’s ambient transient nature played a big role.
9. Discern who exactly was reading the paper. Young people? Retired liberals? Bar owners? Angry locals? Who knows: through anecdotal evidence culled mostly from letters to the editor, the most popular features were Eh Brah!, Holoholo Girl and LC Watch, in that order. Since we could never afford to carry out proper, scientific market research, we could only guess at who was picking us up each week.
10. Let freelance writers whither on the vine. When I received pitches for local stories (the only stories we published) from writers, I responded as often as possible. This, I’ve sadly found from my failed attempt to build a post-Maui Time freelancing career in Hawaii, is not the case with most local publications, which will simply just ignore any pitches (and phone calls and e-mails) they’re not interested in. That is a horrible, ridiculously unprofessional way to do journalism. I know editors are busy–I was rarely not busy–but it takes 20 seconds for an editor to e-mail a writer saying he or she is not interested.
11. Put a story about cock-fighting (including a blood & guts description of an actual bout written by a reporter who infiltrated a cock-fighting ring) on the cover. From Day One I wanted a snarling, squawking expose of cock-fighting and all its horrors in the paper, and I could never get it. This still pains me.
12. Get any kind of payment at all for Ron Pitts, who each weeks draws a bang-up illustration for Eh Brah! He puts hours and hours each week into those illustrations, for which he receives no actual monetary compensation. That’s real love and dedication, people–the kind papers like Maui Time need to survive.