At the Helm at the Associated Press

Charles Gary
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Reprinted from March 18, 1994

Editor’s note: In his long career in journalism, Gordon Sakamoto rarely got the kind of byline exposure that most print, broadcast — and now web — journalists get for their work. That is the nature of the newswire business, and Sakamoto was one of Hawai‘i’s most experienced in the medium. Sakamoto died Nov. 8 in Honolulu at the age of 82.

I “met” Gordon Sakamoto in the late 1970s when I worked for about a year at what was then KHVH Newsradio 99. I had the gawdawful midnight to 6 a.m. on-air shift and was the only person in the entire station, which was located in the former Gas Company building on Bishop Street. I had to deliver two newscasts each hour — each about five minutes long. As if that shift weren’t bad enough, trying to scrape together enough news to read over the airwaves after a slow news weekend, as most were, to fill the overnight newscasts was the absolute pits. Most of the “news” was old copy, some of it even from the past Friday.

At about 4:30 a.m., I would call Gordon at UPI’s Honolulu office and beg him to send me some fresh copy to read for my last two newscasts. Remember, there was no internet back then. I didn’t even have access to the morning’s Honolulu Advertiser.

Within about 15 minutes, the station’s rickety old teletype machine began spitting out fresh copy, most of it rewrites from the Monday morning Advertiser. But at least it was fresh news.

I didn’t meet Gordon in person until a few years later, at the yakudoshi party of a mutual friend. We shared a good laugh about those KHVH days. I am eternally grateful to Gordon for his kindness and professionalism. He was my unsung hero in those KHVH days — and, I’m sure, to so many newsrooms that depended on his reliable wire service reporting.

In an effort to help you understand and appreciate Gordon Sakamoto’s contributions to journalism in Hawai‘i, the Herald is pleased to reprise this March 18, 1994, story on Gordon by former Honolulu freelance writer Charles Gary. Charles now lives and works in Los Angeles.

There comes a time in a person’s life when making the wrong decision could mean missing the boat.

Imagine it’s 1979. You’re Gordon Sakamoto, a Hawai‘i-born journalist working in San Francisco as an overnight editor for United Press International. Night after night, you transmit breaking news about the western United States to a network of competing news organizations around the country. It’s an enormously important and gratifying job.

Then imagine that you are offered an opportunity to return to your home in Hawai‘i to head the local UPI bureau.

An important decision, to be sure. But Sakamoto needn’t have worried about missing the boat — he already owned it.

“I had bought my family this four-person vinyl boat for Christmas (that year),” he recalls. “We liked to go camping and stuff, but we didn’t get to do it very often. So there we were, with this big inflatable raft in our house.”

Fortunately, the Sakamotos didn’t have to wait long to use their new toy.

“I walked into the office (the next morning). I found a note there saying, “How would you like to work as the Hawaii state editor?”

That was 14 years ago.

Sakamoto was recently named the new Hawai‘i bureau chief for UPI’s former competitor, The Associated Press. He succeeds Howard Graves, who retired last year.

Sakamoto sees his new job as an opportunity to broaden the world’s knowledge of the Western Pacific region, continuing where Graves left off.

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