About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

The number of journalism majors at UH has tripled over the past five years.

When I graduated from Northwestern University in 1999, armed with a master’s degree in journalism, I had no idea how much the internet — and something that hadn’t been imagined yet called social media — would upend the industry I was about to join.

In fact, the internet was just a supplement to the inky newsprint that people were still reading. The New York Times had launched its website three years prior and newspaper circulation in the U.S. was at its peak, according to the Pew Research Center.

In Hawaii, at the time, there were two robust daily newspapers — the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin — sharing a printing press, circulation and distribution teams, a library and even a cafeteria in a historic building on Kapiolani Boulevard.

I was fortunate enough to work at both publications.

Oahu residents also had the Honolulu Weekly, the Downtown Planet (with its great parking map of downtown) and a slew of locally based magazines. Neighbor Islands had their own daily and community papers, too.

This was one of the best times to work in journalism. So much was going on.

The impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton had come to an end.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were dominating pro tennis.

And the third Harry Potter had hit shelves, just in time to distract us from the embarrassment that was “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace.” The attacks of Sept. 11 hadn’t happened yet, and we could still greet our friends at airport gates wearing slippers we never had to take off.

Star Advertiser newspaper for files. 27 may 2016
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser still produces a print edition in spite of changes in the industry. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

But the internet had other plans for print publications — and journalism in general. As websites and social media expanded, newspapers in the U.S. started seeing a steady decline in readership and revenue as people turned to other (and free) sources for information, regardless of their vetting processes. The sluggish economy brought on by the pandemic didn’t help, either.

In 2020, circulation plummeted to around 24 million, about a third of what it was when I left grad school and ad revenue dropped from $50 billion to $9 billion. Employees in the newspaper industry numbered 30,820 workers, less than half of the 74,410 in 2006.

During that time, Hawaii saw the merger of its two daily newspapers — now the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, with a much smaller staff than when the two papers were combined — and the loss of the Honolulu Weekly and other smaller publications.

And that historic building, which once housed both papers, is now office space for a construction company.

I had been teaching college-level journalism during the decline, and I noticed a parallel in academia: Fewer students were interested in traditional journalism, citing the uncertainty of its future and limited job opportunities, especially in the islands.

In 2021, ZipRecruiter released survey results of its most loved and regretted college majors and journalism topped the regret list — and honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised.

But here’s what did surprise me: Interest in journalism, specifically at the University of Hawaii Manoa, is on the rise. Big time.

“So much great news to share about the journalism program at UH right now,” said Brett Oppegaard, a veteran journalist, associate professor and director of the journalism program at UH. “It might be a surprise to people outside of the academy that students do actually want to learn to write and to be dogged reporters. It truly is a case of our students not choosing the easy way through college but engaging in the difficulties of creating high-quality public discourse and turning toward those challenges instead of away from them.”

Inside the UH Manoa campus newspaper Ka Leo O Hawaii newsroom in the dark.  Most students are out until the Aug 21 start of the fall semester.
UH Manoa’s student newspaper Ka Leo O Hawaii still houses new generations of potential journalists. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

In 2017-18, there were 30 journalism majors at UH. Five years later, in 2022-23, there are 89, and Oppegaard predicts that number to only increase.

“I think people mistakenly ruled out journalism as irrelevant and part of the past with the emergence of social media, then they found out, oh wait, we don’t need less journalists, we need a lot more journalists,” he says.

Victoria Budiono, a 20-year-old from Indonesia, declared journalism as her major at UH her freshman year saying she wanted to “better my society.” She graduated this month and starts a paid internship at Civil Beat this summer.

Her career goal is to be an investigative journalist and said “Journalists put themselves in vulnerable positions and basically sacrifice themselves to make a change in our society, from reporters who go into war zones to those covering mass shootings and exposing corruption. That’s all tough work.”

This bump in interest in journalism isn’t unique to Hawaii as other programs across the country are seeing an increase in enrollment, too. Some call it the “Trump Bump.”

“People have been activated in ways I didn’t see before Trump,” Oppegaard says. “There are some people who have come into our program who felt conservatives weren’t getting fair treatment and wanted to learn about the system from the inside. There’s just a lot more interest in just how journalists do their jobs.”

One of UH’s strategies in luring more students was offering broader more relevant elective classes including photojournalism, sports media, magazine writing, podcasting and most recently science journalism.

It has even worked with the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge to co-offer a class on indigenous journalism.

All of these classes fill up, Oppegaard says. Quickly.

“I think students are seeing that something cool is happening with the journalism program at UH Manoa,” he says, “and they want to be part of it.”

By contrast, local community colleges aren’t offering as many journalism classes due to a history of low enrollment. Hopefully that changes, too.

Beyond a boost in enrollment some Hawaii graduates are heading into promising journalism careers.

They’re nabbing coveted paid internships and full-time jobs right out of college and earning recognition for their work. Budiono for example, was the recipient of the $1,500 Carol Burnett Award for Responsible Journalism which recognizes high ethical standards in the field of journalism.

Oppegaard is hopeful that the tide is turning as the public develops a better appreciation for the training and ethical standards journalists are expected to uphold.

“We play that really important role to advocate for democracy,” he says. “The strength of a great community is to have a great journalistic system where people feel informed, people are engaged, and people are mobilized to participate in the democracy.”

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

I think the quality of reporting in on-line venues like Civil Beat has inspired those students to pursue a career in journalism.

palakakanaka · 9 months ago

Thank you Catherine for this very informative piece. Why is journalism so important? Because it teaches you to be objective, patient, how to dot your I's and cross your T's. Independent Journalist work years on projects, sometimes a half dozen at the same time. This cost money, and corporations are unwilling to spend the money required to do investigative work (Why FOX got in a lot of trouble with Dominion) and with the rescinding of the fairness doctrine in 1987 they are not required too. I for one am thankful that people are continuing to pursue this art form. There are still many websites and a few channels that pay for this type of work, that find that its important for people to learn about what's really going on, and like a good scientist lives their lives with a healthy dose of skepticism, objectivity and truth.

TheMotherShip · 9 months ago

Journalism used to present both sides of the story and let the reader decide. Journalism today the writer writes what the reader wants to hear, depending on the publication. Midweek sells its stories, and Star Advertiser slants its stories to what its owners' business interests might be - everything is for sale and profit. Only Civil Beat is a true journalism publication in Hawaii. Everyone should contribute because they are looking to speak the truth to power. Everyone else just wants money.

BigDaddy · 9 months ago

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