Kamehameha Schools Maui rakes in journalism awards

Kamehameha Schools Maui, a current powerhouse in high school journalism in Hawaii, took the top state prizes for best print and online editions of its Ka Leo o Na Koa at the Hawaii High School Journalism Awards on Wednesday afternoon at the Pagoda Hotel on Oahu.

In addition, the Pukalani school took home more than a dozen other awards, the most the school has ever received, said journalism adviser Kye Haina.

“We don’t even know what to say. We don’t even know what to make out of it. It was so many awards,” Haina said via cellphone from Honolulu International Airport on Wednesday afternoon as she and her students waited for their flight back home.

Over the last several years, Ka Leo o Na Koa, or “The Voice of the Warriors,” has received state and division awards. Last year, it won the “Best in State” online award and in 2011 took home the “Best in State” for print award.

This year it won both.

Asked what the secret to success was, Haina said that was the “magic” question.

She continued, saying that she has good students who care about what they do.

“They want to do it well,” she said.

The school turns out a printed paper quarterly and has a website that is updated frequently. The website requires students to turn around stories in several hours or in about one day, sometimes under the same deadlines that professionals punch out stories.

Haina said that there is a legacy of excellence and leadership left by preceding students that current ones want to maintain. That could be a motivating factor for current students to do well, she said.

One of those students who pushed for success was senior Maya Nitta of Wailuku, who served as the features editor. She said she was shocked by all the awards.

“It didn’t hit me until five minutes ago, really,” she said via cellphone on Oahu.

Nitta suspects that the secret to their success is the willingness of the staff to put out a good news product.

“We really, really want to do this. We want to put out a good newspaper for our readers. . . . My main concern wasn’t about the competition but will our readers enjoy this?” she said of her and her colleagues work ethic.

Nitta garnered some awards herself, taking home honors in the private school category for online video and state honors for layout and design and photography, both in the print category.

She also was the most valuable staffer for the paper.

Senior Reid Cairme, the sports editor, was shocked by his school’s accolades as well.

“I doubted we would win even one award,” he said. “We struggled with the paper this entire year.”

He said that with three less staff members than last year it was tougher to make deadlines and to get all the work done.

Even though he’s the sports editor, Kamehameha Schools Maui staffers participate in all parts of the newspaper and online work, Cairme said. In fact, the Wailuku resident took home private school division honors in the news writing division for his print article on cyberbullying.

Cairme said he’s not sure if he’ll major in journalism, noting that the salary isn’t great and that there is not much job security, alluding to the dwindling circulation of newspapers.

“But I love it a lot,” he said.

He has gone over and above covering events because he enjoys reporting so much and feels a responsibility to tell the stories to his readers, said Cairme, who will be attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the fall.

Like Cairme, Nitta is unsure about her major, noting that she is interested in video production and at one point wanted to be a film director. She said her journalism experience at Kamehameha has taught her how to take photos and write and also has given her experience in graphic design.

She will attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in the fall.

Other awards won by the school and its staff were in the private school print division for features writing, layout/design and photography. In the online private school division, the students also won for online reporting and multimedia reporting.

In the more prestigious state awards, Kamehameha Schools Maui won for news writing and feature writing for print and for online reporting and multimedia presentation.

There were no other Maui County schools that captured awards at the event.

The Hawaii High School Journalism Awards are sponsored by the Hawaii Publishers Association, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, MidWeek, and the University of Hawaii.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at