Sunday, May 30, 2010

Just sayin' -- Media map points to dwindling coverage

In this brave new world of media mergers, sales and downsizes, you certainly don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But in the latest game of media musical chairs, it doesn’t hurt to have a map.

While I tried to take a light approach, I’m offering this column with the utmost aloha, empathy and compassion for my inkstained brethren at the Honolulu Advertiser, the latest casualty of the New Age of Journalism and the legacy media corporate lust for obscene profits. Friday is the last day on the job for many of those journalists, while a few will be lucky enough to take a job for less pay at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in the newly christened Star-Advertiser.

Believe me, I’ve been there. In my three decades of living by the pen, I’ve been downsized, rightsized, outsized and offered the Morton’s Fork of an out-of-state transfer or a new job description. I want the latest casualties to know that yes, it hurts. You pour your all into this vocation, sacrifice a social life, a family life and better paying gigs on the PR side of the street. Your termination probably has absolutely nothing to do with your ability, your drive or your journalistic worth. But I am here to tell you there is life – and it can be a good life – afterward.

Some of it is our own fault. We became victims of our own complacency. We thought just because we read and reread our bylined stories and watched and rewatched our video clips start to finish, everyone else did too. We paid too close attention to the handful of followers applying the high gloss of praise, and not enough attention to the thundering quiet from the rest.

Enter the new media and bloggers – those pamphleteers of the New Age of Journalism.

It’s an exciting era we have entered. The Internet and personal Web sites are components of the greatest revolution in journalism since the invention of the printing press. Like the printing press, the Internet has opened publishing to a whole new class of hoi polloi. I’m glad it’s happening in my lifetime.

These New Age pamphleteers have a lot in common with their 18th century counterparts. Many are quick to opine, quick to set aside a few inconvenient facts while making their points. Some are even quick to accept free trips and gifts in return for glowing reviews. Nothing new about any of that.

Lest bloggers get too enamored of their own steadily rising numbers on the stat counters, here’s a cautionary tale about pamphleteers. Thomas Paine may have been the most famous of the lot, yet only six people attended his funeral. Some to mourn and some to make sure he was truly dead.

And then there’s Honolulu Civil Beat. It exists, says Editor John Temple, to "ask the important questions citizens might have in the face of the complex issues facing our community." In its first month, the new site has demonstrated it can do that.

But it remains, as pointed out by blogger Larry Geller, a gated community with a rather stiff ($19.99 monthly) paywall. The new venture has hired a few bright young and not-so-young reporters and their output is promising. But it still has a way to go breaking out of its annoying insularity, with employees primarily retweeting and hash-tagging only each other, seemingly afraid to credit other sources that break the news they dutifully tweet at their first opportunity.

Can it survive? Can any of us survive this shakeup of the status quo? Will the pendulum soon swing, once the public realizes the watchdogs have been silenced and government is running amok? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here’s your map. And, it’s already obsolete. But isn’t that the whole point? Just sayin’