A LITTLE TRAVELING MUSIC SAMMY: The first time it occurred to us that it had been way too long since we'd been off-island was when Hawaiian Air unexpectedly assigned us a seat.
But then, flying to the Big Island this weekend to participate in Saturday's UH- Hilo Media Symposium was all about change... in the media at least.
The "Old Media versus New Media" panel contained the mucky-mucks of Hawai`i journalism... and Andy Parx- who almost didn't get to go because one of the sponsors said with an upturned nose "he's just a blogger."
We told the story of how, after 30 years in journalism, much of it as a "columnist," we "became" a blogger as a function of choosing the "blogger" software, giving us a McLuhan-esque thesis for the weekend: there is no "new media," just one new medium after another.
The really observant in attendance saw that we were all a bunch of old media dinosaurs trying to figure out exactly what this "new media" was.
Our main observation was that Hawai`i Island has what Kaua`i lacks - a vibrant journalism community with dozens of "journalist-bloggers"- or whatever you call people like Andy Parx and Ian Lind, who shared two panels- many "aggregator" sites and seemingly dozens of local reporters that have eked out a living and in fact a career practicing their craft.
Not to mention a packed room full of J-school students expecting to make a living at it.
There's no such thing on Kaua`i. We feel all alone in a forest- along with Kaua`i Eclectic's Joan Conrow- in "news-blogging" (if you will) because there are simply no opportunities for local journalists here. The local newspaper pays starvation wages and usually hires reporters from those who are "on the circuit" on the mainland. They stay for anywhere from two months to two years and then move on to the next stop.
The few professionals who live here have long since left the trade and ended up selling anything from real estate to "activities" or waiting tables.
The Big Island on the other hand has an actual press club that has existed for decades. And, although there was quite a bit of damage in keeping it that way, the Hawai`i Tribune Herald remains the only union shop in the islands.
The result for Kaua`i is a distinct lack of available information, almost all of which is "courtesy" of the local paper where incompetence is a tradition that began with the departure of (full disclosure) our mentor, legendary editor Jean Holmes, in the early 80's.
But back to the weekend. We did manage to meet people who heretofore had been only names on a web site, including Damon Tucker who, as we wrote last month, was beaten allegedly by the cops and arrested, apparently for taking taking pictures of a melee in front of a Pahoa nightclub.
Tucker was arrested for "obstructing a government operation" and the police, according to reports, allege that he was physically getting between them and those involved in the fracas. But Tucker sat us down and shared the cell-phone video taken that night and our observation was that he would have had to have been a magician to have managed to get between the cops and their subjects.
Though the two clips are very short, the timing between the two is what caught our attention.
In the first, which is only nine seconds long, an officer can be seen telling Tucker to "stop" and that’s where it ends. Tucker says that the rest of the sentence was "taking pictures" or something to that effect.
The second clip was taken one minute and thirty-one seconds later according to the time stamp and in it you can hear the sound of handcuffs being put on Tucker and in that intervening time is when Tucker says he was thrown to the ground and beaten.
The thing is that according to Tucker, the view is of the officer standing almost directly across the street from the nightclub where the fight occurred with Tucker taking the video right in front of him. That means that in the minute and a half, if the police's story were true, Tucker would have had to have crossed the street, gotten between the police and the fighters gone back to the other side of the street and been taken down, beaten and handcuffed.
In addition Tucker had a regular camera which the police confiscated and claimed that that was what he used to take the pictures of the fight. So add "getting out the regular camera" to the list of chores he miraculously performed in a minute and a half.
Oh- and according to Tucker, the police have told his attorney that there were no pictures on the memory card of the camera.
Today according to Associated Press,
Journalist Amy Goodman, host of the syndicated program "Democracy Now!" and two of her producers will receive $100,000 in a settlement over their arrests during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
Many will remember how Goodman was arrested simply doing her job in reporting on the convention.
"When journalists are arrested, it is not only a violation of the freedom the press, but of the public's right to know," Goodman said in a statement. "When journalists are handcuffed and abused, so is democracy. We should not have to get a record when we put things on the record."
Getting back to the symposium, it seemed that every time we mentioned Tucker's name in close proximity to the word "reporter" it elicited an audible groan and a rolling of the eyes from the professionals there.
But the fact is that when someone is acting in the capacity of a reporter and has the means to distribute the story and has done so in the past, that person becomes a reporter by performing the act of reporting.
And that may be the crux of why many in the old guard of the old media insisted on there being reporting standards of professionalism for bloggers, especially those who do reporting and opinion in the same piece.
We maintained that there's no need because critical readers will be able to sort out who is reliably reporting events even if it is intermixed with opinion. And of course those without those skills will not.
It's really no different than it's ever been. When we were growing up you could either read the New York Times or The New York Post. Some people can't tell the difference and for them their lack of critical reading and thinking skills will never allow them to distinguish between the two. Even with time showing the reliability of the Times and their reputation for veracity that comes with it, those who lack those skills will see the Post's material as factual no matter how often they are proven to be purveying false information.
The lesson we took from the symposium is that the "new media" is simply a function of the new technology- nothing more and nothing less. There's no need for new rules of journalism on the part of the writers because the readers and their skills will be what determines the viability of each publication in the future.
As it was half a century ago, the medium is still the message and no new gizmo is going to change that.