WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Six decades ago in wartime America, when Robert Hosokawa took his first newspaper reporting job in Independence, Mo., it was hard to miss the symbolism. His new job, located for him by one of his former Whitman College professors, meant freedom for Hosokawa and his new bride Yoshi. By going to Independence, they were allowed to leave Idaho and an internment camp for Japanese-Americans.
Earlier this month, Hosokawa returned to Whitman, the school that helped launched his long career in journalism, corporate communications and education, to hand out new $500 student journalism awards that will be given annually in his name.
Hosokawa, 81, a native of Seattle, Wash., who lives in Winter Springs, Fla., presented awards in four categories to students who worked this past year for the Pioneer, Whitman's campus newspaper. The first recipients of the Robert R. Hosokawa Awards for Journalism Excellence, selected earlier by committees of Whitman faculty, staff and alumni, are:
Best Editorial/Opinion Piece: Tracy Dahl, junior, Beaverton, Ore. Her winning editorial explained why the Pioneer had decided against publishing a news article about an "email" involving a case of sexual misconduct. Dahl, who was the Pioneer's managing editor the past two semesters, noted that newspapers and magazines, unlike email and other forms of electronic communication, are bound by libel laws and codes of ethics. She concluded by saying that new forms of communication should not consider words "with any less gravity" than the traditional print media, and that "words should never be taken lightly."
Best News Story: Alex Morrison, freshman, Seattle, Wash. A staff writer, Morrison was recognized for his story on a campus sit-in that protested what organizers felt was lenient punishment initially given to a violator of the campus sexual misconduct policy.
Best Feature Story (tie, $500 prize divided): Neil Kornze, senior, Reno, Nev., and Alex Morrison, freshman, Seattle, Wash. As extensive renovation and expansion of the campus library began last September, Kornze wrote about his memories of the library and how each of its three floors had represented an element of campus culture. Morrison wrote about concerns raised by some faculty members about the negative impact extracurricular activities might be having on the academic performance of some students.
Best Photo Journalism: Adam Hardtke, freshman, Edmonds, Wash. Hardtke, a staff photographer the past two semesters, took his winning photo last fall during Whitman's 3-1 victory over Willamette University in men's soccer. The photo shows freshman Whitman Calder Hughes straining mightily to halt his forward momentum on a play near the sidelines.
The Hosokawa awards will be given annually with proceeds from a new $100,000 endowment. Proceeds will also be used to bring distinguished journalists to campus for workshops and seminars.
David Hosokawa, the son of Robert Hosokawa, established the endowment to honor his father. The younger Hosokawa also lives in Florida and is retired, although he continues to do consulting work for TMP Worldwide, a major advertising and communications agency headquartered in New York City. He was a TMP executive prior to his recent retirement.
"My son came to me this past year and said he wanted to do something to honor me and to help others at the same time," Robert Hosokawa said. "He knew how much affection I have for Whitman. He and [president] Tom Cronin began talking about journalism awards. What they decided upon pleases me very much. The objective is to recognize and encourage excellence in student journalism."
Hosokawa, who earned Phi Beta Kappa honors at Whitman, said he hopes the new awards will encourage more students to write for the Pioneer, either as a form of career exploration or to simply sharpen their academic skills. "Working for a campus newspaper is a great experience for any student, regardless of what they might want to do professionally," he said. "When you write for a newspaper, you learn to research your subject and to think about it clearly. You learn to differentiate between fact and fiction, to make decisions about what is important, or newsworthy, and what is not. You learn to be dispassionate, to guard against allowing yourself to be swayed by the prejudice of others."
Beginning with Edward P. Morgan, a 1932 graduate whose career as one of America's top journalists spanned the emergence of both radio and television, Whitman has produced a long line of very capable and successful news reporters and editors, Hosokawa said. "The record shows that Whitman as a small liberal arts college can and does serve as a stepping stone into the world of journalism, even though it doesn't have a formal journalism program."
After graduating from Seattle's Garfield High School, which Hosokawa remembers as a "melting pot" of whites, blacks and Asians, he felt some concern about enrolling at Whitman, a college that had few minorities at the time. Those fears soon dissipated when he was elected president of his freshman residence hall. "That was very reassuring."
Near the end of his sophomore year, when the college lost the director of its News Service, Whitman president Walter Bratton asked Hosokawa to temporarily fill the vacancy. Hosokawa handled the position well enough, sending out news releases and making contacts on behalf of the college, that he retained the job for two more years in exchange for tuition.
Hosokawa, who also wrote for the Pioneer while at Whitman, was president of his senior class when he graduated in the spring of 1940 with honors in English. Because of his ethnic background, he was unable to find a newspaper willing to hire him. He was thinking about law school when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. government forced Japanese- Americans on the West Coast into barbed-wire enclosures called internment camps.
"I wrote to Tom Howells, one of my favorite professors at Whitman, for help," Hosokawa recalls. "He was kind enough, and he cared enough about me, to start contacting as many newspaper editors and publishers as he could. My wife and I were not security risks of any kind, but we could not leave the camp unless there was a job waiting for me somewhere in inland America. Professor Howells finally found a weekly newspaper in Independence, Missouri, that was willing to take me sight unseen."
Hosokawa, who eventually earned a master's degree at the University of Wisconsin's School of Journalism, later held staff positions at such newspapers as the Winona Daily News, Des Moines Register, Minneapolis Tribune and the Syracuse Post-Standard. He also was managing editor of the World Book Science News Service in Houston, Texas, which covered the space program and other science news.
Rounding out his life's work were teaching positions at Winona State University, Syracuse University and the University of Missouri, in addition to various forays into the corporate sector. He served as director of corporate magazines and newspaper for the Honeywell Corp., based in Minneapolis, and as vice president of corporate relations for the Super-Valu Stores of Minneapolis. His last position prior to retirement was professor of journalism at the University of Central Florida. For him, teaching in the Florida sunshine was the perfect ending to a career that has been blessed from the beginning. "I had opportunities to do so many things."
Hosokawa, whose father immigrated to the United States in 1899, pinpoints education as the key to his family's accomplishments over the past century. His son David, who worked as a newspaper editor and publisher before moving into advertising agency administration, is a graduate of St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN). His daughter Mary, a special education teacher in the Dallas, Texas, area, is a graduate of Rhodes College (Memphis, TN). Hosokawa's older brother Bill was a longtime editorial page editor of the Denver Post, a columnist and author of 11 books, many of them on the history of Japanese Americans. A third generation of family members hold positions ranging from advertising and communications to medical school administration.
"In my case, I look back at my Whitman education as the experience that shaped my life more than any other. I remember the people who first welcomed me at Whitman, and I remember what Professor Howells did for me during the war. My debt to Professor Howells and the others is incalculable."