Christina Jedra got a surprise introduction to her new beat when she arrived for her first assignment at a Honolulu City Council meeting earlier this week. The meeting opened, as usual, with a short performance by the Royal Hawaiian Band — the nation’s only full-time municipal band.
“That was unique,” Christina said.
Civil Beat’s new local government reporter is taking on an ambitious reporting agenda, aiming to provide readers with in-depth reporting on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration, the City Council and the operations of city government. But her beat will extend far beyond Honolulu Hale, as she covers the impact of government’s reach in communities ranging from Laie to Nanakuli to Waikiki.
She’ll provide fresh scrutiny on some enormous, looming issues that are shaping Oahu’s future. The council is wrestling with how to regulate and restrict Airbnbs and other vacation rentals, while Caldwell is searching for new taxes and fees to pay for the Honolulu rail project. Christina will also be Civil Beat’s point person on the 2020 mayoral and City Council elections.
“I really enjoy telling readers something new about how their government works and spends their tax dollars. Some questions I ask are: What’s working, and what isn’t? Are tax dollars being wasted? Are there conflicts of interest? Who is getting special treatment, and who is being treated inequitably? If there is a problem, what are some potential solutions?” she said.
She’s also interested in learning more about homelessness in Hawaii, the balance of interests between the tourism industry and residents, and environmental issues that threaten the way of life here.
Christina comes to Honolulu from the Wilmington News Journal in Delaware, where she was the City Hall reporter for two years before being promoted to investigative reporter, a position she held for about a year. Before that, she worked at the Boston Globe while a student at nearby Emerson College, interned at the Baltimore Sun, and worked at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. You can read her bio here.
In Wilmington, Christina developed a reputation as a dogged watchdog reporter with a talent for pursuing public documents that can really unlock a story.
Becoming an investigative reporter wasn’t something Christina thought much about when she started at the newspaper in Wilmington. She thought of herself mostly as a writer, she said, until “I started uncovering things that people didn’t know.”
In her first big investigation, she discovered while digging through public records that a lot of the dollars in a Wilmington City Council discretionary fund were going to a nonprofit founded by the council president. He used the fund to pay another one of his organizations $40,000 when he left the council, half of which was budgeted for his own salary.
“My goal as a reporter is to empower citizens with the information they need to demand the best from their representatives,” Christina said.
Journalism would have seemed an unimaginable calling for Christina while she was growing up in New Jersey. “I was really shy, the kid that hid behind my mom’s legs and was afraid of talking with strangers,” she said. “Now the little girl who was afraid of talking with anybody talks with strangers for a living.”
While Christina has spent her early journalism career on the East Coast, she does have some experience and ties in Hawaii. Her boyfriend grew up in Kaneohe and attended Punahou, and through him and his family she’s gained a solid foundation of local knowledge.
During her first few days of reporting for Civil Beat, she immediately noticed a similarity between Hawaii and Delaware, a small state 5,000 miles away.
“In both places, everyone knows everybody, everybody is related,” she said. “In Delaware, buildings are named after people whose children and grandchildren are still active in politics and public life. It seems to be the same way here.”
If you have any story tips or ideas for Christina, thoughts on her coverage or just want to introduce yourself, please drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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