2023 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Newsroom winner

Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Project

Honolulu Civil Beat is an online news site dedicated to public affairs reporting. Our goal is to help make Hawaii a better place by engaging readers in important civic issues through an ambitious mix of investigative and explanatory journalism and an evolving roster of online and in-person events.

In addition to our website and news app, Civil Beat reaches audiences through newsletters and robust engagement on social media. We’re constantly experimenting with storytelling tools to help readers engage in difficult and complex topics, including animated graphics, videos, podcasts and even games. In the past year, we have been putting readers at the heart of our news coverage through listening circles and pop-up newsroom events in areas of the state frequently overlooked by media organizations.

Our focus on giving readers the tools they need to hold leaders and civic institutions accountable has proved more important than ever in the last year.

Hawaii has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals that have documented significant abuse of power by local and state government entities.

In January, we launched a special commentary project called “Let The Sunshine In” to more closely watch government reform proposals at the Legislature and local county councils. We built a custom Sunshine Bill Tracker that allowed readers an easy way to monitor public interest legislation. We created a new Sunshine Blog that gave readers daily updates and other behind-the-scenes information on the legislative process, and how it can and should be improved.

Despite lawmakers and planning department officials going to prison for accepting cash bribes, Hawaii continues to have one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. To get readers engaged in this year’s elections we created a new, interactive elections section on our website and a special elections page on Instagram with candidate-submitted Q&As, Hawaii Votes videos and a livestream of results. On Facebook, we hosted Know-Your-Candidate live stream events.

Our deep-dive investigative journalism continued to resonate with readers and policymakers. Civil Beat’s investigative editor spent more than a year reporting our series “Hawaii vs. Parental Rights” which revealed that the state, in clear defiance of parents’ constitutional rights, routinely takes children from their parents without first seeking a court order. The project included assembling a database of 10 years of public appellate court cases to show the poor performance of court-appointed attorneys.

We significantly expanded our coverage of the greater Pacific region with a focus on shared issues, like how climate change is affecting all island nations or the difficulty in producing enough food that doesn’t have to be imported. We sent a reporter to the Solomon Islands after he discovered a largely untold story — that nearly 80 years after World War II, more than 20 people a year are still killed or seriously injured by old unexploded ordnance. Our reporter spent months tracking down and interviewing families of those who had been killed and then used text, graphics, video clips and art to shed light on their grim reality.

Judges Comments

The judges were impressed with Honolulu Civil Beat’s unique approach to delivering essential journalism to the citizens of Hawaii. They understand their audience and find ways to reach them, listen to them and engage them effectively. Their election guide varied its approach to coverage with candidate Q&As, videos, map lookups and a notable email series breaking down how elections work. While many organizations talk about audience engagement, Honolulu Civil Beat shows their commitment by holding Popup Newsrooms across the state. Their haiku content was a joy – highlighting the passion and connection citizens have with their state. This newsroom is playful, humble and thoughtful in their approach to storytelling, and we found this to be extremely refreshing.