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Nick Grube moved to Honolulu in 2012 to be our city government reporter. He quickly took up surfing and if you had to track him down on a weekend he’d most likely be on the North Shore with a large and always growing group of friends.
“I love Hawaii more every day,” he frequently said.
So it wasn’t an easy decision for Nick when we asked him to leave his beach towel and slippers behind and start covering the federal government from the nation’s capital, where the surfing is nonexistent.
“It was a very difficult decision to make,” Nick told me this weekend as his bed was finally about to arrive. No more air mattress on the floor, although the rest of his stuff is still a couple weeks out.
Part of the initial reluctance was that he is also leaving behind, for the most part, his coverage of police accountability and reform, an area he has been deeply involved in since our major investigative series, “In The Name Of The Law,” that in 2013 documented the secrecy that surrounds police disciplinary actions in Hawaii.
Since then he has written hundreds of stories about police practices and law enforcement politics, including the corruption and conspiracy case against former chief Louis Kealoha, his deputy prosecutor wife and five other cops who also have been indicted and charged by the federal Justice Department. He’ll keep his hand in this as much as he can, but we’re currently reviewing applicants to fill the criminal justice/legal affairs job.
Nick has done too many things here in the islands to mention them all, but I need to applaud one in particular. He has been a major force behind Civil Beat’s efforts to hold government accountable. He filed numerous public records requests and is the lead reporter in at least three lawsuits we have going against the city and state regarding their refusal to turn over records that in most states would be unquestionably public.
Nick is taking over for Kirstin Downey, who is moving back to Hawaii full-time and will still contribute to Civil Beat on a freelance basis.
We think it’s important for us to maintain a full-time presence in Washington. When we announced Kirstin’s position in December 2016, Donald Trump had just been elected president and we really wanted to watch over how that would affect Hawaii.
Civil Beat is the only Hawaii news organization with a full-time D.C. bureau, and considering the billions of federal dollars a year that flow to our state, our outsized military presence and the sheer difficulty residents have in getting to the nation’s capital, it seems critical to have an independent watchdog news organization focusing on Hawaii’s interests there.
“As a journalist, it’s hard to ignore what’s happening in the White House,” Nick says. “Donald Trump is an extraordinary president for any number of reasons and D.C. is the center of the journalism universe. So it’s hard to say no when you have the opportunity to come to Washington.”
Nick has already had plenty of experience covering the federal government, federal officials and our congressional delegation. In 2012, he and Chad Blair were the first to report that former U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye was actually in the hospital and on his death bed even though Inouye’s office was reassuring the public that everything was fine. Nick picked up the phone and called the hospitals until he found the 88-year-old senator — in the intensive care unit.
It’s that kind of questioning mind and journalistic fearlessness (no one else dared to challenge the senator’s staff) that Nick will bring to Washington. He is particularly interested in following the money and helping readers understand how it gets here, including political deals that are being made.
Nick is still reachable at his Civil Beat email address and his Hawaii cell phone. Please don’t be shy about sending story ideas his way.
Meanwhile, Nick’s desk in the newsroom has already been filled by Brittany Lyte, who had been a freelance columnist for us on Kauai. In the past year or so that she’s been reporting for us, Brittany has covered myriad issues on The Garden Island, including most recently the controversy over the Coco Palms resort and a developer’s efforts to reopen the iconic property.
Born in upstate New York, Brittany graduated from Boston University and went to work for East Coast publications. She spent many years with Hearst Newspapers in Connecticut before moving to the north shore of Kauai in 2011.
Why give up a comfy lifestyle on lush and laid-back Kauai?
“You guys do really good watchdog reporting and I wanted to be part of that,” Brittany says, adding that she wants to become invested in covering big issues that affect Hawaii in a longer-term way “that gets at the heart of them.”
Brittany’s interest is in using her excellent storytelling ability to bring to life issues like mental health and public health. She’ll also serve as a general assignment reporter for us for the time being.
One other new face: Beginning Monday we have a new full-time reporting fellow, Bianca Smallwood.
You may remember that Bianca worked for us for a semester as an intern in 2016. She’s also worked for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has freelanced for Hawaii Business magazine. She graduated from the University of Hawaii journalism program in May.
Bianca was born and raised in Waianae and as part of our “urban immersion” program for interns and fellows, she’ll be concentrating her reporting on West Oahu, most likely stretching from Ewa Beach through Kapolei and on up through the Waianae coast communities.
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