Practically since Civil Beat launched in 2010, people have been asking us to do more coverage on, about and for the neighbor islands.

It’s taken us a bit more than a decade, but we are finally there. As of this month we now have full-time Civil Beat staff reporters based on Maui, the Big Island and Kauai. We are actively fundraising to grow those neighbor island bureaus as quickly as possible.

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The team will concentrate on Maui to start, where a generous grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation has already been fueling more coverage centered on the island. We’ve been doing this mainly with Oahu-based staff, and our writers in the main newsroom will still include Maui and the neighbor islands in stories that affect everyone throughout the state.

But we think it’s important to bring more firepower directly to the rural areas and their particular circumstances, especially as local media throughout the state is cutting back. In the last few years, local papers on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island have reduced the size of their newsrooms as the pandemic took an economic toll. Even on Oahu, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser — which owns the papers on the Big Island and Kauai — has laid off numerous journalists as it struggles to survive.

The Maui News in particular has also undergone several rounds of layoffs. During the pandemic, its staff of 12 agreed to rotating furloughs, while management eliminated its Sunday edition and cut sections from its Saturday paper. In March, the County of Maui purchased the Maui News Building, forcing newsroom employees to move into smaller quarters while its Utah-based parent company pocketed the proceeds from the sale. There was even a proposal to outsource reporting and copy-editing services to the mainland.

The Molokai Dispatch has been worried about a loss of advertising during the pandemic and its effect on revenue and operations. It’s cut the number of papers it distributes as well as the number of pages it prints in order to reduce costs.

On Lanai, the island’s only newspaper was recently sold to Pulama Lanai, the management company that oversees billionaire tech mogul Larry Ellison’s 98% ownership stake of the island. The ownership change is raising questions about the independence of the lone newspaper that covers the Lanai community, where much of life is already dominated by Ellison’s influence.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation has invited the community to a town hall meeting regarding the proposal to construct improvements to Honoapiilani Highway between Launiupoko and Ukumehame that would address the roadway’s vulnerability to coastal hazards and sea level rise.
Our neighbor island reporters will bring a mix of daily news coverage, mid-level enterprise and occasional deep-dive reporting projects grounded in the communities they’ll be working in.  Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

Our goal is to supplement the daily news coverage being done by the Maui News and other small island news operations, not replace them. We’re big fans of getting as much news and information out as possible — the kinds of stories people can use to make informed decisions about their communities and their leaders.

Our neighbor island reporters will bring a mix of daily news coverage, mid-level enterprise and occasional deep-dive reporting projects grounded in the communities they’ll be working in. We envision a primary focus on local government and politics, social issues and the disadvantaged, environment, climate change and the economy. Much of the geography of the neighbor islands is rural, with remote areas that suffer from common issues like lack of broadband and internet service and spotty access to health care and other important services. Meanwhile, limited facilities and services are being overwhelmed by tourists who are flocking to the islands as the pandemic fades.

Innovative engagement will also be a key part of our strategy to connect with new readers on islands that have geographically isolated population centers and to help deepen their understanding of the issues that matter.

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In addition to our solid website presence, reporters on these islands will work with our multimedia and social media teams to reach people through visual and audio news stories with an eye toward bolstering both reader and civic engagement. In the same vein, our journalists will host and participate in discussion panels, listening sessions, solutions workshops and live issue-oriented events. 

These are the kind of things we’ve been moving toward for awhile. Many neighbor island folks have already been joining in our livestreamed panels and discussion sessions, especially as the pandemic forced us to move our live events online. Now that virus infection levels are declining, we are cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to get back out into the community and hold some hybrid live-online events on a regular basis.

For now, we’re working toward making Civil Beat the main source of essential news and information for each island and deliver it through a variety of platforms (website, newsletters, social media, podcasts, live events and community outreach).

Meet The Team

To get us started we’ve made a couple of new hires and restructured our existing staff a bit.

Marina Riker
Marina Riker 

Marina Starleaf Riker moved home to Maui earlier this month to anchor our on-island coverage there. Marina grew up in Haiku and studied journalism at the University of Hawaii. She was one of our interns and had a big hand in our project that looked at tourist deaths in Hawaii, “Dying For Vacation,” a series that won national awards and to some extent prompted state officials to put in place modest reforms to try to keep visitors safe.

Marina left us for a newspaper career on the mainland, most recently at the San Antonio Express-News in Texas where she was a member of the investigations team. Combining her lifelong understanding of Maui with investigative and deep reporting skills will be an advantage for Maui readers.

Paula Dobbyn 

Veteran journalist Paula Dobbyn also joined the team earlier this month. She is settling in on the Big Island where she lived and worked previously, including a short stint at the respected environmental newsletter, Environment Hawaii.

Paula has a long career in journalism that has taken her all over the world. She comes to us from Alaska where she has worked since 1994, primarily at the Anchorage Daily News. Paula won numerous awards for her work which covered a wide range of stories involving Alaska’s contentious commercial fishing industry, clear-cut logging of the region’s coastal temperate rainforest, battles over the regulation of foreign flagged cruise ships and an ever-burgeoning tourism industry, and the complex and often opaque operations of Alaska’s congressionally created Native corporations.

Brittany Lyte 

Brittany Lyte has been a staff reporter for Civil Beat since 2018, and before she joined the newsroom she was a freelancer on Kauai where she’d lived for a number of years. She’s now moved back to Kauai full time and continues to play a big role in our statewide social issues coverage as well as focusing more on Maui and Kauai.

Longtime Civil Beat reporter and editor Nathan Eagle will be overseeing our neighbor island coverage. Prior to joining our startup back in 2012, Nathan was the managing editor of The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai for a number of years. He is especially interested in politics and local government, having covered the Legislature for a number of years. And he’s also covered the environment and climate change, including as the lead reporter on our yearlong “Hawaii 2040” project that examined climate change in the islands, and more recently the series “On The Hook” that took a deep look at the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Keep an eye out for freelance photographer Ludwig Laab, too. A veteran news photographer, he’s been shooting a lot for us in recent months.

Our Path Forward

As a nonprofit newsroom, Civil Beat has never depended on advertising, relying instead on contributions of individual donors and local foundations. Pierre Omidyar remains our biggest contributor, but we now rely on more than 7,300 individual grassroots donors, as well as over 40 local and national foundations to fund our local newsroom. The diversity of funding sources allows our reporting to remain an independent voice and serve as a watchdog for the public.

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Since 2010, we have evolved our business model to reflect not only our particular place in Hawaii’s media landscape, but also who we are and what kind of community partner we need to be.

We’ve grown to be more than just a news operation that publishes stories and walks away, take it or leave it. More than anything, we see ourselves as a gathering place for the community — a place to hear stories as well as share them, a place where you can learn about events and issues not only from our journalists but from others in the community as well.

We see this expansion as an opportunity to do more of what we do best — deep enterprise, investigative and watchdog journalism on topics no one else is covering — in areas of the state that are underserved by meaningful reporting. 

Maui County has a population of roughly 160,000, Hawaii County is home to nearly 200,000 residents, Kauai has another 70,000 people; that’s nearly half a million people that we think could benefit from a news operation that views local issues as part of a bigger statewide ecosystem and tries to bring people together around a common understanding.

Sign up for our new Maui County newsletter, launching later this week.

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