Old friends bow out

Today is a most significant day in local newspaper history with the retirement from the Star-Advertiser of Helen Altonn, Mary Adamski and Ben Wood, giants of our business who among them have nearly 150 years of experience covering some of Hawai’i’s biggest stories since statehood.

As best as I can recall, they are the only three left who were already there when I first walked into the Star-Bulletin newsroom more than 42 years ago as a student wannabe with much to learn from all of them.

Helen Altonn is hands down Hawai’i’s greatest living journalist. An image of her I’ll always remember was a photo on the office bulletin board of her going off on Lyle Galdeira when he was the flack for some state agency and wasn’t coughing up the information she wanted.

Helen had fury in her eyes and veins popping out of her forehead while Galdeira just kind of wilted into the pavement.

The lesson I learned: A good reporter holds nothing back in fighting for the information readers need.

My first job was covering the police beat on weekends for Mary Adamski, and she took me down to the old station on Young Street to introduce me around.

I was totally intimidated after seeing her byline so many times and trailed a few deferential steps behind her. Mary kept yelling at me, “Stop walking behind me!” but I couldn’t help it. The lesson I finally learned: A good reporter is intimidated by nobody.

The original “Hawaii Five-0” was starting its run back then and Ben Wood was the entertainment reporter. He did a story on one of the stars and got a snotty note to the effect that Jack Lord was the only “star” and the rest of the cast should be referred to as featured players or somesuch.

Ben wrote a column taking note of this — and vowing never to visit the set again. I suspect he relented, but the lesson that impressed me: A good reporter doesn’t kowtow to anyone’s bloated ego.

These three represent experience and institutional memory that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace as the news business continues to shrink.

But they’ve all done more than their turn and I wish them the long and happy retirements they richly deserve.

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4 Comments on “Old friends bow out”

  1. What couldn’t you learn going to Kuhio Grill with Mary Adamski after finishing the Star-Bulletin night shift? Drinking with the top cop reporters, Adamski and the Advertiser’s Terry McMurray, along with medical examiner George Pacheco and detectives like Sidney Kim Han?
    How could you not be a better reporter after sitting next to Helen Altonn at the state Capitol, listening to her work her sources? There was always one more call to make and Helen was already doing it.
    Was there any show business, Waikiki entertainer number that Ben Wood didn’t have and was there ever a time when he would share?

  2. David Shapiro Says:

    Hey, Richard. A couple of years ago after our Mom and uncle passed, my sibs calculated that I was the senior Shapiro and came for my birthday to anoint me the new family patriarch. That was a very sobering moment and must be how you, June, Gregg and Cynthia are feeling about now as the senior staffers still on the job. Very big shoes to fill. I was just telling June that I remember you standing at my door in our UH days with a cheap bottle of wine, your young Bob Dylan cap and a baby face to match. Gawd.

  3. Jim Loomis Says:

    Having done my share of flackery over the years for the City & County of Honolulu and for various politicians, I will tell you that when the phone rang it was a pleasure to discover that the reporter on the other end of the line was Helen or Mary. I knew if I gave it to them straight, they would always get it right. Always. Never dealt with Ben much and could never figure out why. After all, Frank Fasi was sure as hell entertaining! My very best to all three of them.

  4. Michael Says:

    Seems you have good teachers
    and now the students must teach others.

    Live by the power of the pen
    but be able to use the sword as well.
    Not be intimidated by anyone.

    “Tell me a story” Don Hewitt. 60 Minutes.
    If you can keep Don Hewitt in mind,
    News will go on. People want to hear stories.
    Not gossip.

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