By Jay Fidell
We presented the NewsMorphosis program on March 18th at the Plaza Club. It was by all accounts a success, although some of that has to be related to the buzz created by the sale of the Advertiser to David Black. In any event, all three of our out of town panelists came and came on time. They were all interesting and vivacious and were great anchors for the three panels we presented that day, and it's more than likely that they'll carry the word back to their respective constituencies that yes Hawaii can do high level conferences.
Avi Soifer, constitutional scholar and Dean of the UH Law School, was our “wakeup” keynote. And that he did. In a relaxed breakfast style, he gave the crowd a splendid talk, with great personal aloha, on “The Role of News in a Free Society.” The webcast video of his remarks is on vimeo.com/10515668 or thinktechhawaii.com, and is well worth watching.
John Temple, new editor of Pierre Omidyar’s Peer News, was our luncheon keynote. He didn’t like the title we had given his keynote – “The Role Peer News will play in the Transformation.” He thought it implied he would talk about Peer News. Well, we had hoped he would talk about Peer News. I don’t think they would have come to hear him talk about something else.
Aside from calling me out on the title of the keynote, John’s point seemed to be that there was no “silver bullet” and we shouldn’t expect too much from Peer News. But it certainly seemed there is more going on under the hood than he was willing to tell us about. Why hire an editor and “host” reporters and spend the money to design and develop Peer News if it isn’t going to play a role in the transformation. Doing another conventional news site will go nowhere fast. Peer News must be developing something new, which we haven’t seen before.
You can see what he said and make up your own mind. The webcast of his talk is on vimeo.com/10517131 or thinktechhawaii.com. Or you can check it out on Channel 54 when the full OLELO coverage is posted on Olelo.org.
Avi Soifer talked about “volunteer fire department” citizen journalists, and in the challenge of the business models to come, that may well be the best and most affordable option, one which Peer News and other Internet plays might well be considering. John Temple said Peer News hoped to build “community” and “engagement” with the readers. Volunteers could be a key part of that.
Perhaps they should also consider vanity journalism, i.e., pay to play. The in-house “host’ journalists can be used to supervise and encourage them. These vanity volunteers would pay for space, and the proceeds could be applied to compensate the most talented of them. Good journalists should be paid well and treated like stars. Click through ads won’t cover the labor costs, and a subscription model won’t yield enough revenue to do it, especially in Hawaii.
WRITING, READING, RATING
When Pierre Omidyar gave his recent Kipapa lecture, he explained that eBay’s challenge was to build trust among strangers so they would buy and sell from each other. How different is Peer News? The essence of it, perhaps one could say the silver bullet of it, is to build trust between writers and the readers – to fashion an interactive relationship among them to keep them coming back.
This will have to involve a rating algorithm, just like eBay. John Temple said Peer News will go live in Q2, so watch and see if I’m right. Readers rate writers, writers rate readers, and readers rate writing. Ratings raise writers to the top, where readers can see them. Writers raised to the top get paid more. Readers who regularly read, rate higher when they rate writers. Readers who regularly rate, rate higher when they rate writers. Writers who regularly write, rate higher. Writers who regularly respond to raters who write, rate higher. Got it? It’s a trusting and trusted community of writing, reading, rating and reward.
COMMUNITY AND ENGAGEMENT
Everybody will have a place in that community in an online pecking order, a matrix of news process. You get a piece of it by writing or reading or rating or all three. The more you come around, the more you belong, the higher up you get and the more rewards you receive in a challenging competition to get to the top and stay there. On eBay, the best rated buyers and sellers have better benefits, so we might expect that on Peer News the best rated writers, readers and raters will have better benefits and access to news and networking, space to publish, free subscriptions, a toaster oven, and who knows what else?
Sounds like a lot of design and development for Hawaii’s small news market? I don’t think for a minute that this is destined to stay bottled up in Hawaii. How hard will it be to transform a smart news site in a small market to one in a global market? So much of the news is aggregated anyway, as in Google News. Hawaii can be a laboratory for this news site, as it is for so many other things. As mainland TV stations want to emulate Hawaii News Now, mainland news sites will want to emulate Peer News. How long do you think it will stay local?
Everyone did well. Gina Mangieri did a great job with Will Moss (who came from Beijing), Mark Platte and Chris Archer; Mary Fastenau did a great job with Sarah Lacy (who came from San Francisco by way of India), Kyle Tanouye, Dan Leuck and Olin Lagon; and Steve Petranik did a great job with Michael Friedman (who came from Washington, D.C.), Jeff Portnoy and David Shapiro.
The media were there and covered the program. After all, it was about them. The papers wrote about it. In the last few days, the Advertiser had pieces by panelists Mark Platte, Michael Freedman and David Shapiro. PBS asked for Avi Soifer’s remarks. We posted the webcast tapes on ThinkTechHawaii.com. OLELO will broadcast their more extensive coverage soon. Someone said there was a news article about it in a mainland paper, but I haven’t seen that yet.
We had a variety of comments. Most people liked all the panels and thought the program was well thought out. Some liked the tech panel and some liked the other panels better. Everyone liked David Shapiro. Some felt the panel moderated by Steve Petranik, had the most informed and relevant panelists. Others felt we should have had more panelists representing more media.
Different people took different messages home. The message I got from the program is that the King is Dead, and soon enough Long Live the King. That’s transformation for you. The problem is we don't know how to get from the old one to the new one. Bridging the gap, akin to a generation gap, isn’t so easy.
One thing seems clear - the 200 people who attended NewsMorphosis will be watching intently to find out what happens with the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin. They’ll probably also be hoping to learn more about Peer News.
Thanks so much to the speakers, moderators and panelists for participating, and to the planning committee, sponsors and supporters who made it possible. Thanks also to the people who came down to attend and the media that covered it. What an experience for all of us. All things considered, I did feel it was a healthy discussion and a generally candid and constructive coming together on the issue and recent historic developments.
This was a lot of work, and some important lessons, but we were grateful and gratified with the way it came out. Our committee is already planning the next one. It’ll be called Recovery 2010 – Solutions for a Troubled Economy; Straight Talk with the Elephants in the Room. It’ll cover what we can do to fix Hawaii’s ailing land and tourism economy to compete in the 21st century. Save the date – August 25, 2010. It will be an equally ambitious ThinkTech-HVCA program.