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.


  1. Glad to see you're doing so well. If the opportunity arises, I'd love to write for your new adventure one day.

    Brad Friedman


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  2. It sounds like you're doing the start-up shuffle.

    My excitement over this venture often makes me wonder about the details, but I guess my patience will have to be tested.

    Are you going to ask the community to come up with the name?

    I read Tierney's column. Your comments are interesting, but I've always thought of this idea from the other end: People sharing with journalists what they talk about and journalists sharing those stories through a mass medium, causing even more people to talk about it.

    My feeling is that the more people share their interests and issues with journalists, the stronger and more popular journalism becomes and, ahem, the easier it is to market advertisements to them. Many Web sites collect similar data in massive quantities, but not to journalistic ends. It's frustrating watching the "news" feed on facebook.

    News Web sites have only scratched the surface of this concept, and I'm interested in seeing if Peer News does it better than the popular sites that aren't geared toward civic engagement.

    This news service is going to rock Hawaii, but I'm more enthusiastic about the impact it will have on journalism as a whole, which seems to be the broader goal here. What does your scorecard say? "1. Reinvent journalism?"

    Clearly, I'm an early fan, because I've never been this optimistic about any of the start-ups launching so far. This is going to be successful and affect the industry I work in, whether I'm involved or not, and I can't wait for it to do so.

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