Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lost a Newspaper? News Morphosis 2.0

Aloha, Friend.
What do You Know

you GOTTA click on this baby!
"There is one thing more powerful
than the armies of the world,
and that is an idea
whose time has come."

Victor Hugo

please excuse these "shot into the light" pictures below
John Temple

"The contest, for all ages,
has been to rescue Liberty
from the grasp
of executive power."

Daniel Webster

David Shapiro (John Stewart 1.0)

"A joke is a very serious thing."

Winston Churchill

The Provocative Sarah Lacy

"The price one pays
for pursuing any profession,
or calling,
is an intimate knowledge
it's ugly side."

James Baldwin


Has your hometown lost a newspaper recently?

It was here a moment ago. It was always there.

Maybe as a kid you got up early in the morning, like I did, to deliver it to your neighbors. Newspapers have been a part of the rhythm of life in America since Thomas Jefferson said that, having to choose between government with no newspapers, or newspapers without government, he'd have to choose the latter.

Now don't worry.

This isn't going to be another boring lamentation of Journalism's death blaming all the usual things: the internet, bloggers (that's you and me, guys!), opinion-shouting cable TV (the ersatz feedback loop of talking points posing as news), decreasing attention spans in our youth (that we raised and educated). . . Blah blah blah. Yeah, there used to be these civic institutions called newspapers, public town squares that needed to sell lots of car ads to keep going, but now are being destroyed by Craigslist.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, founded in 1882 as the Evening Bulletin, published its first edition on February 1 of that year. 1912 saw it merge with the Hawaiian Star to become the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. (Wikipedia). Recently this institution has been put up for sale in the current panic atmosphere of cash-hemorrhage and closure among newspapers, leaving many Honolulu locals to assume that we will soon be down to one major daily, the Honolulu Advertiser (celebrated it's 150th anniversary in 2005 or `06).

Meanwhile, several of our local TV stations have recently "consolidated" their news operations, which means running the same news-cast on 2 stations, and re-broadcasting it at a different time on a 3rd station. Their news director, Chris Archer, tried to sound upbeat at a conference on March 18 here in Honolulu: NewsMorphosis 2.0 How the Transformation in our News Media is Transforming our Society. I wish him well as the operation prepares to take on it's first Merrie Monarch Festival, a revered local institution sometimes called the Olympics of Hula that brings dancers, fans, and eyeballs from around the world to sleepy Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii every Spring. You could tell he was excited about this "away game" far from Honolulu City lights. So I was much too polite a small fry in that room of somebodies to ask him why his smiling, likeable anchors regularly deliver incomplete, and sometimes misleading, information, and why the same badly-written line is read the same way on the next newscast. I call it "you know what I mean journalism." But I do wish the local HAWAII NEWS NOW team well - they're much too important to this town!

Into this trembling moment steps a millionaire. (Billionaire?) Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar who was born in Paris, came to the USA with his physician father as a boy, and graduated from Tufts in 1988 with a computer science degree, but not before spending some time as a student in Honolulu at President Obama's high school ala mater, Punahou. Among other things, Mr. Omidyar started a little on-line auction company called Auction Web in 1995 largely so his Bay Area friends could more easily trade and collect Pez dispensers. He later changed the name of that company to eBay in 1997. Cue the angelic choirs of capitalism!

This tyro with a local connection has confirmed his genius by moving back to Hawaii with his wife Pamela, and has lately been spreading the wealth around in socially constructive ways, such as a 100 million endowment of the Hawaii Community Foundation (our school kids are still being "furloughed" on some Fridays, as are many of their State employee parents, and the redoubtable Meals on Wheels program, that lifeline of too many of our Kupuna (seniors), is perpetually hurting for funds, but who am I to wonder about that stuff...).

The generous Omidyars were also instrumental in the launching of Kanu Hawaii, a grass roots movement of "9,443 islanders committed to protect and promote island living - a connection to the 'aina (land), a culture of aloha, and local economic self reliance."

Now, the philanthropists are investing in an interesting new endeavor: Peer News. John Temple, Pulitzer award-winning editor, president, and publisher of the late lamented Rocky Mountain News is the founding editor, and the newest intellectual landmark on Oahu, drawing a virtual who's who of Honolulu media, communications, policy, tech, and entrepreneurial types to the conference.

I sat between my old friend Kim Coco Iwamoto, elected Hawaii School Board member, and the sharp Susan Yamada, Interim Executive Director of the University of Hawaii's Shidler College of Business.

Star tech reporter and author, Sarah Lacy flew in from Asia for a lively panel, as did William Moss ( CNET Asia, China Economic Review). The founding Executive Director of the George Washington University Global Media Institute, former general manager of CBS Radio News, Michael Freedman spoke, as did, locally based lights including the day's informative Keynote, Avi Soifer, Dean of UH's high-ranking
Richardson School of Law.

With the enviable freedom of a visiting writer whose reporting continues to be sought, lauded, and deservedly rewarded,
Sarah Lacy pointed out that in today's landscape of personal, even portable, news options, the "traditional media is doing a worse job. I read things in the New York Times tech section that is just wrong." She also made the attending local newspaper pooh-bahs squirm when she scorned inauthentic "astro-turf tweets that are just re-packaged paragraphs by established news people who don't really comprehend the medium."

Mr. Temple inspired some stirring of excitement as he spoke of "lots of reasons for optimism in this age of surprises, twists and turns." Content being the critical issue, not platform. "I am not prescient," he said, but "we're gonna approach things differently at Peer News. "People feel concerned and disconnected. PN is aimed at providing a different voice, giving folks entre` and a fresh start.
Our mission statement is simple:
To Create a New Civic Square.
Citizen contributions will be as integral as paid journalists.
The reporting is a resource, sort of a living history on topics as things develop. Big Picture will be inherent, not just today's 'story.' We'll start with the readers' needs, and be question-oriented, driven by asking 'why?' Let's talk about community. Reporter/hosts working for readers, not as detached chroniclers, no slightly re-written press-releases.
And no faceless comments.
In the civic square we can see each others' faces.
Discussion and debate will be hosted.
It's about speaking to hard issues but with Aloha
which I am beginning to learn about.

I envision a dialogue with other views, straightforward, to fulfill common needs." Temple says that he expects to present "content and an experience worth paying for' and to launch early in the second quarter of this year.

The pithiest remarks of the day came from my favorite truth-teller,
much respected local editorialist/blogger, David Shapiro
who responded to his introduction as one of the best Hawaii journalists by saying that it was
"like being called one of the best dinosaurs in the tar pit."
He commented on the hubris-panic of the traditional "gate-keepers" by advising them to realize that the gate is "now a swinging door" and that they have morphed perhaps into filters.

Now David is a kind reader of my little Hawaii novel, and a respected long-time internet friend. His often brilliantly funny jabs at the local circus of power called State and City government are the best thing in the Advertiser and @ their website.
Yesterday I got a chance to hug him local-style.

Wish I had thought to build on his swinging door analogy by wittily adding to it:
"Yeah, a swinging door. Just don't let it hit you on the okole!"

So I am sorry if you are losing one of your local institutions,
but I'm happy to say that our Honolulu seems poised to enjoy the birth of something truly hopeful and groundbreaking.

One thing I DO know, is that a local outsider, small fry, columnist/ blogger walked into that conference feeling like a nobody, but I walked out feeling empowered, feeling like the future, feeling like a million comments on this blog!

ALOHA, cloudia