Hawai‘i Herald newspaper will re-launch as San Times online news site

The Hawai‘i Herald stopped its printing presses in December, but it wasn’t the final chapter for the newspaper founded in 1980. But by early May, the spirit of the Herald will switch back on, providing community news and information for the Aloha state’s Japanese American community, albeit in a new form and with a new name.

The San Times will be an online publication, focused on covering the islands of Hawai‘i with a new look but some familiar names from its previous incarnation.

Mark Nakakihara of the Los Angeles-based Zentoku Foundation, which is backing the resurrection, says the San Times will launch with veterans of the Herald, including two editors, Kristen Nemoto Jay and Jody Ching, as well as staff writer Summer Nakanishi.

“So we asked the past staff that are going to be on our team, ‘OK, if you had to start something from scratch … what would you want?’”

The Honolulu-based journalists, who had juggled both the editorial and business aspects of the Herald but now can concentrate on telling the many untold stories for their community, worked with Nakakihara and Zentoku’s tech and design team to come up with a site format they think will appeal to three generations of audiences — hence the name San Times.

The online publication will start with a slow load of stories, since all three staff now have full-time jobs outside of this project, but Nakakihara says they plan to post regular “editions.”

“They used to publish twice a month, so they were very what we would call deadline oriented, right. (They were) just trying to get stuff, just trying to put stuff together,” Nakakihara says. “And so we’ve kind of taken a different approach. We want to make it so that it’s equal representation through all the islands, not just O‘ahu. We want to get some feedback from Kaua‘i, the Big Island and Maui. And so we just felt that there wouldn’t be enough time or resources to kind of put that together every two weeks, right?”

Readers can expect a slower pace, especially at the start.

There will be no advertising on the site, because it’s under the auspices of the Zentoku Foundation, but will solicit donations — an increasingly popular model for independent news operations including public broadcasting outlets like NPR. The San Times will eventually become independent of Zentoku, as a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Nakakihara had said in an earlier interview that the name of the publication would change with its evolution. The team settled on San Times because he said the “three” kept coming up in the planning, including the three veteran staffers and the vision of serving three generations of their audience. He acknowledges the middle generation, whether Sansei or Yonsei, would need to help their elders with the tech-enabled digital content, while getting the next generation excited about connecting to their community via the site.

But, he adds, San Times has another “three” in mind for possible future application. “It’s more for three generations,” he says. “We are starting with three editors or three writers in Hawai‘i. But it was made for eventually three states because it would be Hawai‘i, Washington and California.”

He notes the struggles that Japanese American community media have gone through. Zentoku started in 2017 as the result of consulting work Nakakihara did for the Rafu Shimpo when the historic LA newspaper announced in 2016 that it would have to shut down. Nakakihara worked with the Rafu’s owners, the Komai family and Ellen Endo, a former editor, to restructure the operation. It’s once again in precarious financial shape, and so is the North American Post in Seattle, which has been running without an editor since late last year.

If these other two publications face a situation that might call for shutting down like the Hawai‘i Herald did, Nakakihara notes the infrastructure and editorial process are in place to help their operations continue, as tabs on the San Times Website. They would be in effect, three separate news bureaus covering communities in Hawai‘i, Los Angeles and Seattle.

But, he emphasizes, he hopes it never comes to that.

“Well, I mean, the longer that it survives, obviously, it’s better for the community,” he acknowledges. “But we didn’t want to be reactionary. We didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, it’s gone, like the Hawai‘i Herald. Now we have to like come up with something, well, it takes time to come up with something. So like, we’re trying to just put all our ducks in a row right now (to make) it easier when you want to expand it.

“And so we’re just focused right now on Hawai‘i, and you know, if the other two stay around, that’s great, you know. But if the community needs us, down the road, we have the tool that can keep the community connected. But we have no intention of ever crossing the line, as long as they’re still operating. Fantastic. It’s great. It’s best for the especially the older generation, yeah, great for them.”

Nevertheless, he’s laying down a contingency plan.

“We need to start planning for the future. And we need to make sure that when something does happen, we can pick up the pieces and move quite rapidly to a different area.”

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