History

HawaiiStar.com is a local news service that may very well have nine lives.

It traces its roots to the early 1990s, when a staffer in the University of Hawaii’s Information Technology Systems (ITS) office assembled a daily news summary and published it via the GOPHER information network. While technically available worldwide, access was primarily by librarians and university faculty. Users would have to use clunky terminals to navigate through “gopherspace” to the UH system, where they’d find the summaries listed alongside assorted library catalogues and system bulletins.

In early 1994, through recommendations by regular inhabitants of the alt.culture.hawaii USENET newsgroup, an ITS manager approached me to take over writing the news summaries, as their longtime volunteer was relocating to the mainland. At the time I was very active in the local newsgroups (assembling the first and only FAQ for alt.culture.hawaii), and had been writing for the student paper at both the UH-Manoa and UH-Hilo campuses. Already smitten with the ways the Internet could build communities and spread knowledge, I was happy to give it a try.

At first, I continued to post the summaries to the GOPHER server, enjoying the feedback of a relatively small but devoted group of readers. Over the next several months, however, several people had asked if I could e-mail it to them, which I began doing separately. I had also started posting the summaries to USENET. As the e-mail group became larger, I worked with ITS to set up a mailing list using the university’s listproc system.

Thus, on June 15, 1995, the “Hawaii NewsList” was born. By then, I had returned to the Manoa campus from the Big Island to serve as editor of Ka Leo, and the news summaries — by then featuring the official publication title Ka `Upena Kukui (“The Net of Light”) — had a readership of several thousand.

The mailing list offered a great opportunity to distribute more than general news summaries, however, and through the generous efforts of several like-minded writers and geeks, the “Hawaii NewsList” added several regular features to its line-up. They included, at various times:

  • Maui news summaries by Sharon Westfall
  • Lahaina news summaries by Ursula Keuper-Bennett and David Lumpkins
  • Molokai news summaries by George Peabody
  • Economic and Big Island news summaries by K.T. Cannon-Eger
  • Sports news summaries by Dayle K. Turner
  • Music news and reviews by Susan Jaworowski
  • Small business news from Small Business Hawaii
  • Hawaii radio and television news by Melvin AhChing
  • “Volcano Watch” from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory
  • Song charts from Radio Free Hawaii
  • Pidgin stories by Nathan Yuen
  • Hawaii news and commentary by Louise Kubo

In fact, the “Hawaii NewsList” became a true multimedia enterprise soon after its birth thanks to Internet Radio Hawaii, an online radio station by renown broadcaster Robert Abbett that ran for over a decade. Abbett would read selections of “Hawaii NewsList” reports between blocks of Hawaiian music.

This volunteer-driven, grass-roots online news service had built an enormous audience. It was only natural for it to make the jump to the World Wide Web. At first, Abbett donated his time and server space to maintain a public archive of “Hawaii NewsList” features at Hawaii’s H4 (and the archives, starting in 1995, are still available today). Then, in March 1996, as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin‘s website finally came online, I also started posting the news summaries on the web on my personal website (hosted by Hawaii OnLine). That was to be its official home for the next two years.

After 1997, the “Hawaii NewsList” and “Ka `Upena Kukui” underwent several name changes and upgrades, operating briefly as “LeahiNet News,” and then, “Islenews.com.” By that time, nearly every other traditional media outlet had a web presence, and indeed other online-only news enterprises were attempted. Competition increased, readership subsided, contributors moved on, and as I turned my focus to finally completing my Journalism degree and supporting my new family, updates became few and far between.

I sent out updates when I could, and — out of school and working a regular job in downtown Honolulu — I never lost my obsession with the news business, and media issues as a whole. A message sent to my old university e-mail account in 2002 referenced the “Hawaii NewsList” and urged, simply, “Hana hou!”

So in January 2003, I gave online news another go with HawaiiNews.com. It represented a broader, more flexible approach to the original “Hawaii NewsList” mission. Though I periodically reported on major stories and continued to distribute regular features (including “Volcano Watch” and CrimeStoppers bulletins), I used the site to publish press releases and public announcements (with an eye toward highlighting community programs, arts, education, and charity efforts as a public service). Focus was as much on timeliness as on depth (reflected in part through the site’s “weblog” architecture).

The end of 2010 brought yet another name change, and the launch of HawaiiStar.com. My vision is still to create a more robust independent news outlet, a local publishing venue for original reporting and commentary. And I invite anyone to contribute whatever they can to help make it happen.

— Ryan Kawailani Ozawa