Sunday, February 03, 2008


Advertiser's front-page promo for Superferry

by Larry Geller

Ok, a Superferry story has managed to move to Page One. And it's a very positive story, headlined Superferry toughing it out.

Previous stories about ferry cancellations (the bad news) were confined mostly to the obituary page. While I'm happy to see a story on page one at last, it would be nice if the article, well, paid attention to the issues.

Read it. It isn't an ad, it's supposed to be a fair and balanced story. I'm sure the Advertiser is salivating over future ferry ad revenue. Could this be clouding their minds?  Or is it something else?

Where's the discussion of the troublesome rudder crack problem?

Since then, it has been operating with only a third of its anticipated passenger load, and rough seas and other problems have led it to cancel its daily roundtrip between Honolulu and Maui a total of 14 days.

A lot is hidden in the two words "other problems" that the story might have mentioned explicitly.

Further—check out the linked article, Superferry cancels todays cruises. I wasn't aware they offered cruises, but nevermind. The article explains:

Operations are expected to resume tomorrow, as ocean conditions that kept the vessel docked all last week are forecast to improve.

Again, no mention at all of the rudder cracks. It's a factual error in this case, because the ferry posted an alert about needing to complete repairs:

Repair work completed

Let's see if they post a correction, or if next week's After Deadline column discusses their view of how the Superferry controversy should be covered. (I'm kidding, of course.)

Why do I keep writing about these stories? Because the Advertiser is the "paper of record" and I think the record should be complete and accurate. I'm also a paying subscriber. I want my money's worth. News, all the news that fits, they should print.

Printing only positive stories on the ferry on page one and the bad news on the obituary page is problematic.

It also divides the community. It makes it look as though opponents are the oppressors of the poor, hard-working ferry company. Not that it's the paper's job to "heal" things, but it's not their job to fan the fires, either.

[I had just finished reading the decidedly pro-business article on Hawaii's Prepaid Healthcare Act, which is written to demonstrate what a major problem this is for Hawaii's businesses. Never mind the huge benefits to working people and to the businesses themselves. Hawaii is a national leader in solving the healthcare crisis, but that's not what the article is about.

And of course, no suggestion that the state should move quickly on passing universal health care legislation (HB1598 will be heard next Wednesday, February 6, 2008 at 8:00am in Conference Room 329). No, the Advertiser was not thinking of us ordinary folk. Just business interests.] [I'm trying to demonstrate a possible pattern here.]

So anyway, back to the ferry article. There's a companion ad article, Your guide to Hawaii Superferry, which is actually pretty good. It doesn't say "Paid Advertisement" at the top, though, so let's assume for a moment that it is biased based, as it says at the end, on,, Advertiser research. Ok, to highlight the advantages of the Superferry, going to the source is not bad. It's very useful information for anyone thinking of taking the ferry (though they might want to wait for calmer waters...).

But if they did decent research, they would have discovered the rudder crack problems that the TV stations noticed. That should have appeared in the main story. Of course, they know about the rudder problems. The choice to omit that info resulted in the puff piece on page one.

Don't readers need to know that the ferry couldn't sail due to mechanical or structural problems (as seen on TV)?

"The investigator determined that the vessel wasn't in compliance due to these cracks," [Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Chad] Saylor said. "These cracks need to be repaired before the vessel can sail safely."

Don't readers need to know that their cars could be stranded on the other side for a week or more??

The ferry company's response to one customer being stranded was confined to the very tail end of the story. A breaker "Meeting expenses" might instead have read, "Not meeting expenses." Grumble, grumble. Some good in the article, but balance is missing, IMHO.

More: Don't readers need to know if the ferry company is taking good care or not of all those who have been stranded? Is there a policy? Did they ship the vehicles back right away, did they pay for air fare? Were inconvenienced passengers compensated in some way (free tickets, paid rental car and taxi fares?). How many passengers have been  stranded and what percent of the total served does that represent? Those kind of facts would serve the readers well.

You can email the editor at: if this bugs you. It's your paper too, kind of, if you subscribe. Ask him about the info you'd like to see the paper cover in future articles.

[Update: comments on the Advertiser article show the people may not be easily fooled.]


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