Remembering Abed Younis

Letters to Editor
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I WAS deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Abed Younis. In an era when we’ve cheapened the noun “Hero” through overuse, Younis (as nearly everyone called him) was a true if unlikely media hero, one of the founding fathers of contemporary journalism in the Western Pacific.

I first met Younis in the summer of 1974, just two years after the Palestine-born graphic designer, who had no journalism experience, bought what remained of the Saipan Star newspaper and renamed it Marianas Variety. That summer, just before my senior year in journalism school, I was a reporting intern at the Trust Territory’s Micronesian News Service on Saipan. My parents worked for the TTPI and lived on Saipan from 1964 to 1982.

Saipan was a very different place in those days. You still knew just about everyone on the road by the car they drove, and it was expected that you’d wave to passing motorists.

The island’s population was about 15,000, a big night out was going to Hamilton’s on Middle Road for a steak and maybe dancing, and the Continental Hotel had recently opened for business.

Younis was always honest about his lack of journalism experience. But he had a vision of connecting people through his newspaper, and somehow kept Variety alive though years of challenges. In 1976, when I was a graduate student at the East-West Center’s Communication Institute in Honolulu, I interviewed Younis for the Pacific Islands Communications Newsletter. I found that issue a few weeks ago, and reread for the first time in 44 years my feature on Younis.

When he began publishing Variety, the newspaper had a circulation of 300 readers. Even in those days, that wasn’t enough to break even, let alone convince skeptical advertisers to buy space in a raggedy community newspaper published by a Middle Eastern publisher/editor. The Pacific Daily News, his biggest competitor, was in those days sending 900 copies a day to Saipan on Continental Airlines.

But somehow Younis kept his paper alive, and in the process earned a place at the table with the handful of pioneers who established a Micronesian regional journalism practice. They include Joe Murphy and the other Peace Corps volunteer journalists such as Mike Malone and Fred Kluge who shook up the TTPI in the late 1960s; Giff Johnson, who has been editor of Murphy’s Marshall Islands Journal for more than 30 years; Moses Uludong and his Tia Belau newspaper in Palau; his brother Cisco Uludong, the first crusading Micronesian journalist who spent most of his career on Saipan (including a stint as editor of Variety); and the late Frank Rosario on Saipan, one of the first U.S.-trained journalists from the island.

It’s instructive to note that the 1976 issue of the Pacific Islands Communication Newsletter that featured my profile on Younis also included stories from Sir Len Usher, the grand old man of journalism in the South Pacific; Dr John Bystrom, the University of Hawaii communications professor who developed the revolutionary PEACESAT communications satellite network; and Vijendra Kumar, editor of the Fiji Times.

I eventually ended up at the Pacific Daily News, and while I occasionally reported from Saipan (Cisco was the PDN bureau chief by then), always maintained a professional and personal relationship with Younis. If you cared about journalism, you had to cheer him on.

And it was that spirit that led me to turn down a lucrative job offer a couple of years later. I was approached to be editor of a competing newspaper on Saipan. The pay was good, and I’d just quit a line editing job at The Honolulu Star-Bulletin in a tiff with a supervising editor.

I thought about the offer for a day or so. But I realized I didn’t want the job if it meant competing directly with Abed Younis and his scrappy newspaper. Not that I didn’t think I could do a good job, but I thought it would violate our friendship and possibly hurt a colleague whose whole life was his newspaper.

I never did tell Younis about the job offer, though I’m sure he knew about it, Saipan being Saipan. And now he’s gone. Abed Younis was a small statured man who dreamed large, and worked hard to turn his dreams into reality. In the process, he made journalism history in the Pacific. You made your last deadline, Younis. It was a job well done.



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