Monday, April 7, 2008


CAN’T YOU KEEP THAT MUTT FROM BARKING?: Well the “new look” Honolulu Advertiser’s web site has been around long enough for a verdict of “out of the frying pan, into the fire” or, in the vernacular, it sucks.

The site was never convenient to use or clear to read and, as management acknowledged, was and still seems to be the slowest news site in the west- or east..

The new look is apparently for all HA-owner and media giant Gannett’s newspapers- a cookie-cutter from cost-cutting company that is roundly despised by its staff, especially lately.

Most of the complaints about the site have been centered around the fact that you have to act like Stanley searching for Dr. Livingston to find the actual news articles, which are buried at the bottom of each page, preceded by columns of superfluous promos for “reader submitted news”... which amount to verbatim press releases so the news desk doesn’t have hire people to re-write them and avoid classical plagiarism charges.

But the one feature that made the old site tolerable is gone-. the anonymous free-for-all following most articles- the “comment” section. That’s where critique, criticism and curmudgeon-ism regarding the paper, the articles, the reporters, the editor and the issues raised by the news were a predominant theme.

The old anonymous “fill-in-any-old-name-and-click” comment has now been replaced by an email-verified account and a required log in, serving to say “watch what you say- we know who you are”.

When you register they say it’s so your “friends” can “find you.” ... what is this Facebook?

And worse, now there’s a strict limit to a teensy 1000-character tome... around 200 words... less for the polysyllabic.

Now some might say that the atmosphere created in a sometimes anonymous verbal platform was sometimes hostile and attracted internet “trolls”. But these days most people know not to feed the trolls by reading their messages, or worse responding to them.... that’s why they put scroll wheels on your mouse.

But truly anonymous comments sections are a source of real news many times and give readers a treasure trove of the breadth and range of readers’ thoughts and attitudes toward the news. It animates the reporting process by forcing the news from a passive to active process.

There are few if any reporters around these days whose ideas about their profession and actual work itself has not been influenced by the ability to have instant feedback on their work and the news itself..

Rather than writing in a vacuum, the reporter who has the benefit of this kind of treatment- whether they be rough or mild, complimentary or viciously aggressive- now has the ability to do what has always been the technologically unachievable ideal- to be able write in order to actually communicate with readers, talking with them about the news rather than at them.

Though it is hard to use these types of forums as a polling device they certainly raise points that, if not accurate, indicate how and what people think about the information they’re receiving- and in fact if they are receiving it- by showing how readers perceive the report.

After glancing at the number of posts before and after the change it’s indisputable that the number of people commenting has dropped dramatically because most people don’t like registering to make their comments and won’t do it. And many of the most thoughtful and even researched responses are now doomed to the trash-bin because it is nearly impossible to say anything consequential in 200 words.

But the Honolulu Star-Bulletin recently added it’s own comments section, not just on select but on all of them and they still allow for instant anonymous postings. We will certainly be getting more of a pulse of the community there than the Advertisers’ new management-controlled reader-submitted articles blogs and comments sections.

It’s amazing that this new tool- which revives the very essence of free-speech of the “pamphleteer” type- is apparently too much first amendment for an institution that bases it’s business on the same article of constitutional protection.

But no one ever said editor Mark Platte was anything but Gannett’s corporate shill and henchman, not only standing the heat but fanning the flames of corporatization in the HA’s “modern newsroom”.

We’ll miss the Advertiser’s short-lived experiment with speech for the unidentified but can still browse through the Star-Bulletin’s comments for a pulse of the community’s mana`o where. Their news is still restricted to what old Bilgewater thinks it is, but maybe the comments on it can make up for his well known slash and burn editing.

For some reason it all brings to mind an apropos line from Tom Lehrer’s ode to “Poor Hubert” Humphrey concerning his move from the U.S. Senate to the vice presidency:

Once a fiery liberal spirit
But now when he speaks he must clear it.

Ahem, indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quiet down mutt, you'll wake up the neighbors!