Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami scenes in Hawaii

Today many former colleagues will gather in Denver to mark the anniversary of the Rocky's final edition.

Today in Honolulu we focused on a different, potentially much more serious, event, a possible tsunami heading our way in Hawaii. Ultimately it was anti-climactic. But the pictures from Chile are an indication of why people here took it so seriously. It could have been a very destructive day. The tsunami provided a different window on life in Hawaii.

I had been scheduled to attend a tech conference so we got up very early. The warning siren sounded across the city at 6 a.m. The event was supposed to be at Kapiolani Community College, the site of probably the most amazing farmers' market I've ever been to. We decided to go to the market anyway, even though the conference was canceled before 7. The market was half empty today. Usually it's just packed. You can't find a parking place. It was a beautiful place to be nonetheless. There was nothing we could do re the tsunami. So why not stock up on some good fresh food and enjoy Kona coffee, fried green tomatoes and barbecued abalone (farm raised) for breakfast.

Here's a picture Judith shot there. It gives an idea of how beautiful it can be at a tropical market in February.
Then we went over to Kaimuki, the neighborhood where I work. It's on high ground above Waikiki. It was pretty dead. A lot of stores had signs like the own below on their doors. If they even had a sign. Many stores were just closed.

There's a very friendly coffee shop I've been using to interview candidates for Peer News called Coffee Talk. Today it was packed. This is how we and many others followed the tsunami there.

Finally, we got hungry and had a sandwich and then headed to another neighborhood to see if we could buy art supplies for Judith. The art supply store was closed, but there was an amazing nursery next door. It was empty, but the man behind the counter "talked story" with us for a long time. He was a longtime diving coach who had been everywhere. He grew beautiful plants.

When the news that the warning had been listed came through on my blackberry, we headed home. We were strangely exhausted. The Pacific visible from our lanai was dotted with boats and ships that had put out to sea from the harbor.

Tonight we'll have a lot to talk about as we attend the annual Heart Ball here. My first "black tie" event as editor of Peer News. Except what's so cool is that I'm not going to wear a tuxedo. Instead I had a special Filipino dress shirt made for the occasion, a Barong Tagalog. That, and black pants will do just fine.

Mostly, we're just relieved that the danger has passed. We think of the people in Chile who suffered from the earthquake and remember how united we are across the ocean.

Friday, February 26, 2010

One year later, there's life after death

It’s deja-vu all over again.

Here I am in Honolulu, one year after the announcement by the E.W. Scripps Co. that it would shut down the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and what do I hear? That another newspaper company is dealing essentially the same death knell to another proud title, this time the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

It wasn’t unexpected. It hasn’t seemed possible since I arrived here in January that Honolulu could support two major newspapers. I thought it was only a matter of time until there would be just one. I still think I’m right.

Of course, the owner of the Star-Bulletin says it’s putting the paper up for sale. But that appears to be just a way to say it did everything possible for the paper.

I know the uncertainty and even despair that some newspaper journalists here must be feeling. We felt something similar a year ago.

Tomorrow, in Denver, former Rocky journalists will gather at the press club and mark the anniversary of the paper’s final edition. I will be with them and my other colleagues in spirit.

I never could have imagined last Feb. 26 that one year after telling my staff that our next issue would be our final edition, I would be in Hawaii, launching what we’re calling a next generation news service.

I won’t say I don’t feel a sense of loss. Of course I do. I’ll never forget my days at the Rocky or the friends I made there. But perhaps my words - and experience - can encourage some of the new friends I’ve made in the journalism community here and the many newspaper people here I’ve yet to meet.

Yes, it’s difficult to move on to the next stage in life. And, no, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to make the kind of money you once made. Or that you’ll be able to work in journalism again. But there’s life after the death of a paper. You can see that in what has happened to many who were at the Rocky. I had hoped to do a survey and report what had happened to the staff, the way I did after six months. But frankly, I’m too busy building something new to look back. And that’s the good news.

I feel so lucky to be here. I feel liberated by not having the tug of the newspaper holding us down as we imagine what the future of journalism might look like. I have only a map of where we’re going and I don’t know all the people I’ll be going with, but each day I get to put one foot in front of the other and help us try to find our way.

I would encourage others to do the same. Don’t abandon your belief in the importance of the work or your dream of doing work better than anything you’ve done until now.

Yes, the announcement Thursday in Honolulu was probably another grave marker along the road to doom for newspapers. But I feel even more strongly today than a year ago that what we should be thinking about reinventing is journalism, not newspapers. I still love newspapers - I read three a day in print - and I admire the work that many are still doing at them. To those who can still work at them, and to their owners, I would just ask that you take more chances. Just because something used to be a certain way doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.

And to those at both Honolulu papers, I would tell you what I told our staff when Scripps announced the Rocky was for sale. Don’t waste the time you have. Do the stories you’ve always wanted to do. You won’t regret it. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Update from Paradise

Being part of a start-up there’s a hunger to get it up and running as quickly as possible. But that desire runs head on into the reality that there’s so much to do and the only way to get it done is to be deliberate, to take one step and then the next. Sometimes, it feels like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back. But more often it feels like a deeper picture is emerging every day of the journalistic landscape here and the possibilities for our news service. I’m finding people in Hawaii’s journalism community generous with their time and with their thoughts.

It’s difficult when talking about Peer News because there’s much we’re not prepared to share about our plans just yet. But I thought it might be helpful for people trying to understand Peer News to see a few of the things we’re talking about and sharing on our internal blog.

One column we found thought-provoking and relevant came from John Tierney of The New York Times.

Much of our focus at Peer News is on community and Tierney’s column explores a study on motives for sharing stories. While one of our group correctly points out that it’s an unusual sample because it’s New York Times readers, something in it strikes me as true and revelatory about the impact of quality journalism.

“Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion,” one of the University of Pennsylvania researchers, Dr. Jonah Berger, told Tierney. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”

The key words for me are “changes the way I understand the world and myself.” By doing that, journalism makes people want to talk to others. That seems to get at what we hope to do with our journalism.

Another interesting article came from the Harvard Business Review.

This article by Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (my alma mater), gets at the value and importance of community.

He writes: “At our core, we are all social creatures. Community matters to us. This is why even when humans engage in profoundly anti-social activities; we do it in tightly knit social groups whether they happen to be called Crips, Yakuza or Al Qaeda. This is because as social creatures, much of our happiness is derived from our relationship with community — however that community is defined. We long to be: a) a valued member of a community; b) that we value; and c) is valued by people outside the community in question.”

Another article we’ve discussed recently is a strong piece by Glenn Greenwald of Salon about a New York Times article on Wall Street’s alleged feeling of buyer’s remorse over its support of President Obama in the 2008 election. One part of the column addresses the use of anonymous sources by the writer. That article highlights the potential pitfalls anonymous sources can pose in political coverage. Standards for the use of anonymous sources will be one of the things we talk about with our staff before we launch. There’s more we’re talking about internally, obviously, but perhaps this gives a sense of the kinds of things we’re thinking about on Waialae Ave. in our office with a view of the Pacific.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Q&A with Pierre Omidyar re Peer News

Those of you interested in learning more about the service I'm helping build in Hawaii might be interested in this Q&A with Pierre Omidyar published by Pacific Business News.

Key quote: "Our goal is to create the new civic square. We want to provide a platform for people to come together as a community. We hope to encourage people to become more engaged in the world around them and provide them with ways to respectfully discuss important issues with their neighbors."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My first week in Paradise

On the seventh day in a startup, you do not rest. It’s been one full week since I started work as editor of Peer News, what we’re calling a next generation news service in Honolulu. And as on all the days before - except my “days off,” when I drove around town looking for housing - yesterday was a mix of conversations with my new colleagues about topics we need to work through - for example, how to handle the contributions of non-staff writers - and the quiet of a blank office with a small group tapping away on Mac laptops.

What does an editor do to launch a new news service?

First, my new colleagues, Pierre Omidyar and Randy Ching, had already given a lot of thought, with their adviser Howard Weaver, to what the new service should look like. So the basic editorial direction has already been set, which gives me a huge head start. And they had adopted an approach to hiring, based on the book "Who: The A Method for Hiring,” which they used to hire me. So how to go about recruiting our staff had already been established, too. What I needed to do was focus on the basics. That meant unsexy tasks like writing job descriptions to make it possible to recruit people and have them understand what would be expected of them. I’ve also written a beat/coverage guide, again to sharpen what the service would offer and help explain it to prospective hires. All these, of course, go through rounds of editing and discussion. (We’ll be talking about our plans in more detail closer to launch.)

Moving has been a reminder of the stress that any new employee goes through. Good to remember. All the HR paperwork and questions. The crazy things that happen in a new town. Leaving the lights on in the rental car and getting stranded in a rainstorm. The difficulty of finding an apartment. New software tools to learn. Posterous. Dropbox. Skype Chat. (OK, I knew to how use it. But not properly, according to Mr. Omidyar...By the way, I thought I knew how to use e-mail, but it turns out I've been using it wrong all along. Blame it on my Blackberry.) And new user IDs and passwords to remember.

Job applications are rolling in. A gentle reminder: If you’re looking for a job, it’s a good idea to follow directions. A second reminder: Sending an online news service a resume that says your goal is to work at a metropolitan daily newspaper or something other than the job you’re applying for is probably not a good idea. Also, think about customizing your resume for each position. It makes people appear more serious if they seem to understand what we might be looking for. Generic doesn’t help somebody stand out.

One thing that’s impressed me in Hawaii is how open everybody is to meeting and talking about the work. Aloha actually means something. And for that I’m grateful.

I’m happy to be here. At the beginning. Digging in. Building.