IMR: Extras: Scraps: The Campus Iconoclast
Term Paper, Journalism 360 (History of Journalism), April 16, 1998
A History of the Alternative Student Press in Hawai‘i

Ryan Kawailani Ozawa
Journalism 360: History of Journalism
University of Hawai‘i–Mänoa
16 April 1998

Alternative newspapers. The underground press. For many, the terms conjure faded images of long-haired, pot-smoking vagabonds hacking away at typewriters in a musty basement, distributing their rags from a Volkswagen bus. Draft dodgers who perhaps believe deeply in their cause, but are largely ineffectual.

But while the Vietnam conflict in the 1960s put non-mainstream papers on the cultural map, they were not all the work of anti-war activists. And while they are often shortlived and have very limited circulation, they can still be powerful catalysts for change.

The difference between "underground" and "alternative" newspapers lies in the threat — be it perceived or real — of harassment, surveillance or sabotage.

Alternative papers like New York's Village Voice (1955–) and Hawaii’s Honolulu Weekly (1991–) broke taboos on language, sex, and drugs, but ultimately did so "within the system" (Chapin, 1996). The publishers are registered businesses, and editors’ and writers’ names appear in the masthead.

Underground papers, by contrast, are produced in undisclosed locations (often homes), printed independently (often on old offset presses), and published anonymously. Since underground papers were primary tools of the anti-war, anti-military movement in the 1960s, the publishers’ paranoia was justified. In addition to attacks from patriotic civillians, they were also subject to close surveillance by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover's overzealous leadership.

Both types of newspapers, together comprising the "opposition press," have been well represented in Hawai‘i. They reached their peak during the Vietnam conflict, the island state home to 15 out of an estimated 75 anti-war newspapers nationwide.

Their numbers dwindled leading up to the U.S. withdrawl from Vietnam in 1975, but the spirit of the opposition press is alive and well here. And historically, students — not shiftless vagabonds — have often been the architects.

One difficulty in researching student-originated alternative papers, however, is that they are usually grouped under the broader "underground press" category in conventional periodical indexes (Cartwright, 1998). More frequently, however, the problem is that these publications are so obscure, neither records or archived copies of them exist.

Nonetheless, they have a rich and varied history in Hawai‘i. A history in which new chapters have very recently been written.

One of the earliest student-focused alternative newspapers — distinguished by its independence from the school administration or official, fee-funded publications like Ka Leo O Hawai‘i (1922–) — emerged in the turbulent 1960s. But talk of Vietnam rarely appeared in its pages. Instead, the weekly Sandwich Isle Free Press (1966?–) was dedicated to "make this the GREATEST IN HISTORY OF SUMMERS ANYWHERE."

Publisher Jesse Sartain, editor Cheryl Lee Ho and fewer than a dozen staffmembers assembled and distributed the Sandwich Isle Free Press every Friday during the summer. The content was varied, but always high-spirited. Apart from short Hawaiian vocabulary lessons (used to fill empty column spaces) and the occasional straight piece (such as a feature on UH Summer Session offerings), the Sandwich Isle Free Press concentrated on covering the local scene.

The target audience was the thousands of mainland college students who flew to the islands each year to unwind. Numerous articles recapped recent parties and promoted upcoming dances and "booze cruises." Bars and well-known party houses were profiled. And with the air of Wall Street brokers, columnists rated the overall party scene.

The summer of 1967, for example, was deemed "not up to par" by the paper’s commentators because the mainland girls were "more defensive." The problem, it was concluded, was because there were fewer tourists from California that year, and more from the South. "Cal coeds are the doers," one wrote. "Southern girls don't think for themselves."

Indeed, no effort was made to hide the male-centric tone of the Sandwich Isle Free Press. The newspaper featured a Bikini Girl of the Week on its front page, and rarely would a photo not include a scantily clad woman. Sorority girls were clearly unpopular with the editors. And when they started to get flak for their sexism, they responded in an editorial: "Not that we don't approve of a forward female, but when they organize in troops to outdo and transpose our role, then we must react."

The Sandwich Isle Free Press, sporting a Waikïkï dateline, was only published for two years. One year later, across the island in Haleiwa, another newspaper sprouted up. And this one was to have one of the most colorful, if not controversial, histories of any in Hawai‘i.

Maine-born editor Jon Olson and a handful of other staffmembers put out The Roach (May 1968–April 1969). Unlike the Sandwich Isle Free Press, Olson’s newspaper had an fierce activist tone. The first issues recounted the controversy surrounding Oliver Lee — an assistant professor of political science whose tenure was threatened when he criticized the war — and the subsequent protest occupation of Bachman Hall (dubbed "Liberation Hall") on April 20, 1968. The Roach printed the names of the 153 people who were arrested in a "Roll of Honor."

Even though the occupation ended with no real action by the university, The Roach declared it a moral victory. What was more important was that the campus proved it could overcome apathy. "What has made things happen here at UH was not a series of ASUH, faculty or grad student resolutions," the editors wrote. "It was student power."

Not everything in The Roach was as revolutionary. The "Liberation Hall" edition sported a classified ad seeking a green quilt lost at the sit-in. Other editions carried advice columns on everything from oral sex to yoga positions to the effects of marijuana. Original poetry and songs were regularly featured.

Nonetheless, The Roach, with its taboo-breaking content (an ad in the June 4, 1968 edition solicited members for the "Heterosexual Freedom League" with a photo of a nude couple), still faced some resistance. In its December 1968 issue — the last one to be published as The Roach — the editors complained that they broke their deal with their new printer when it demanded veto power over the paper’s content. Readers were asked if they knew of anyone else who could help them make the transition to standard tabloid-size.

That transition, though long in coming, eventually came in June 1969. The Hawai‘i Free Press (1969) — with Gene Parker as editor and Olson listed as "L.N.S. Literature" — debuted, "rising out of the smoke-filled houses of Kalihi, Sunset, Makaha and Waikïkï." Listing its headquarters in Honolulu, it had a staff of about five and the support of the unknown Students for a Democratic Society.

Parker and his colleagues were clearly enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of their publication. A typewritten insert in the first edition declared: "THE ROACH IS DEAD: LONG LIVE THE HAWAI‘I FREE PEOPLE'S PRESS."

It went on to explain: "Despite birth defects, periodic starvation, publisers’ poison, and injuries sustained in the battle for survival, The Roach lived for a year, finally succumbing to these forces of destruction. Before expiring, however, The Roach gave birth to the Hawai‘i FREE PEOPLE'S PRESS, now a strong and healthy baby one week old."

And in the with the melodramatic rhetoric of pro-peace activism, an article within proclaimed, "They'll call us a conspiracy, and we are. Conspiring to end hate, end bad vibrations, end the end, start the beginning."

Under Parker, the Hawai‘i Free Press, officially, lasted only two months. It didn't lose any of its predecessor's vitriol, however, remaining strongly critical of military connections at UH, from the ROTC program to chemical warfare research. It also incorporated lots of original art, from illustrations to comic strips.

Without missing a beat, the Hawai‘i Free People's Press (1969–1970) came out later that year. It was printed on smaller tabloid paper, but sported cleaner, more striking design.

The Hawai‘i Free People's Press, the third incarnation of The Roach, returned to its ancestral home in Haleiwa. It picked up where the Hawai‘i Free Press left off (continuing its volume numbering) but omitting a masthead or any list of the newspaper's staff. Instead, the publisher was listed only as the Universal Life Church.

Even under the auspices of the ULC,the Hawai‘i Free People's Press didn't stop breaking taboos. Drugs and sex were common themes. Attacks on ROTC continued with little restraint. Topless women appeared now and then, even on the front page in its May 1970 edition. Original comics were prevalent, some of them unapologetically crude.

And the Hawai‘i Free People's Press printed a seven page piece entitled, "Bishop Estate Exposed" in August 1970, predating "Broken Trust" — the historic exposé printed by their modern, mainstream peers at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin — by 27 years. Direct attacks on the estate continued for several issues thereafter.

The Hawai‘i Free People's Press also made the freedom of speech a central part of its agenda. To prove a point, it republished an article that nearly led to the censorship of the Leeward Community College newspaper. Distributed on the Liberation News Service, the article described civilian Vietnamese fatalities as a result of Americans "bombs, bullets and napalm." It was accompanied by a photo of a Vietnamese youth with his skull blown open.

The editors commended the LCC board of publications for ultimately backing off, writing, "Freedom still lives at Leeward; embryonic as it may be."

The Hawai‘i Free People's Press also ran a regular "Student Rights" column. One of the columns explained the recent ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independence Community School District, which broadened the right to free spech and protest at schools and is still heavily cited today.

The opposition press faded with the end of the war, and its paranoia further dispelled by the slow passing of the "Red Scare." Without a central, galvanizing theme, alternative newspapers — at least student-initiated ones — apparently became scarce. But their absence from library archives perhaps speaks more to their lower profile, and again their ambiguous categorization. Longtime members of the UH community recall at least a handful of independent student newspapers popping up in the last decade, although no formal record of them exists.

One such publication was The Weekly Bong (1991–1992), which was circulated on the Mänoa campus (Bueno, 1998). It was essentially published single-handedly by Grant Crowell, a student who had been fired from KTUH (the campus radio station) and later Ka Leo. While it had a narrow agenda — criticism of the mainstream campus media and continuation of his attacks on the Hawaiian studies program — it was nonetheless considered a must-read by many cynical students.

In the past couple of years, however, students have seen an explosion in alternative campus newspapers.

In many cases, these newspapers were started specifically to challenge the monopoly of the school's official student voice. That was the case at the UH–Hilo campus on the Big Island, where a handful of undergraduates from diverse disciplines — dissatisfied with the quality of the fee-fundedKe Kalahea (1990?–) — started The ScoR (1996–). It had a circulation of 700, and was supported entirely by advertising.

In an unusual twist, publication of Ke Kalahea was suspended for several months in 1997 when questions arose about the overseeing board's financial practices. This left the "alternative" The ScoR as the campus’ only newspaper.

That same year, at the Mänoa campus, not one, but two independent newspapers rose to challenge Ka Leo's jurisdiction over disseminating news.

Frustrated with the lack of coverage in Ka Leo of its elections (Kim, 1998), and following public charges of anti-senate bias on the part of the Ka Leo staff, members of the Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i published Ke Alalä (1997–). Calling itself the "In Your Face News," Ke Alalä — enjoying the backing of student fees and access to university records — had a circulation of 15,000. About 10,000 copies of its first issue was direct mailed to students’ homes.

Ke Alalä worked hard to live up to its motto. Editors launched an all-out attack on Marriott Food Services, wrapping one article around a huge photo of a dirty toilet bowl. When controversy over the name of Porteus Hall surfaced, charges of racism flew. One front page featured a photo of the late professor Stanley Porteus wearing overalls and a propeller beanie.

That same semester, three former Ka Leo staffmembers and a dozen freelance writers founded University aVenue (1997). It had a circulation of 5,000 (in addition to a website) and was supported by advertising — supplemented by the wallets of its staff.

The editor, William Matsuda, was a Japanese literature major who'd served as news editor at both Ka Leo and Ke Kalahea. Even though Ka Leo is technically independent, Matsuda and his partners said they were tired of pressure its overseeing board — a chartered student organization — tried to exert.

"Since we were not under the umbrella of CAPS (Co-Curricular Activities, Programs and Services), we did not have to be in the business of being a social club," Matsuda said. "We could focus on what we wanted to do -- being student journalists."

Unlike Ke Alalä, Matsuda said University aVenue strived to provide quality, objective reporting. He said University aVenue covered the stories the new Ka Leo administration would not, particularly those that reflected badly on the university or the Board of Publications.

The first edition highlighted widespread decay on the Mänoa campus, featuring a photo spread of several facilities in severe disrepair. Less than a month later, most of the problems pictured were fixed.

It also examined the controversy surrounding the Student Handbook, which that year had not been distributed ostensibly because of incorrect facts and bad spelling. It also contained articles critical of the UH administration and advocated protest action.University aVenue questioned the decision, claiming it was a violation of the First Amendment.

The handbook story quickly made its way to the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and — some weeks later — to the front page of Ka Leo.

"While we did not have a specific agenda, we devoted a lot of coverage to free-speech issues," Matsuda said.

In fact, it was the First Amendment that briefly catapulted University aVenue into mainstream headlines. Matsuda and his colleagues encountered resistance from university officials over the distribution of the newspaper on campus. While University aVenue never covered the dispute, the story was picked up by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu Weekly, KITV, KHNL and other media outlets.

The coverage revealed that the campus had delineated free speech areas, implying that the freedom did not apply in other areas. Jan Javinar, director of CAPS and Campus Center administrator, insisted the university could control the "time, place and manner" (Miller, 1997) of the distribution of any publication.

Ka Leo, meanwhile, was ambivalent. Editor Genevieve Ancog said, "As long as they provide the students with fair, objective and ethnical [sic.] reporting, I don't see anything wrong with it (Omandam, 1997)."

Ultimately, University aVenue defended its right to distribute under Tinker v. Des Moines Independence Community School District — the same ruling hailed by the editors of the Hawai‘i Free People's Press nearly 30 years prior. The case, in essence, established that "student expression is constitutionally protected unless it materially and substantially disrupts normal school activities or invades the rights of others (SPLC, 1994)."

The administration backed off, and University aVenue published and distributed a total of three editions. After only four months in operation, University aVenue shut down. While Matsuda said University aVenue was on the brink of profitability, the paper’s staff collectively decided it was time to move on.

"Although we were a short-lived publication, we proved some very important things," Matsuda said. "First, students have the court-mandated right to free-speech, even if it is not in university-sponsored forums, and second, Neither Ka Leo, the BOP, or CAPS has exclusive jurisdiction over the truth."

Indeed, underground and alternative papers have traditionally short lifespans. But often, they have considerable effect on the community. Although only a student effort, University aVenue put free speech on the tips of people's tongues, and gave the Board of Publications pause in its handling of the next Student Handbook.

And Matsuda — like his early predecessor Sidney Sheldon of the Honolulu Times (1849–1851) — considers his days as a member of the opposition press to be among the high points of his life, echoing the sentiments of many independent editors who have come before him (Chapin, 1996).


Bueno, Greg E. Telephone interview by author. 8 April 1998.

Cartwright, James. Conversation with source. 14 April 1998.

Chapin, Helen G. Shaping History: The Role of Newspapers in Hawai‘i. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996.

Hawaii Free People's Press. Haleiwa: Universal Life Church, July 1969–December 1970.

Hawaii Free Press. Honolulu: G. Parker (ed.) and Students for a Democratic Society, June 1969.

Ke Alalä O Manoa. Honolulu: Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i, University of Hawai‘i–Manoa, August 1997–.

Kim, Claudia M. Interview by author. 10 August 1997.

Matsuda, William J. Conversation with source. 15 April 1998.

–––––, "Media alternatives grow." University aVenue. Honolulu: University aVenue Media Group, August–September 1997.

Miller, Susan. "New news on campus." Honolulu Weekly. October 8–14, 1997.

Omandam, Pat. "UH students see campus independents abound." Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Honolulu: Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership, September 1, 1997.

The Roach. Haleiwa: Jon Olson, May 13, 1968–April 6, 1969.

University aVenue. Honolulu: University aVenue Media Group, August 1997–December 1997.

Law of the Student Press (Second Edition). Washington, D.C.: Student Press Law Center, Inc. 1994.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 12 April 1998 · Last Modified: 12 April 1998