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Molokai Dispatch Celebrates 30 Years

Thirty years ago, the first issues of The Molokai Dispatch were pasted together with rubber cement, hand delivered to off-island printers, and, granted the weather was good, delivered each Wednesday to Molokai readers.

Over time, operations moved between three locations, five owners, countless writers and interns and three taglines (remember ‘The Coconut Wireless of Molokai?’). Amidst the changes, the Dispatch has emerged as the longest standing—and currently only—newspaper on the island.

Each week, The Molokai Dispatch brings news to the island while upholding a set of values and guidelines aimed toward community empowerment and healthy dialogue through responsible journalism. The Dispatch has developed a focus on youth, culture, history, politics and the environment to best serve the interests of the entire Molokai community.

Cut and Paste

Myrle Florea started The Molokai Dispatch in her Kalae home in 1985. On a table that Florea’s daughter Leslee still owns, articles and photographs were physically laid out, painstakingly cut with X-Acto knifes and pasted together with rubber cement. Leslee, who was 10 at the time, spent many late nights watching her mother create the paper.

“I didn’t how to type. … I just keep her company,” she said. “I remember falling asleep on the carpet near her.”

The first ever Dispatch was eight pages long, and on its front cover was an article discussing the island’s water system. Myrle wrote that this would be a unique paper, dedicated to progress and prosperity. She felt “there was a need on Molokai for a voice,” said Leslee.

“My mother was very much one to state facts instead of opinions,” said Leslee. “… It was kind of her way of safeguarding, because if everybody knew, we could act properly. … Because my mother was an educated woman, she expected that everybody need to be educated also, and if you’re educated, you can make your own decisions.”

Myrle passed management of the paper on to Bill Bevens around 1989, who began an internship program, according to former Dispatch writer Kathleen Larson. Bevens moved the location into Kaunakakai—a more convenient location to follow island happenings—and set up shop in the old Kaunakakai electric office. Shortly after, layout of the paper went digital.

Staying Alive

In 1992, Bevens sold the Dispatch to Charlie Pastorino, but barely a year later, Pastorino had to move to the mainland. He told his friends, Molokai residents Edie and Gerry Anderson, that he’d have to close the Dispatch or pass ownership over to them, said Edie. With issues of water and land development weighing heavily on the island, the Andersons felt they couldn’t let the paper die out.

“At that point, things were pretty tense on Molokai, and we just didn’t feel that it would be a responsible thing to close the newspaper,” said Edie. “… We felt that the newspaper was the only vehicle to get the public involved and know what was going on.”

The Andersons eventually moved headquarters to Maunaloa, where the revitalized town was bustling with activity. Between the two of them, they worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and even when Gerry was diagnosed low-grade lymphoma in 2003, he was “doing books and editing copy from his hospital bed in Tripler,” said Edie.

Local boy Todd Yamashita bought The Molokai Dispatch from the Andersons in 2006.

Before he had an office, Yamashita created the paper on his laptop in his grandmother’s living room, continuing a Dispatch tradition of home-based production.

“When I think about the Molokai Dispatch, I think about humble beginnings,” said Yamashita. “… What’s interesting to me is that that very first issue was about the island’s water supply, so from the start The Molokai Dispatch was about connecting people and understanding and being vigilant of our resources.”

Bringing the paper’s headquarters back to Kaunakakai, Yamashita updated the Dispatch by launching a website and changing the newspaper to the more common broadsheet format from its older tabloid-size beginnings. Yamashita also put together the Dispatch’s current mission statement. During this time, the internship program also flourished, offering talented young people a chance to develop and share their skills with the Molokai community.

In 2009, part-time Molokai residents Phil and Terri Pendergraft joined the Dispatch team when they became partners with Yamashita in business ownership. Since then, the Pendergrafts have provided advice, business expertise and support when called upon.

That same year, former intern and New Hampshire native Catherine Cluett became the Dispatch’s editor-in-chief. Cluett continues to manage the paper’s team, foster multimedia platforms and guide community members in becoming active participants in the news sharing process. Under her leadership, the Dispatch has earned statewide recognition and nine Hawaii Excellence in Journalism Awards over the last two years.

Mahalo Molokai

After 30 years, the Dispatch is still able to bring you weekly news thanks in large part to the ongoing support of the Molokai community, through advertising, contributed stories, and volunteer assistance.

Because of local businesses advertising, the newspaper remains a free publication that residents can scoop up from locations across the island each week.

“I always say that our advertisers are probably our biggest unsung heroes,” said Yamashita. “… Even when the economy was down, even when they had trouble paying their bills, they hung in there. … They are the driving force that is supporting news and media on Molokai.”

The purpose of the Dispatch has also remained true to its roots: to dedicate itself to “the future progress and prosperity of our island home, the youth of our island, and truth and fairness in journalism” – as written in the Dispatch’s first issue: Jan. 16, 1985.

From all of us here at the Dispatch, we say mahalo nui loa to our loyal readers and advertisers for the community’s continued support. We hope to bring you the island’s news for many more years to come.

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