Tuesday, May 18, 2010


If a journalist writes in the forest but nobody can read it, is it still journalism?

by Larry Geller

Ian Lind, Ryan Ozawa and I were interviewed by Hawaii Public Radio reporter Ben Markus yesterday, and the short segment aired this morning. Nothing breakthrough, it was about Ian’s idea that bloggers might get together somehow, especially now that Honolulu is about to become a one-newspaper town.

The interview isn’t posted on their website yet, but when it is, it should be here. (Update: it’s posted, have a listen.)

Not unexpectedly, my rat video got mentioned. That video will probably follow me around forever. It does illustrate that even a mere blog can have a huge impact sometimes. The video was viewed all around Hawaii, the Mainland and elsewhere.

Of course, the interview was short and only a little of what each of us discussed with reporter Ben Markus made it to air. Perhaps it is the coming bloodbath at the Advertiser that likely instigated the discussion in the first place (no, I do not think bloggers can replace professional journalists!). But Civil Beat came up, and I did express some views on it.

Which leads us to the journalist writing in the forest. An over worn analogy, but maybe it fits in this case. Basically, I questioned if they are even doing journalism over there.

It can’t replace even a little bit of the Advertiser because—very simply—almost no one can read it. There’s the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News working with a group of professionals somewhere in Kaimuki, and the world can’t see what they’re doing. So is that journalism?

Try an experiment. Pick any subject that Civil Beat is talking about and google the subject. You may use Google’s web search or their News search. Or even their Blog search.  Or just google civilbeat,  or civil beat or civilbeat.com. Basically, what I come up with, is news about Civil Beat. The few articles that are more than teasers show up, but not their continuation, the full article, of course. It’s the same when a search hits a Wall Street Journal article that’s behind their paywall, but they have lots of content that does appear and that anyone can read.

Articles locked behind a Google-proof paywall can’t be cited, either.

If you pick a Hawaii subject like rail, and search for it, you find articles from the Advertiser, Star-Bulletin, KHON, KITV, KPUA, and so forth. Now, that’s journalism.

Whether or not bloggers get together, you will find their articles when you search a topic.

The New York Times gave up its paywall at least in part because it discovered that its reporters and columnists weren’t being read. Their new plan for 2011 calls for a metered system. How they will handle search engines, I don’t know.

When the Advertiser finally shuts down, there will be nothing to immediately replace it. Blogs can’t fill the gap, and so far anyway, neither will any other website.


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