Just saw this very sad Maui News post saying that Edwin Tanji, the paper’s former city editor, had passed away today from cancer. He was 65.
For the last four decades, Tanji personified Maui daily newspaper reporting. The News post says he worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the Honolulu Advertiser and, finally, The Maui News, where he spent eight years as city editor. He retired in 2009, but continued to write the weekly Haku Mo’olelo column for the paper.
Like a classic old school reporter, Tanji kept his cards very close to his chest. None of his columns (including his most recent one, which ran on Friday, Sept. 7) mentioned his being ill) (consider him the opposite of, say, tech journalist Jeff Jarvis, who blogged the hell out of his 2009 cancer diagnosis).
Though he lived and reported 40 years of Maui County history, Tanji rarely mentioned any of it in his column, which he usually used to discuss national and international political issues, sometimes in a rather technical manner. Hey, it was his column–he certainly earned it–and he could write it how he wanted. While he used the space better than many retired journalists, who often prefer to wallow in shallow nostalgia, I’d always hoped he’d use his platform to provide valuable historical context to the county’s current headlines.
Part of that view was undoubtedly due to one of my earliest exposures to Tanji’s journalism, which came not from The Maui News, but from the 1985 book Land and Power in Hawaii by George Cooper and Gavan Daws. Tanji appears at the end of their chapter on the build-out of Kihei–specifically, on the contentious development of Makena:
In 1980 the Honolulu Advertiser reporter on Maui, Edwin L. Tanji, attended a Planning Commission hearing on Makena Surf. He noted that of 25 who testified, 23 spoke against the project, but the matter was approved. Tanji concluded that “if a Maui Planning Commission decision on the Makena Surf condominium project is typical, project testimony in contested case hearings before the commission means nothing.”
Upon further investigation, Tanji wrote that one commissioner told him that even prior to the hearing, “the commission had directed deputy corporation counsel Sonia Faust to prepare documents to approve the project during an informal hearing.”
Tanji was correct, of course. A bit cynical, but in my view, more than justified. I read Tanji often in The Maui News over the last decade, always hoping to see for more of that fight he showed way back in 1980, but I just never saw it. Expressing opinions (to say nothing of outright bias) about how those in power exercise power in daily newspaper reporting is an extremely sensitive topic these days, and City Editor Tanji always seemed to me the epitome of caution and objectivity.
Anyway, I never worked with Tanji, but former Maui News reporter Ilima Loomis did. Here’s how she recalled Tanji on her Facebook page:
It’s with great sadness that I report the death of our good friend, colleague and mentor today, Ed Tanji. Ed passed away peacefully this morning, after a struggle with cancer. Ed was like a father to me at The Maui News. He made me the writer — and person — I am today. Every single person on Maui was touched by his writing at one time or another. Aloha, Ed. We’ll miss you.