Thursday, August 21, 2008


Local press and the political conventions, find a new paradigm or die

by Larry Geller

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew).
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
–from The Elephant's Child, by Rudyard Kipling

With the coming political conventions, starting with the Democrats in Denver, will come a media deluge. After all, it's all a show, an extravaganza, a spectacle. Standards of journalism, we can expect, will be stretched to the interpretive limit.

How boring it would be for a reporter to attend a circus and simply report "the clown circumambulated the inner ring three times before tripping over his shoe and tumbling off to the right amid thunderous applause." Same thing for these political circuses.

Neither print nor Internet nor video media will resist going beyond the "Five W's" of reporting. Way beyond. It's the age of "infotainment," after all. Except maybe for CSPAN, we are used to talking heads telling us everything we already saw, but with their twist added.

Since most TV viewers are set in their ways, they can be expected to come away with the slant or "take" that their favorite network imposes. The media are far from neutral reporters. They won't miss the chance to push their line at every opportunity. Fox News isn't going to change its stripes and suddenly become truly "fair and balanced."

Paparazzi (photo by David Shankbo)

This time, though, bloggers have been given accreditation at the Democratic Convention that starts next week. So the gaggle of reporters will be augmented by the blogging corps. So will the professional photographers. Bloggers are often well-versed in the hot technologies of modern alternative media. Expect live video, tweets, photo- and video-blogging, and more.

Actually, there is perhaps an intermediate level between the professionals and the unwashed bloggers. It’s the alternative media, and since they possess essentially the same technologies as the bloggers below and subscribe to the principles of the commercial journalists above, I think they will also provide a valuable service.

It’s up to us to choose where we look (if we look at all) for our convention coverage.

Hawaii is fortunate to have Ian Lind representing us in the blogger corps. Tune in to his Twitter (microblog) tweets, instant photo posts and of course his stories over at his blog. Volunteering to take this trip is truly a sacrifice, I suspect, and we are the passive beneficiaries of the trials and tribulations he will endure for our sake (Applause) (really!).

For the alternative media, check Democracy Now each day. They are expanding their broadcast schedule to two hours daily, but local TV may carry only one hour. Both hours will be found on their web page, only a click away.

Let’s see how our newspapers do. In this case, they are the less-favored media. Local papers are still in crisis mode even as we demand something brilliant from them. They are getting thinner and relying on outside sources for their coverage. It makes sense to simply skip to those sources directly via the Internet. Sorry about that, local papers, but here is one case where I’d love to be surprised by local analysis, local cartoons, and insightful editorials. So surprise me. Until then, I’ll be tuned via the Internet to my favorite networks.

So what is a role that might be successful for local papers anywhere? What opportunities for brilliance in journalism do they have? I suggest they consider emulating the blogs. Instead of just covering the faraway news, which they must still do a little bit, they should work at creating new visions and new interpretations of events. They might try to connect the dots for us. How do these political events relate to Hawaii? Assume I’ll be watching on TV. So when the morning paper hits my doorstep, I’ll have seen it all. Now tell me something about it that I didn’t know.

Local dailies simply can’t compete for convention news. The visual is so much more powerful and efficient. The blogs are poised to outdo what newspapers usually offer in print, instantly, and with no limits on story length. Newspapers might think like bloggers for a change.

Why should real newspapers emulate mere bloggers? Because a large segment of our population still does not surf the Internet, though they do watch TV.  The papers need a new paradigm to keep TV viewers as subscribers. This may be it. There’s a risk. TV viewers may become so excited at the spectacle (on their shiny new giant home theater screens) that they forget to renew their newspaper sub.

I think it’s already happening with the Olympics. Papers have effectively dropped out of the race. It’s hard to compete with a 42-inch LCD screen no matter what kind of fancy German press you have.

Here’s a chance for print publications to carve out a new future for themselves. It’s radical. Instead of gathering the news, help us make sense of what we see.



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