- Special Projects
Chad Blair: Aloha, everybody, and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad. Chad Blair for Honolulu Civil Beat, and today is a special day because we now have a new most popular story of all time, is that right guys.
Anthony Quintano: On civilbeat.com.
Blair: That’s Anthony Quintano, our social media editor, and if anybody would know about this, he is the one. And if you’re all wondering, well what is this story, let me tell you what the old story was. The old story, the former No. 1 story was, “Why Do So Many People in Hawaii Do Their Parking Backwards?” Marina Riker wrote that last year. It boggled my mind as to why it was the most popular, but in fact, people really want to know why, and I won’t tell you why, you’ll have to go back and read the story again.
But we now have a new No. 1, and that new number one is called, “Living Hawaii: Can You Afford to be a Teacher In the Islands?” Joining me to talk about the story is not only Anthony Quintano, but Eric Pape, one of our editors, hello Eric …
Eric Pape: Hello, Chad.
Blair: And Jessica Terrell, the reporter joining Eric on the assignment.
Jessica Terrell: Yup, how you doin’.
Blair: Alright guys, why was this story so popular? First of all, let’s get a grasp of the numbers. Just how many people have seen this story, Anthony?
Quintano: I can only really account for our audience, but just to give you an idea, we’ve had over 100,000 unique views on this story. Our most popular story previously was roughly around 65, 000 unique views visitors on civilbeat.com.
Blair: And this is still going strong. As we record this on a Thursday, and this podcast won’t run until next week on a Monday, those numbers could even go higher is that right?
Quintano: Yeah. What’s strange about this situation — not strange, it’s actually positive for us — but normally what happens is you tend to have this really big spikes in traffic, and then they fall off usually after a day or two. This one is now going on two weeks and has maintained a steady level of traffic each day of regular readers.
Pape: It’s worth nothing this story actually came out in February. This is a story that came out and it had a good amount of appeal. It’s a story about teachers and what they go through, and how basically the financial equation of their lives here in public schools often doesn’t work out. So, that resonated a good amount, as many of these kinds of stories do, but then it sort of faded away as stories do, and then it came back and then we’ve had this two weeks.
Quintano: And what I’m going to do is touch on why it came back, because that we do know why it happened.
Blair: Before we get to that, because that’s a good thing to lead up to, Jess I wanted to just touch base with you. You’re our education reporter and you co-authored this with Eric. Are you astounded by the popularity of this story?
Terrell: Well. it’s been a little surprising to see it come back, but I think we realized that it was really going to resonate with people beyond just teachers who’ve been saying they’ve been underpaid for a while. We see so many people reaching out to us afterwards to say, ‘hey can you look at my job too, we’re all in the same really awful boat,’ that’s one thing we’ve seen coming out of it.
Pape: One thing that we should clarify is, one of the reasons that we decided to look at teachers other than the fact that we knew that about 55 percent of teachers leave their job, leave their profession or leave the island every five years…
Blair: That’s specific to Hawaii?
Pape: That’s specific to Hawaii, those are striking numbers to me anyway.
But, in addition to that, and knowing that there’s often a teacher shortage – we didn’t know how bad the teacher shortage know was at the time – but teachers are sort of representative of that old fashion middle class job. So, if teachers are struggling, it means a whole bunch of other people are, we know that to be true. We wanted to tell these human stories that get at that. It’s not to say, pity the poor teachers, it’s pity more than half the population of the island that struggle in very similar ways, even if the different parts of their financial equation are different.
Blair: Let’s be clear here Jess, you cover education for us as well as other things, but this is your particular area of expertise, give us a sense of what the rough salary range is for a public school teacher K-12 in Hawaii, I believe it’s in the mid $30,000 or so to start, is that right?
Terrell: Mid $30,000 would be for someone who is unlicensed, or like Teach for America, maybe mid $30,000 to start. In the article we have mid $50,000 would be about average after a while. You can get all the way up to $80,000, but that’s for someone who’s been teaching for a really long time, has a master’s degree and very very senior in the school system.
Blair: These are educated people, people who have a passion for a difficult profession, being paid fairly decent as they go along in their years, but they’re not able to hack it here.
Pape: Some people read the story and they look at the numbers, and everything is relative right? If you make less money, something sounds like a lot, if you make more money you say, how can people get by with that. Something that stands out though in the interview with teachers is that they had enormous debts to become teachers. The ones who have a masters degree so they would get the higher salaries, if you look at home much they owed, you’re talking about in many cases 20 years of work before you’ve paid off the cost of the debt that got you the raise. So the actual raw amounts can be a little tricky, it’s not exactly what it appears to be. Some people who appear to make more actually owe a lot more.
Blair: And of course Eric, as you’ve chronicled in your Living Hawaii series, everything under the sun cost more here than it does here than on the mainland.
Pape: Yes, just about everything except maybe parking. If you compare Honolulu to other big urban cities, this is just anecdotal, I think it’s a little less here than a lot of them.
But yes, it’s very clear, Honolulu is one of the most expensive cities in America, Hawaii is the most expensive state in America, we’ve documented how that trickles into people’s lives or washes through their lives in the form of rent, in the form of car costs, in the form of electricity, we have by far the most expensive electricity in the country.
Blair: Groceries a part of that as well…
Pape: We have the most expensive food, our bread is apparently the most expensive in the world. There is a wide array of costs, and it’s very very hard to get around them. This effects teachers and it effects anyone else who has incomes and after-tax incomes and debt-incomes that are in the range of teachers.
Anthony bring us up to speed here, the story comes out in February, gets some interest, and than goes down to wherever it goes when stories aren’t read anymore, and then here it is two months later and it’s been at the number one position for almost two weeks. What do you think is going on here?
Quintano: Guys correct me if I’m wrong, but the Associated Press (AP) put out a story two weeks ago saying that the Hawaii Department of Education was recruiting from the mainland willing to pay $50,000 to get you to come teach here in Hawaii.
Blair: Associated Press, what do you say Jess?
Terrell: Yeah, this was interesting because Hawaii’s had a teacher shortage for quite a while, it’s not something new, they’ve recruited from the mainland in the past, but something’s pop up and they become viral and it started getting sold in news headlines across the country as, come live in Hawaii, come live in paradise, we’ll pay a ton of money, it’s a great job, who wouldn’t want to come and do it.
And of course the response from a lot of teachers who are here is, that’s not quite the reality, it’s a lot of hard work, we’re not surfing all the time and we’re broke.
Pape: For people who don’t know, AP stories get picked up, get new headlines on them, and they get republished in countless publications. Online there have been a million different headlines, many of which kind of went viral saying, Hawaii Department of Education wants to give you $50,000 a year to come teach in paradise. If you’re teaching in many parts of the country that are a lot less expensive, $50,000 by itself sounds like it’s a lot of money.
Blair: I would imagine this helped, our headline had the words; Hawaii, teacher, islands, afford – search engine optimization right?
Quintano: You had these publishers go out, the interesting thing was, our story was not linked in that story, typically that’s what causes smaller publications to visibility. What we saw in this situation, we weren’t getting traffic from Google News, which is usually the case when something goes viral from the web, we were seeing traffic from Facebook, but our Facebook page wasn’t showing any bumps in traffic or anything like that. I was curious to figure out where it was coming from. After I did some digging, I noticed that people were sharing Jessica and Eric’s article in the comments of those AP stories that were published saying, wait a second, think twice before you pack your bags and take a teaching job in Hawaii, read this story first.
Blair: So a counter to what AP was saying, Jess is that your interpretation?
Terrell: Yeah, and I’ve seen on Facebook as well that some people have posted on friend’s profiles, “hey you might be interested in this, you should go to Hawaii,” and then gone back and posted our story and said, “wait a second, read this first,” or, “just kidding, nevermind.” I don’t think our intention is in anyway to discourage people from coming teach in Hawaii, but certainly the reality check for a lot of people is that it’s not always as sunny is you might hope that it is.
Pape: And to be fair to AP’s reporting, I don’t think AP was saying, hey come teach in paradise, everything is great, you’re going to sip mai tais on the beach, you’re going to relax with your feet in the sand all the time…
Blair: Which is what we at Civil Beat do all the time, we’re on the beaching, having a mai tia, recording this podcast…don’t tell the editors.
Pape: It’s not necessarily what AP reported, it’s what people have in their minds, it’s the cliché about Hawaii. People come here to visit for a few days or a week or two weeks, they know it’s an expensive trip, they save all year and they get to splurge when they’re here and they think, god it would be so great to stay and live here, but they’re not really thinking through in a practical way. The AP story, I also don’t think goes through it in a practical way, but I don’t blame them for puffing it up and making it into this different thing. I think it’s just in people’s minds, and our story just happens to be the counter point, hey welcome back to reality. Like George Clooney said in the movie “The Descendants,” we face the same challenges people do elsewhere in the world, we have hardships, we get stuck in traffic, our relatives get sick.”
We face all of these different things in that little monologue that opens the movie. I think this article kind of does that for people who are thinking, oh wouldn’t it be great to go teach there because it’s inherently great because it’s in Hawaii.
Blair: Well I’m going to shed some tears for Punahou graduates like George Clooney as he is in “The Descendants.”
Alright a final word here, what do we want to leave for our listeners today. Anthony, words of wisdom for us?
Quintano: When you see a story that sounds too good to be true on social media, either google the topic or look in the comments to see other people’s ideas and suggestions, you may see a counter to that argument.
Terrell: I guess I’m going to echo some of the teachers here in that, as an education reporter, I want lots of really qualified great to people to come and teach in Hawaii. Teaching in paradise might still be for you, but certainly do some research and know what you’re getting yourself into.
Blair: And when you do come out, be sure to send a lot of tips to Jessica so we can report more great stories like this one.
Terrell: Please do!
Blair: Final word to Mr. Pape.
Pape: I think that in the context of our Living Hawaii series, which is about the high cost of living in Hawaii and the reasons for it, something that’s really become clear to me is that a lot of people who come here and who move here just aren’t aware of the challenges, and it can take them to a really difficult space, and it can create a lot of different pressures in society. Even people who are from here and have lived here their whole lives don’t always realize how difficult some things have gotten because day to day things get more and more challenging on the cost front, but one day they suddenly feel like their suffocating, that is a good percentage of the population. I think that that’s something that is a bit of a crisis, and it would be great if different policy makers focused on that more and give it the full weight that it deserves.
Blair: Well thank you Eric Pape one of our editors here, Jessica Terrell (reporter) and Anthony Quintano our social media guru. Thanks for joining me to talk about this amazing story and the great traffic for Civil Beat.
Visit us at civilbeat.com, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. As always, Chad Blair for Honolulu Civil Beat and the Pod Squad, take care and aloha.