Remember when Honolulu had a morning AND an evening newspaper?
Rarely do I diss technology. In almost every instance, technology has brought us closer together and shortened the time between processes. In this case, however, it seems to have killed local news.
We’ve come full circle. Back in the early part of last century, news traveled slowly, often transmitted through inefficient means such as over the fence of your neighbors’ yard. These days, unless your retired neighbor is livestreaming it, you’ll probably get your local news the same way.
To compile the East Oahu weekly news update, I’ve devised a long list of different techniques for extracting local news over what should be a more efficient internet. Even then, I still miss important news that was published timely. On this, I blame Google. Yet at the same time, I haven’t found any search engine as effective as Google. Go figure.
Part of the blame is just the cost of internet success. With 60 trillion webpages indexed and growing, Google can’t crawl every site every minute. A bigger part of the blame however, comes from individuals whom game the system, trying to figure out Google’s ranking algorithm at every turn. These people are experts in the booming field of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.
These SEO experts are part marketing guy, part snake oil salesman. Behind-the-scenes detail is where running a website gets complicated. Good content and good writing don’t count if you can’t be found or if users perceive you as clickbait, which is why I’m baffled as to why the Star Advertiser still runs behind a paywall; ditto for the Pacific Business News.
Recently, I subscribed to the Star Advertiser. After the introductory period ran out, I cancelled. I gave it my best shot, but I found that the paper version was inconvenient: I couldn’t find the parts I wanted quickly. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find these parts on their included online subscription either.
Usually, my go-to trick is to use Google to search a site’s content when there is no search bar, or where the search bar does not turn up the results you are looking for. The syntax in Google is, site: followed by the domain name, e.g. site:CNN.com (no spaces between site: and the domain). Because Star-Advertiser is a subscription only site, I couldn’t do that. That’s when I resorted to the entirely free option of Star-Advertiser state library access. Sadly, the free option was better than the paid.
What happened next nearly makes me cry. I received not one, but five calls soliciting my renewal. Really? When I say it makes me want to cry, it’s not because I was particularly bothered by the calls, but rather I was saddened by the realization that they’re in a state of denial.
As far as what will happen to Hawaii’s press, I don’t know. I know I’m eternally grateful to sites like Civil Beat which just recently gave up all hope of being self-sustaining and became a non-profit instead. I just don’t know if it’s inherently just or long-term feasible. (Note to self and others: don’t forget to DONATE.)
Twitter: The newsroom floor. Facebook???
Twitter isn’t news. It’s more like being on the newsroom floor. Twitter is where to go when the President has a “big announcement.” For example, several hours before Barack Obama’s announcement in 2011, Twitter had leaked that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Of course, Twitter doesn’t always have it right. That’s why it is the newsroom floor: a place you want to be when news may come out, the gossip mill around the water cooler. Sometimes, Twitter can be dangerous for tweeters. Take, for instance, Ryan Lochte lying — not to the international public — but in a private remark his mother. That, in turn, led to this tweet, which led to big news, the fallout which continues today.
Hawaii is not really on the bandwagon with the Twitter-newsroom-floor trend. Here, Twitter is used sporadically — more as a means for publicity than news. One area I can say Hawaii uses Twitter in an outstanding way is with its #HiTraffic hashtag. Official government agencies, namely the Honolulu Police Department (HPD), are behind the hashtag’s widespread use. If you want to check up-to-date traffic conditions, just search #HiTraffic.
The lack of Twitter usage leaves me struggling to find news. Its alternative, Facebook, just doesn’t appeal to me, and quite frankly I’ve only found it good for seeing the latest pictures of my friends’ cats and kids. On the flip side of that, I’ve found it a good place that — if you’re not careful who you “friend” — lends itself to trolling and uncivil comments. Lastly, I just don’t trust Facebook. Since the start, Facebook has been about monetizing the site, sometimes at the cost of simply assuming everything belongs to it.
As if to make the point, just yesterday, Facebook did a flip-flop now claiming it is a social site and not a media site, as they had once declared. No doubt, that came from the fact that Facebook fired the humans that filter the news and the algorithm immediately posted fake news at the top of users feeds.
A decade ago, a journalist friend correctly predicted the polarization of internet news, almost a natural extension of the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra of broadcast news. In a world where truth counts less than clicks, extremism has reached levels we never imagined. Pillars of the media world have been separated into different camps: Fox pandering to the right, with MSNBC pandering to the left. Recently, the mainstream media’s divergence from political neutrality shocked even me. When compiling a list of balanced news outlets for my son, I briefly considered adding Mother Jones to the list of neutral bias outlets. How far have we deviated from politics-neutral reporting when Mother Jones makes the list? (Although, for the record, I find Mother Jones’ analysis always centered on fact and not sensationalism, and carefully vetted before publication unlike more well-known counterparts.)
National news aside, local news struggles to find a way to remain both profitable and relevant in the giant sea of the World Wide Web. News that may be useful and helpful to residents of a small area like Hawaii get pummelled in Google rank. Naturally, that causes local outlets to scour the web for irrelevant stories that will raise its internet visibility. That in turn, buries the news we really needed.
I don’t have a solution. Or, maybe my solution is to scour the web for you so you know where to find East Oahu / Hawaii Kai relevant information. Or, maybe my longer term hope is that the myriad of technologies we have somehow find a natural settling as a true troll-free virtual community. Or, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.