Publisher’s Page: Change of Plans

Sometimes life just knows better.
Alyson Helwagen
photo: karen db photography

A few months ago, my phone pinged me with a notification from Facebook: Someone had tagged me in a comment—a name I didn’t recognize at all. I clicked through to find a miles-long comment string on a post from an old college newspaper friend. One of the comments included a picture of me with a handful of my classmates in the newsroom of The Lantern, the student paper at my alma mater, Ohio State, where I worked as the campus editor. It was taken right as we had all gathered around the TV to watch the verdict in the O.J. Simpson case. It was Oct. 3, 1995. I was 21 and had just started my senior year. The photo brought back a flood of memories. The verdict came down about 2 p.m., and everyone I knew was skipping class to watch it unfold on TV. At the paper, we needed to plan our reaction story, and be ready to get it written, laid out and off to the printer by 10 that night.


That photo reminded me how news used to work. It reminded me how we used to find out about things. It reminded me how I had pictured my career in journalism and media: move to New York, work for a magazine (hopefully at Condé Nast or Hearst), surround myself with the magazine world’s big thinking and glossy pages. I went the other direction in every way: west, to Hawai‘i, crossing over to the publisher side of the masthead, immersed daily in big thinking about unique visitors, shareable content and CPM pricing.

  Alyson Helwagen 1995

Me in The Lantern newsroom in 1995.
Photo: taehyun kim 


In 1995, HONOLULU didn’t even have a website. We were writing about new Honolulu restaurants opened by Sam Choy and Alan Wong (September 1995), a hard hat tour at the top of the under-construction First Hawaiian Bank tower (November 1995) and a small blurb about Star-Bulletin columnist Dave Donnelly’s new website, where his columns were published before the early edition of the paper (November 1995).


These days we publish content all the time—in our print pages monthly, but daily on our website, in email newsletters and on social media. Our digital audience dwarfs our print audience. In 2017, we averaged 220,000 unique visitors a month to our site. We have about 40,000 followers on both Twitter and Instagram, and 50,000 fans on Facebook. Our print circulation is about 30,000. Our entire team—every writer, editor, designer and salesperson—contributes to our digital platforms. And we have two staffers who work exclusively on digital. We got very few letters to the editor on paper in all of 2017, and so few paper ballots for Best of Honolulu and the Hale ‘Aina Awards that in 2018 voting will be exclusively online.


This year will bring even more integration of all of HONOLULU’s content. Our food and dining editor, Catherine Toth Fox, now posts her Biting Commentary blog as a video once a week. We have numerous advertisers who buy only digital products from us—native content, social media videos and posts, and email newsletters. Even after 130 years, we still devote ourselves every day to innovating in the local media space. There’s more to come, we promise.



Alyson Helwagen



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