DANIEL IKAIKA ITO

Kamehameha Schools - Class of 1999

Co-Founder/Editor: Contrast Magazine Digital Media Director: Hawaii Business Magazine Founding President: ‘Ahahui Haku Mo‘olelo (Hawaiian Journalism Association)

Picture this: a seventeen-year-old Daniel Ito, a self-described "smart-ass," sitting with his two friends in an American satire class at Kamehameha Schools. All of the students had taken Honors English the year before, except for Ito and his two friends. Perhaps they appear more laid back than the rest of the class, slouched in their seats, trading wisecracks with one another. The teacher calls for the students to break into groups. Ito and his friends glance around at the small chaos of classmates moving their seats to work together. They’re amused. No one wants to be teamed up with them. They laugh and say, “I guess we’re the dumb group.”

The assignment: read a short story by author Kurt Vonnegut and continue the narrative with your own creative essay. Ito writes and writes. The words flow off his pen until he is finished. Each group has to choose one essay to be read in front of the entire class. Their group selects Ito to read his. The representative from the “dumb group” walks to the front of the class and presents his satirical essay aloud. He sits back down. After all of the essays are read, the teacher chooses one winning essay - and it belongs to Daniel Ito. In one moment, his love for the written word, and the potential for his writing talent to develop is realized.

In 2005, Ito became the first Native Hawaiian editor of a surf magazine when he landed a job at Free Surf Magazine. Today, he is the Co-Founder/Editor of Contrast Magazine, Digital Media Director of Hawaii Business Magazine, and the Founding President of ‘Ahahui Haku Mo‘olelo / Hawaiian Journalism Association. Ito’s writing portfolio includes work with ESPN, Surfing Magazine, Hawaii Magazine, and Honolulu Star Advertiser - to name a few.

So how does a novice writer from Hawaii get to the top of a field that is arguably one of the toughest crafts to break into? Ito would say that it involves seizing opportunity, commitment to schooling, and being multidimensional in your skillset. Hear more about those key elements in our Q&A below, as well as how young Native Hawaiians can step into journalism.

What’s your favorite part of journalism?

By far it’s being the champion of the little guys. Secondly, I love talking with people. I love hearing people’s stories and telling people’s stories. I find the further I get in my career as an editor and digital media director, I have less opportunity to do that. I oversee a lot of other people’s content that they create. Yet, I feel genuinely drawn to situations where I have eight hours to turn around a 700 word story and a stressful deadline.

What do you wish you had known about working in the field?

I would have told young Daniel Ikaika Ito to finish his degree. Right now with social media and blogs, there are so many people who call themselves journalists and writers. Bachelor’s degrees in journalism or communications are vetting mechanisms, because there are so many people trying to work in those particular positions who are not qualified. I understand that now, but I wish I had understood that more when I was younger.

Writer's note: Ito left college in San Diego in 2004 to take on journalistic work and returned to UH Manoa in 2008 to finish his BA in journalism.

What skills are needed for a career in journalism?

You need to have a strong writing background. You need to be good in front of the camera and behind the camera. You need to know how to shoot photos, edit photos, shoot video, edit video, and really have a good understanding of search engine optimization and website platforms. What should be as multidimensional as possible. I see that from the kids now. There are interns who don’t know how to do newswriting, but they can edit long form video at a professional grade look. Kids are doing it just for fun, and if it’s not fun for you, you really shouldn’t be in the field at all. You’ll burn out fast.

Tell us more about the Hawaiian Journalism Association.

Our function is to call out media and companies that are misappropriating the Hawaiian culture, and to help the mainstream media get the story right. The main goal is to give mentorship and provide guidance to young Native Hawaiians who want to pursue journalism. There was nothing like that when I was young. I very much had to feel my way through the dark in my career.

What can a student who is interested in journalism do right now?

The first thing kids can do is read the newspaper every day and watch the news every day. I’m not talking about social media timelines. I’m talking read the newspaper cover to cover and watch the news beginning to end. The second thing you can do is seek out a mentor. Contact the Hawaii Journalism Association, contact your school counselor, write for your school paper, do an internship.

What publications do you like to read?

Every morning, I read The Skimm - a newsletter that congregates all the world news (http://www.theskimm.com/). I really enjoy Life Magazine. I’m always on Espn.com. I read the Honolulu Star Advertiser every single day. I’ll also read the New York Times and the LA Times.

Do you write creatively?

I write poetry and I have some raps that are here and there. I’ve been working on a screenplay for years. In addition to all the journalism stuff I do, I look for opportunities to produce documentaries.

What stories excite you about Hawaii today?

The stories and the spirit of Hawaii that excites me today is that we understand our indigenous culture at a higher level than our parents’ generation did. We’re able to take culture, not only indigenous, but the local culture we develop, and innovate it and create content and products that are on par internationally and nationally. When we were younger, the thought was that what you created in Hawaii wasn’t as good as what was on the mainland or abroad. Now, because of all the years of sacrifice that our parents’ generation made, we can build on that and do stuff that the whole world recognizes.

Feel free to email Daniel Ito for more information on the Hawaiian Journalism Association: daniel@contrastmagazine.com