Civil Beat Bests the “Newspaper of Record” in Hawai`i’s Online News War

It’s not as bad as we expected it to be to skip the Honolulu Star-Advertiser(S-A) when their paywall went up Wednesday because we realize now how little information we actually got from our morning perusals.

But that reality has spurred the realization that the one thing that the “newspaper of record” accomplished is to lose that status and throw itself into an all-out “News War” with the nascent on-line news provider Civil Beat (CB).

Presumably the S-A started charging for their on-line version in an attempt to capitalize on what they thought was the fact that they are the ‘real’ newspaper. But, with the addition of their own “breaking news” section linked to the neighbor island papers and the AP feed, Civil Beat has positioned itself to go head to head with the S-A.

And, it’s no contest. The group of young eager journos at CB actually like where they work and it shows in their work. But the old line “survivors” that populate the news desks at the S-A have all been to hell and back recently after the so-called “merger” made jobs in reporting scarce. They all no doubt resent the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads — the unspoken fact that “you can be replaced chickie-baby.”

It shows in their work. It’s rote and formulaic. There’s very little depth and there’s nary a link to any additional information. The S-A’s coverage hit only the surface of the news like a flat stone skimmed across the water.

While over at CB the writing is lively and inventive and the reporters seem to have the attitude that even coverage of daily events should be treated as “enterprise” journalism that digs into the subject and provides the kind of full perspective that comes from writing for on-line consumption.

For CB reporters, space is unlimited and not just the result of a “news hole” — a term used for what is left over for content when the advertising is laid out in a print newspaper.

But the S-A isn’t taking things lying down if this week”s “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”  (or at least do, too) moment during the Sou trial is any indication.

Starring Sara Lin as expert shooter Annie Oakley...

Annie got her gun.

CB reporter Sara Lin, in the Annie Oakley role, had unsurprisingly taken the initiative weeks ago in making the enterprising move of asking Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway if she could “live blog” from the human trafficking trial of Aloun Farms owners Mike and Alec Sou.

Mollway okayed the request after a much published discussion and said that Lin could do it but would be the only one and had to share her information with the rest of the press in a “press pool” arrangement.

Then S-A courts reporter Ken Kobayashi in the Frank Butler role decided that, a week into the trial, he wanted “in” on the action in a seemingly day late and dollar short decision that reeks of a distinct “what exactly are we” through process from the S-A publisher, sent a letter to Mollway asking to join Lin in live blogging.

Mollway told Kobayashi that essentially that boat had sailed and that she would have to think about a fair way to do it again in the future should she or others in the federal court decide to do it at all.

That came with a caveat on Mollway’s part as to whom she would consider in the future for such blogging, noting that requests would have to come from “authorized” or “credentialed” press because she didn’t want, for instance, the defendant’s “spouse (to) set up a blog to advocate the party’s case.”

She also noted that a “one blogger only” policy would likely be imposed so that the U.S. marshals could keep track to make sure that there were no recordings or pictures, which are forbidden by federal law.

That of course brings up the matter of who would be considered for this pool assignment.

Because while Lin and Kobayashi might think they are the only marksmen in town, “I’m just a blogger” Larry Geller of Disappeared News might just stake a claim as the new gun in town.

Apparently Geller has also been attending the trial and giving his account after he gets home every day. We’re sure he would like to be considered to be part of that “pool”- if not THE live blogger.

But although Lin said that CB has emailed each blurb to various news outlets before she hit the “post” button we seriously doubt any bloggers were included.

The fact is that while the winner in the S-A’s decision to charge for the on-line news is undoubtedly Civil Beat — which is now a direct competitor whereas last week they weren’t — it also opens up the field for other news providers, even if they are “just bloggers.”

When Blogger Geller comes to Chief Sitting Bull Mollway and says “I’m An Indian too,” in light of today’s leveling of the table, he’s as entitled as anybody to be “Doin’ What Come Naturally.”

There’s No Business Like News Business


Journalist Andy Parx has covered Kaua`i government and politics for over 30 years in print and on local TV. He currently writes a daily on-line news, commentary and analysis column at "got windmills?- The Daily Tilt."

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