Monday, March 29, 2010

A new beginning and an ancient tradition - all in one day

March 29, 2010, is a day I will remember.

It started at our Peer News offices in Honolulu, clean desks and glorious orchids awaiting the arrival of our editorial staff. It ended in Kailua, outside in a lanai, the wind blowing, as we celebrated Passover around a long seder table with new friends.

Somehow it's always amazing how a seder can feel so familiar and so fresh. The songs and words, the flavors, so similar, wherever we are. After thousands of years, we still tie ourselves to a journey to freedom, to the history of our people. Yet this year I somehow felt more connected to the original experience, in the garden, with the sound of the wind behind our words. The holiday runs deep, it lifts our spirits. Freedom. Promise.

Earlier in the day, another journey began. It seemed fitting that it would start on a day that I see as the journalists' holiday. The question we ask on Passover - Why is this night different from all the rest - a building block of good storytelling.

On this day, in Honolulu, we asked our new team to come together and to question the assumptions that had driven their craft until now. How could I not be excited being on the edge of so much promise? We learned of what we had in common, and we talked of what we would try to do together. We spoke of mission and purpose, of business and customers, of being part of something together. Of the actual work we would do and what was expected of all of us. Of how we saw stories and how far we could push the range of our voices. We ate together, and even sang Happy Birthday to one of our new colleagues. And we got lost - our heads spinning - as we played with our new computers. We agreed that our internal culture had to be consistent with the public culture we hoped to create with our new news service. We agreed that we needed to be able to disagree without being disagreeable, that we could be civil even as we debated issues for which there are no easy answers.

I am thankful to be able to be here in Honolulu at the start of something new. And on the same day I am grateful to be part of something old. At Peer News, this year, we are taking something with tradition - journalism - and trying to make it new. On Passover, every year, we take something old and make it new, make it our own.

There are lessons in both experiences.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Content and Community: My talk on Peer News at the Newsmorphosis conference

This is a draft of the speech I gave at the Newsmorphosis conference in Honolulu on Thursday, March 18. My actual remarks varied from this outline. You can see my talk on ustream.

Updated to clarify my statement about "comments."

  • This is my first public appearance since I moved to Honolulu
  • I’ve got to say the newspaper scene here feels like deja vu all over again
  • A year ago, it was Denver becoming a one paper town and I was the editor there who saw his paper silenced, with hundreds losing their jobs
  • When I got here in January, it was apparent that the newspaper status quo in Honolulu couldn’t go on for long
  • What happened, how the tables turned, is another example of why we can’t take anything for granted in this media era
  • I understand how difficult, even distressing, these changes can be
  • But having lived through a similar experience and come out on the other side, I’m also here to tell you that even in a time of uncertainty there are reasons to be I am today, working here in Honolulu.
  • The title Jay Fidell gave this speech is “What role will Peer News play in these transformations”
  • It seems to me, based on what's happened with local TV news outlets and now at Honolulu's newspapers, that the media environment is doing a pretty good job of transforming itself without any help from Peer News
  • Think of Jay’s title for this talk as an unsupported lede...or a headline that doesn’t fit the story
  • I’m not actually going to talk about the role of Peer News in the transformation we’ve been talking about at this conference today...Frankly, I don’t know what the role of Peer News will be in these transformations...that will be for others to decide down the road
  • I do know that we’re going to approach some things differently. We’ll learn from that and I hope you’ll follow our service and my blog and learn with us
  • What’s different for me at Peer News from what I’ve done in the past is that we’re not trying to invent an online newspaper, we're not trying to move things we've been doing in print online
  • We started by asking three fundamental questions
  • 1. What is the role of the press in a democracy
  • 2. How best would you fulfill that role using all the tools available today
  • 3. How do you do that in a sustainable way
  • I hope my talk today will help make more clear our answers to those questions.
  • I think we’re in a period where news organizations need to shift their focus from their own needs to the needs and desires of citizens...
  • I’ve been out talking to people to hear what’s on their minds...Let me give you a sense of what I’m hearing...
  • Show video clips of man/woman on the street interviews
  • I think you can hear a sense of concern...they’re worried that news is filtered, that they’re not getting the whole story and that things are getting worse
  • At peer news we want readers to feel things are getting better.
  • That they’re being heard
  • That they have people working on their behalf.
  • We’re starting from scratch, so that allows us certain freedoms.
  • We have no history...that means we don’t have to shift from an old model to a new model.
  • Our mission statement is an example of I’m talking about
  • The mission of peer news is to create the new civic square
  • It’s hard to imagine any traditional news organization opting for that mission statement
  • Fundamentally, we believe that our news service should empower citizens and encourage greater civic participation
  • We’re creating a place where people can learn and understand, debate and discover
  • Our goal is to be the place where citizens come to learn, understand, debate and discover solutions to the most important issues in our community
  • Peer news will be a place where citizens’ contributions matter...yes, potentially as much as the contributions of the journalists who provide the reporting and information that will serve as the basis for discussion
  • So I'm going to answer the question many of you have been asking me for weeks: What are you doing
  • Peer News is focusing on two things: Content and community. That’s the bottom line. Those are the two words that you’re going to hear from us again and again. Content and Community.
  • Here’s how we’re going to be different on the content side
  • We’re taking a more holistic approach to news...We’ll take issues that we know people care about or are important to the community and provide in-depth reporting that can serve as a resource for readers. That resource will be a living history, something that evolves as understanding of the issue develops..That’s different from the traditional approach of reporting isolated stories reflecting a single point in time....And it’s different from an archive, a collection of the stories a news organization has written, like the archives on important topics you might find on many news sites
  • Matt Thompson of NPR described a similar way of thinking in a blog post recently
  • He wrote: "Right now, the most common way the news industry attempts to impart systemic knowledge is by wedging it into our episodic reports... This is completely bass-ackwards. Journalists spend a ton of time trying to acquire the systemic knowledge we need to report an issue, yet we dribble it out in stingy bits between lots and lots of worthless, episodic updates."
  • If you want to understand an issue like the proposed rail project for Honolulu on Peer News, you’ll be able to read a deep and ever-growing briefing on the issue, with maps, source documents, etc. Articles won’t need all the boilerplate background that is typical of many newspaper stories...we’ll use links from articles to connect people back to a page that will seem more like wikipedia than a newspaper, although wikipedia with a news edge
  • Our articles typically will be driven by questions rather than events...that’s why we talk about an investigative reporting mindset driving our approach..... we’ll be trying to answer the questions readers might ask in order to come to an informed opinion about an issue like rail
  • And when I talk about important issues, I think it’s key to stress that we’ll identify what we think those are and hold onto them tightly...we don’t want to focus on a hot topic one day and seem to forget about it the next
  • So that’s a bit about the content part of the equation
  • Let me focus now on the other half of the equation: community
  • As I mentioned before. We’re out to create the new civic square. You can’t do that without having people engaged.
  • One of the ways we’ll get people involved is by connecting with them and connecting them with each other
  • Here are 3 specific things we’re going to do
  • No. 1. Our job title for our reporting staff isn’t “reporter”
  • It’s “reporter and host”
  • This is different from what other people are doing...but we think it’s going to be a key to our success....
  • If you think of reporters as the servants of their readers...people who are working for their’d be a lot closer to what we’re thinking, instead of reporters as chroniclers or reporters as stenographers...
  • We know there are going to be people in the community who know more than our reporters on any given subject...the challenge is to involve them and create a place for them to participate in the new civic square...
  • The second thing that will make us different is how we’ll handle what most news sites call comments.
  • How many of you, and be honest with me, how many of you read comments because you think you’re going to learn something from them? Give me a show of hands. How many of you are embarrassed by the comments on your own Web site and think they reflect badly on your community or news organization?
  • Maybe now you’ll understand why we’re not going to have "comments". (I put quotes around the word comments after Jay Rosen pointed out that it sounded like I was saying it was going to be a one-way conversation. My point was that we were going to have debate, discussions, conversations - not comments. We think we can create a more satisfying and civil environment through this approach, rather than using "comments" after an article.)
  • We all know how comments on news sites can descend into racism, hate, the ugly side of they can reflect badly on news organizations and often only reflect a narrow slice of their truth, the comments sections of most news sites often act as a keep out sign to decent people...why would anybody want to participate given the tone and nature of the speech found there?
  • The problem...or at least a big part of the problem...anonymity...
  • In a civic have to show your face can’t avoid responsibility for your words..
  • We plan to recreate that experience ..
  • No. 3, Peer News is going to call things like it sees them.
  • We think it’s important to find a way to, as one new friend put it, speak hard truths to each other and still get along
  • This means that at Peer News we’ll be taking stands... Readers may not agree with us sometimes, or even most of the time...but we believe that by taking a clear position on many issues, it will help others shape their own...
  • So that should give you a sense of how content and community will work together on Peer News
  • But let me go ahead and address a few questions I know you might still be asking
  • One big one is what the news service itself will look like
  • The site isn’t going to be some 3D affair, something nobody has ever’s not Avatar...
  • It’s designed to serve the needs of its readers, to make it seamless for them to participate every day, to keep them coming back for’ll be about the content and the conversation, not about whiz bang
  • The site exists to fulfill the needs of the community..
  • We hope the site will connect people here in a way they haven’t been connected before
  • Another question that I often hear is so what’s the business model
  • Peer News will be a member organization, but not members only
  • We’ll be embracing transparency and social media...there will be plenty of presence and impact for everybody, whether they’re members or not
  • But the business model is based on creating content and experiences that people will value...and are willing to pay for
  • That’s where we start...
  • So what can you expect from peer news? A different way of thinking about content and a different way of thinking about community
  • And a new way of thinking about how they’re connected
  • I’ve come a long way to start this journey...My wife and I moved here from Colorado because we believe in this much as I’ve come to love the magic of this place in the weeks that I’ve been here, it’s not what brought me here...I’m here because I’m passionate about the possibility of finding a new approach to journalism...I believe in what we’re doing at Peer News, in what I’ve told you about today...I hope after listening to this talk that you’re starting to feel the same excitement, too

Monday, March 15, 2010

More Reporter Hosts join Peer News

I’m happy to report that we’ve now hired the editorial team that will launch our new news service for Honolulu and Hawaii. I’ll be talking about our approach publicly for the first time at a speech in Honolulu later this week at a conference called Newsmorphosis.

I stress in my headline that these journalists will be hosts as well as reporters because the community will interact with them in a way that’s not typical of the relationship between reporters and their readers. A big part of Peer News is going to be community, and the reporter hosts will be key in making that happen.

Along with Assistant Editor Sara Lin and reporters Chad Blair, Noelle Chun and Katherine Poythress, the reporter hosts at Peer News will include (in alphabetical order):

Mike Levine, currently a reporter and assistant news editor at The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. Mike has worked as a journalist on Kauai for a couple of years, after picking lettuce and acting as a tour guide there. He also worked for Fodor’s to update the Kauai section of the 2010 Hawaii Guidebook and Kauai Guidebook 3rd Edition. Mike worked as a news desk editor and writer at before moving to Kauai. He’s a graduate of Lehigh University and the rare reporter to have majored in journalism and minored in material science and engineering.

Katherine Nichols, currently a staff writer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Katherine approaches journalism with the drive and determination of the triathlete that she is. The 16-year resident of Hawaii has experience as a reporter for both Honolulu papers, and served as the Hawaii bureau chief for Travel Weekly Magazine. She has written freelance articles for publications ranging from The New York Times Magazine and The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine to People Magazine and Honolulu Magazine. She wrote, produced and hosted a local television show, and has written and produced programming for ESPN. Katherine attended UCLA, where she earned a degree in English Literature and a master's in education.

Treena Shapiro, currently the assistant features editor at The Honolulu Advertiser. Treena was born in Honolulu and grew up on the Big Island and in Virginia and California before returning to Oahu as a teen-ager. She’s a graduate of Kailua High School and the University of Hawaii/Manoa. Treena had an extensive career as a public affairs reporter before she made the switch to editing in 2008. She was a general assignment and education reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin before moving to the Advertiser, where she covered City Hall, education, the legislature and state government. Treena was an early adopter of new approaches to journalism. She shoots video on stories and has written a blog for the Advertiser.

Monday, March 8, 2010

First "reporter hosts" join Peer News

The staff of Peer News is starting to take shape. Last week I announced that Sara Lin of The Wall Street Journal will be joining the new Honolulu-based news service as assistant editor.

Today it’s my pleasure to announce the names of the first people who’ll be joining the service as “reporter and host.” Yes, you read that correctly. The job profile for reporters at Peer News includes the role of host, reflecting our commitment to community engagement as a central part of the reporters’ role.

Joining Peer News (in alphabetical order) will be:

Chad Blair, currently a reporter with Pacific Business News in Honolulu. Chad has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii. He is the author of Money, Color & Sex in Hawai’i Politics and has also worked as a reporter for Hawaii Public Radio and the Honolulu Weekly. Chad was a Racial Justice Fellow in 2005-2006 at the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. Chad has extensive experience as a teacher, having worked at the University of Hawaii, Chaminade University, Hawaii Pacific University and Honolulu Community College.

Noelle Chun, currently social media coordinator for Ashoka’s Changemakers in Washington, D.C. For Noelle, Peer News will be a return to the community where she grew up. Noelle is a graduate of Punahou School, where she was editor of the student paper for two years. She went on to earn journalism and history degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked extensively in new media, including with Guy Kawasaki on and She has also worked as an assistant editor at the University of California, San Francisco, and as an intern at Honolulu Magazine, The Honolulu Advertiser, KHON2, and Newsweek.

Katherine Poythress, currently a staff writer at The Gadsden Times in Gadsden, Alabama. Katherine is a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan, where she was on a scholarship for outstanding journalistic performance. Katherine is a hard-driving local news reporter who has embraced new media tools. She has also worked as a reporter at The Daily Home in Talladega, Alabama.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Peer News moves into new headquarters

Today we began our move into a bigger space in Honolulu. Another step in our journey.

You can see that our new furniture is really comfortable.

(Photos by Mark Quezada, Peer News staff, using an iPhone)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sara Lin of The Wall Street Journal is coming home to Honolulu to become assistant editor of Peer News

Somehow a new news initiative never seems entirely real until the team of journalists that's going to produce it starts to take shape. Since I joined Peer News at the end of January, we've had lot of great conversations about what we're going to do, but there hasn't been another working journalist for me to collaborate with to start creating content.

Until now.

I'm happy to announce that we've hired an assistant editor. We're bringing home a local star - Sara Lin - to work as my partner leading the Honolulu-based news service. Sara was born and raised in Hawaii and graduated from Punahou School, where she was editor of the student newspaper for two years. She's a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in Politics and minored in East Asian Studies. While a student, she worked as an intern at Honolulu Weekly and The Honolulu Advertiser. After graduation, she went on to a reporting career at two of America's great newspapers: the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, where today she is a real estate reporter and columnist. Sara starts at Peer News at the end of the month.