By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
In memory of Abed Younis
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
The late Abed Younis, my former boss and founder of Marianas Variety, never caved in to intimidation. In his typically deadpan tone, Mr. Younis would tell his harasser, “Take me to court.”
In 2003, Marianas Variety prevailed over the defamation suit filed in the CNMI court by then House Speaker Ben Fitial over a bribery story published in the paper.
In every small community, truth-telling is not an easy job, especially if the truth gives discomfort to some. And sometimes, it entails consequences.
Mr. Younis never succumbed to pressure, even if such purported intransigence meant losing advertising dollars. For almost half a century, Marianas Variety has withstood many storms, literally and figuratively. It has snagged awards and kept its independence.
Mr. Younis earned a good number of supporters and detractors, but he was quite nonchalant to accolades and criticisms. He didn’t strive for popularity. He only cared to earn the trust of the reading public. He wanted his paper to be, above all, fair and factual.
A self-taught journalist, Mr. Younis had a natural nose for news. His social meetings with his associates always turned into a news-gathering affair. I remember those days when he would come into the newsroom to share his pencil-scribbled notes with the editorial staff. His stern presence kept the reporters attentive. Get both sides of the story, he always reminded us.
Mr. Younis was born on April 29, 1936 in the Ara village in central Israel where his clan had lived and worked for hundreds of years. He studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and spoke Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
In 1970, while employed by the National Television Station of Israel, he was awarded a scholarship grant to travel to Japan where he visited universities and worked with educators in the field of graphics and animation. From Japan, he went to Guam and then to Saipan. He said it was the warmth of the locals that convinced him to stay in the Northern Marianas. He opened his art studio in Susupe.
In 1972, he took over a local newspaper called Marianas Star, which was founded by former Peace Corps volunteers. Mr. Younis changed its name to Marianas Variety, and ran it as a one-man show. He was the publisher, reporter, editor, photographer and artist.
Marianas Variety has since grown and Mr. Younis became an icon in Micronesia. He passed away last year, leaving a legacy of “fearless journalism.”
I first met Mr. Younis in Manila in 1994— over lunch consisting of Mediterranean cuisine that he meticulously explained to me. I was then working as an editor for TODAY and he was recruiting reporters for Saipan. Little did I know that meeting would set a new direction for my career and snag me out of my city life. That was long before I knew the Pacific island was my future.
I worked as a reporter for Marianas Variety on Saipan from 1995 to 1999. When I went back home to Manila and returned to my old seat at TODAY, I continued writing for Marianas Variety as the Philippine correspondent until Mr. Younis brought me to Guam in 2003.
I worked for Marianas Variety for 20 years before I took the plunge to open the Pacific Island Times, whose thrust is to offer long-form journalism encompassing Guam and the Pacific region, and intelligent opinions from a select pool of columnists.
It seemed like a crazy idea then, given that everyone seemed to believe that print was dead and this project was a fool’s errand. I had nagging doubts myself, but was convinced that my print-oriented generation couldn’t have all gone extinct.
So I decided I’d give it a shot— even if to just satisfy my curiosity and test the market. Along with the paper’s co-founders, Gerry Partido, Louella Losinio and Jan Furukawa, and Palau partners Kambes Kesolei and Bernadette Carreon Brooks, we launched the maiden issue of the Pacific Island Times in October 2016, armed with the conviction that there was room for independent journalism, bereft of corporate and political influence.
Despite the challenges that confronted any startup business, we have survived and thrived. This is our fifth year and I thank Mr. Younis for the inspiration.