“Your editor is really harsh,” a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser told one of our reporter-hosts this week.

The conversation occurred the day Civil Beat published an article I had written with the headline Numbers Don’t Add Up at New Star-Advertiser . It criticized the first three week’s of Sunday front-page stories in the paper, two by that very reporter.

“Honey, it’s nothing we don’t deal with every day,” our reporter-host responded.

I laughed when she told me the story. I was proud that one of our reporter-hosts had come to appreciate what you might call my critical approach to editing. I talk to our staff about our work the same way I talk to you about the Star-Advertiser and what it means to be a one-newspaper town. Honestly, although I hope not harshly. Maybe directly, and to-the-point.

Just as asking probing questions is fundamental to a reporter’s job, so is it at the core of an editor’s job. As an editor, you should anticipate the questions an intelligent reader would ask and make sure they’re answered in a story. One of the problems when a city only has one newspaper is that without competition the journalists at the surviving publication don’t have a mirror by which to judge themselves. Our questions and criticism — yours and mine — can help them to that. We can be their mirror.

I know that your questions and criticism help me at Civil Beat. Just this week, after I wrote the article that had drawn the attention of the Star-Advertiser reporter, I received helpful criticism from Dave Briscoe, the former Honolulu bureau chief for the Associated Press. He raised similar questions to the ones I had about the Star-Advertiser, only this time they were about our stories on the Honolulu city budget. I appreciate him taking the time to critique our work. It will make us better.

When I was a newspaper journalist, I was fortunate to work in three cities with competing dailies. I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and be anxious about what the other paper may have reported that we might have missed. I know what it’s like to be writing a story, knowing that somebody from the other paper is doing the very same thing. Competition is one of the things that drove me to make the extra phone call, to ask the extra question, to work extra hard crafting my story.

When the other paper landed on my doorstep in the morning, I would scan its pages and evaluate its decisions to learn what I might have done differently, what I might have done better.

One of my concerns about what it means now for Honolulu to be a one-newspaper town is that as much as the good people in the Star-Advertiser’s newsroom might aspire to greatness, there’s no bar by which they can measure themselves.

We’ve heard the owner and publisher talk about the kind of journalism that the paper is committed to doing. Their words are lofty. But there’s always a gap between our goals and reality. I know that very well from being at a start-up, where on July 4th we’ll mark two months of publishing.

What will be worth watching in Honolulu’s new newspaper is its Views and Voices section. It’s important that the paper publish criticism of its editorial page positions and of its reporting in its Letters to the Editor and in op-eds. So far, there are too many wire columns that you can read anywhere and not enough direct challenging of the newspaper and its views.

We’ll only understand ourselves better as a community by having an open and honest conversation about what’s going on here, and that includes at the city’s only newspaper.

I’ll talk about this further at a Beatup at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in our offices. If you’d like to join the conversation, please RSVP to beatup@civilbeat.com.

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