Inside the publications room, Episode 1: First Feather

By Tara Mie Morisato

Behind each newsworthy narrative is another story that most often goes untold — the writer’s. This series will explore narratives from the perspectives of each of the Cougar Connection’s co-editors-in-chief.

My endeavor with the Cougar Connection began in sophomore year, with the explosive and premature ending of our football season. After a volatile altercation between several football parents and the coach, the principal cancelled the entire remainder of the season. With the community thus electrified, I ventured into a spotlight I could not have braced myself for.

It was strange, and at times uncomfortable for all of us students—suddenly my high school was the talk of the town. As a freshman I had come to view my school as a place where good things happened, where upperclassmen led clubs and where academic achievements were made. That the season ended so shortly, and in violence, was newsworthy beyond the typical sphere of school newspapers. It was broadcast on the evening news, in the city newspapers, and of course in tense social media posts. In the resulting storm of community gossip I often detected an air of dissatisfaction, a holistic disappointment in my school. Everyone seemed to have a sharp opinion: football parents were angry, for their sons’ careers were at stake; other adults supported the principal, disdaining the violence; and students mourned and muddled through Homecoming week, which felt empty without its culminating game.

I observed with intrigue from the sidelines, until I was asked to write an editorial supporting the season cancellation for both the Cougar Connection (Kaiser’s school newspaper) and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Another school had rescinded their spot in the Advertiser’s Island Voices section, and the editor needed a new article within one week. When my advisor offered me the job, she spoke to me at length about the significance of such an opportunity. First publication. Star-Advertiser. I felt the pressure already, but I was also excited for my voice to be heard throughout the city.

Some wary relatives and close adults were quick to drill fear into me, even to scold me for entering a controversy that they considered a battlefield. Oddly, even more than my safety, I worried over the righteousness of my actions as a neophyte journalist. I feared that someone would hate what I wrote, either for an unforeseen inaccuracy or for naive insensitivity. Those worries reached a climax on the night that the editorial was due to the Star-Advertiser editor. The deadline had arrived quickly, and despite my best efforts my draft lacked the most important element of an editorial: conviction. 

Until I joined Newswriting, a newspaper appeared to be a series of articles about various subjects, without distinct categories such as news, features, editorials, and sports. My advisor told me that my draft was essentially a news article—factual and spineless. The co-writer was sick, so ultimately I was to write most of the piece. After school through the evening, I sat in the publications office with my advisor and Editor in Chief, both of whom I barely knew at the time. We discussed what the article should have been, and what it was. First publication. Star Advertiser. Those thoughts became reminders that perhaps I was foolish to try and write for an audience of thousands. 

In spite of suppressed tears and a yearning to return to my comfort zone, I kept typing. In order to give my editorial the conviction it needed, I sharpened my diction and bluntly typed out ideas before rearranging them into more elegant lines. Each new turn of phrase added to the clarity of my piece, and eventually my ideas took their intended form.

On October 1st, 2017, I was published. Seeing my article in tranquil morning light was such a gratifying contrast to the classroom fluorescents I had written it under. I knew painfully well each sentence of that column, but I read it through once more anyway. Seeing my word choices and distinct syntax in official print was proof that I had done the impossible. At school the next day, my advisor praised the editorial as a “feather in my cap,” to be worn proudly with all the other “feathers” I’d gather in the future.

The feather newly earned, the tears I held back in the cramped office, the voice I wired into my article, the worry and excitement I felt for every sentence, the morning light that shone on my black-inked words — with the hindsight of nearly three years, those memories have coalesced into a bittersweet saga. As a current Co-editor in Chief of the Cougar Connection I don a few more feathers, but in times of doubt, I still return to that first article as a testament to the depth of my strength and courage.

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