Hawaii entered 2013 as a changed state — a state in mourning — and now we leave it, still changing — but with celebration in the air.

The state has just completed its first year in a half-century without the leadership of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. And, after more than two decades of debate, gay marriage finally became legal in early December.

A look back over the last year makes clear that there were plenty of other important issues in Hawaii. Many of them surfaced on a list of our most-read articles of the year.

Many of Civil Beat‘s most popular articles involved deep-dive investigative or watchdog reports that aimed to help us all to better understand this place we call home. Two of Civil Beat’s top 10 stories even earned prestigious News Association Online Journalism Awards, suggesting that they were of national interest. Such stories are not easy to summarize and they don’t have click-bait headlines. But they are stories that matter, as you will see if you click on them below.

Some hot issues didn’t make it on to our most popular stories list, but they still dominated our headlines and drove community discussions on Civil Beat. Debates over GMOs, pesticides, alternative energy and gay marriage were among those that sparked a tremendous amount of community engagement, often in the form of reader contributions to our Community Voices section. Readers’ “voices” were part of a lively debate that in some cases drew levels of readership and engagement that equaled or even surpassed many of our more traditional journalistic offerings.

But without further ado, here are Civil Beat’s most-read stories of 2013:

10. Vivint Dominates Hawaii Solar Market, Sparks Consumer Fears


A photovoltaic solar array generates electricity on a home.

The popularity of Sophie Cocke‘s story on Hawaii solar newcomer Vivint was likely driven by broad interest in Hawaii’s booming solar industry. Other media outlets trumpeted Vivint’s sudden rise in a crowded solar market, thanks to the number of permits the Utah-based company pulled. Sophie, on the other hand, took a careful look at the financial risks that came when customers “leased” a system with the company, as well as how much customer money actually went toward purchasing the system. Turns out, it was zero.

9. Hawaii Teacher: My Descent Into Homelessness


The Facebook page for Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules promoted the column, which was shared widely across its network.

Read this story. It is easy to see why it was read — and shared — so widely. It was a deeply personal account of something that almost anyone can relate to: trying, and failing, to keep up with struggling finances and Hawaii’s notoriously high cost of living.

Ultimately, it propelled a debate about proper teacher compensation that is part of a broader national debate on the issue.

“Fighting those battles may be a long, hard road,” Wooten wrote, “but it can’t be any harder than living in my truck while working in such a difficult profession.”

8. Five O’s Scott Caan Disses Hawaii

Chelsea Lately/YouTube

“Hawaii Five-0” star Scott Caan dishes on Hawaii to late-night talk show host Chelsea Handler in this screen capture of the interview, which is available on the “Chelsea Lately” YouTube channel.

One of the most attention-grabbing debates that raged across Hawaii had little to do with government policy or religion. Instead, it was about whether our food is any good.

“Hawaii Five-0” star Scott Caan caused an uproar when he agreed with late-night comedian Chelsea Handler that the food in Hawaii “sucks.” The response to our blog post, which was just a few lines long, shows how up-in-arms people in Hawaii get when a celebrity disparages the state.

7. Ala Wai Canal Hawaii’s Biggest Mistake

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

A black sewage pipe floats above the controversial Ala Wai Canal.

Sophie’s long-form examination into the Ala Wai Canal won a national award for “Explanatory Reporting,” but her two-month investigation also involved getting seafood tested for contaminants.

The series peered beneath the surface of a waterway once touted as the “Venice of the Pacific” and explained how it morphed into something of a sinkhole for both public waste and millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

(Although I link to the entire project above, the lead article in the series was on our most-read list.)

6. Hawaii State Salaries 2013: More Employees Making More Money


5. Honolulu Salaries 2012: The Full Employee List

Civil Beat Files

The Hawaii State Capitol.

In 2010 Civil Beat first began to ask about public salaries at the city and state levels, which raised some eyebrows. In fact, we got plenty of push back, which led us to detail the city’s reluctance to release such information.

What we’ve learned is this: People like to know how much public employees make, perhaps because they are paid with tax dollars. These data sets have consistently been among our most-read pieces. We have heard many anecdotes of public employees comparing their own salaries to those of their colleagues or bosses. The process can be uncomfortable but government must be transparent and accountable. As we often write to Civil Beat readers, “It’s your money.”

It is also a practice performed by news outlets in other parts of the country, like this searchable database for California employees that was published by the Sacramento Bee.

My former employer at the newspaper of record in Guam, the Pacific Daily News, even does it, publishing salaries of every government employee in an annual print supplement.

4. Live Blog Gay Marriage Session In Hawaii

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Same-sex marriage supporters rally at the state’s Capitol during October’s turbulent special session.

The Legislature spent more than 55 hours debating same-sex marriage during the special session. That sparked Civil Beat readers to collectively spend nearly 100 times that much time — 5,177 hours — on our vibrant live blog.

Out of the 492 comments that were published on the blog, 276 of them came from our readers, filling up 18 pages of discussion and debate. (The rest of the comments were provided by Civil Beat reporters and editors.) One remarkable thing about the live blog was that I barely had to moderate it. I deleted just one comment — one reader insulted another reader and I didn’t want the discussion to devolve.

It never did, and I eventually lifted all moderation from the blog and let you all go at it. When I said this was our live blog, I meant it.

3. Hawaii Police Union President Says He Wouldn’t Enforce Gay Marriage Law

New Hope/YouTube

Police union leader Tenari Maafala speaks at a New Hope gathering in this screen capture from the church’s YouTube channel.

“Hmm, that’s interesting,” pointed out reporter Nathan Eagle. I remember Nathan’s understatement just before he typed up what would prove to be our most popular blog post of the year.

The widely shared account spread into local media who were drawn to police union leader Tenari Maafala’s comments about same-sex marriage. The police union leader clarified, even during his testimony to the Legislature, that his statement referred to his post-retirement life. But it called into question his judgment as a law enforcement officer and infuriated same-sex marriage proponents.

2. Hawaii State Salaries 2012: University Of Hawaii

Civil Beat Files

Salaries at the University of Hawaii really interested our readers. Here’s the football team’s logo at Aloha Stadium.

I already wrote that people like reading about other people’s salaries, right? This one was posted in ancient digital times, back in Nov. 22, 2011, but it continues to be a top story for us.

1. In the Name of the Law – What the Public Isn’t Being Told About Police Misconduct

“The series really illuminated a longstanding problem in Hawaii, and that’s the lack of transparency surrounding police misconduct,” said reporter Nick Grube. “These are the same people we entrust to protect our lives and they have extraordinary powers to do so. Yet if one of them gets in trouble, or abuses that power, we have no way of knowing.”

That was a core idea behind the series.

The police misconduct series also won an Online News Association award, this time the Gannett Foundation Award for Innovative Investigative Journalism. It’s one of the big prizes at the ONA. Civil Beat won the “small” publication award. (The “large” publication award winner was The Guardian’s ground-breaking report on Edward Snowden’s NSA files.)

As a result of the misconduct series, the Civil Beat Law Center was created. Despite its namesake, it is a legal resource for all local media, non-profit organizations and the public when they seek access to what is supposed to be public information from the government.

“We’re continuing to report on this issue and we have gained some traction, both in the Legislature and now in courts,” Grube said, in reference to a lawsuit Civil Beat and the law center filed against the Honolulu Police Department and the city, and to proposed legislative action in the upcoming session.

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