2020 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Newsroom finalist

Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Project

At Honolulu Civil Beat, our worldview is simple: We want to help make Hawaii a better place.

Much of our work is done through old-fashioned shoe leather reporting, but we are also constantly experimenting with digital storytelling and new ways to help our readers engage with the world around them.

When Civil Beat launched, we were a small and nimble team focused on filling gaps in local news coverage. Now in our 10th year — with layoffs continuing to decimate the local news landscape — we’re finding that readers are turning to us to meet more of their broader news needs.

While our staff has grown, our ability to remain nimble helps us continually pivot to meet the changing needs of our readers. In no year has that been more apparent than 2020.

As COVID-19 hit our shores, we quickly switched to a seven-day publication schedule for both our site and newsletters. As the news cycle about COVID-19 changed, so did our storytelling. We switched from text-based stories to using more graphics and visuals to explain the changing data about the coronavirus, and free up staff to spend more time holding public officials accountable.

Civil Beat also quickly transitioned its events online. To engage with readers during the pandemic, we’ve held online book club meetings, member coffees to talk about our coverage, and weekly conversations about our narrative journalism podcast. Season 4 of Offshore focuses on the Hawaiian diaspora. As part of our engagement for the series, we’ve collected nearly 200 reader submissions about their experiences, which we are embedding into a story map.

We spent much of 2019 working on a yearlong series about climate change. We wanted to use immersive storytelling tools to bring people to parts of Hawaii that they can’t access, and show how these important places are vulnerable. With people’s limited ability to travel, now seems like an even better time to use these tools to take them outside their home. We will be launching a special series on Hawaii’s watersheds later this summer with a series of 360 videos to take people to these unique places.

In January 2020 we launched our “Fault Lines” project to examine the growing disconnect in Hawaii between citizens, interest groups, and the politicians who serve them. Hawaii, which depends on tourism to drive its economy, now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. So we’re pivoting to make the focus of Fault Lines the growing economic divides in our state.

The series is a community engagement effort that involves outreach and conversations with numerous community and demographic groups. It’s also a collaboration with the Solutions Journalism Network as one of their first Beacon projects.

To further our efforts to engage people in solutions and a broader conversation about the future of Hawaii, we’re launching a special essay, analysis and opinion section of curated community submissions by some of Hawaii’s sharpest thinkers focused on addressing Hawaii’s recovery after the pandemic.