From the development of the printing press in 1440 to the release of the first iPhone in 2007, as technology has evolved so has the media. Yet, in an ever-changing industry, one thing stays the same: It’s a field where quick-minded, risk-taking and passionate thinkers flourish. Here are three alumnae who, in a male-dominated business, have forged – and continue to build – new paths amidst the continuously evolving media landscape.
By Cynthia Wessendorf
The view from Denby Fawcett’s ’59 lanai never lets you forget where you are. To the west, the massive hull of Diamond Head rises overhead, while below, the waters off Black Point wash onto a rocky beach, reachable by foot.
This spot has anchored her through decades tracking news for print and broadcast media. Today, Fawcett is a popular Honolulu Civil Beat columnist, where she often writes about underreported topics, such as painful chapters in Hawai‘i’s history, threats to public spaces and local customs.
She seems comfortable in her role explaining how we live and what we should know. It’s a position she’s earned over a long career, launched from the bottom. After graduating from Punahou and Columbia University, Fawcett joined the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Hawai‘i’s former daily newspaper, to work on the “women’s page,” one of the few jobs a female reporter could get then.
When the Vietnam War broke out, she asked to cover the combat. Rebuffed, she convinced the rival Honolulu Advertiser to offer a letter of accreditation and a per-story fee. In May 1966, at just 24 years of age, Fawcett arrived in Saigon with “sundresses, sandals, pearls, dark glasses and a bathing suit. I had no idea what to bring to a war,” she writes in “War Torn” (Random House, 2002).
“I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we would see in Vietnam,” she recounts in the book’s opening chapter. “I went to the war as a merry explorer … plagued with a short attention span and an unstoppable curiosity … [My parents] urged me to always keep one step ahead of comfort, and from them I learned the benefits and perils of making friends with the untamed side of yourself.”
After 18 months in Vietnam, Fawcett contracted a deadly form of malaria and left to recuperate at her parents’ Kahala house. She later returned to Vietnam with her husband, Bob Jones, another veteran journalist; gave birth to a daughter, Brett Jones ’91; returned home and worked as an advice columnist; completed graduate work in anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i; and eventually landed a steady position with KITV in 1987.
Having started in TV news before video replaced film – and long before the internet disrupted everything – Fawcett keeps pace by embracing change. She credits Punahou’s speech classes with helping her “work through fear” and the teachers for encouraging adaptability. “That’s especially important in the news business,” she notes. “You have to be very agile, to learn to take different paths, to not get stuck, because it’s changing practically month to month.”
Fawcett left the station in 2010 to focus on writing “Secrets of Diamond Head” (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014), which tells the history of the crater framing her home.
Among her honors, she was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and was inducted into the Associated Press Television and Radio Association’s Hall of Fame.
Now in her 70s, Fawcett is as fearless as ever. She has written about her 17-day trek to Mount Everest base camp, a 130-mile walk around the perimeter of O‘ahu, and explorations into long-sealed military tunnels cutting through Diamond Head. And she’s hardly done unearthing hidden stories and perspectives. “I’m learning every day, “ she says. “As a reporter, you’re always trying to get better.”
Cynthia Wessendorf is a freelance writer and editor, and the parent of a current Punahou student.
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