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We haven’t had many “slow” news days in the past year, and I’m beginning to wonder if our peppy new media-ecology normal just might be a part of the “quickening” projected by futurist Ray Kurzweil in his mind-bending classic “The Singularity is Near.”
In short, the MIT-trained Kurzweil predicted about a decade ago that the exponential rate of technological development, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence, would soon surpass humanity’s ability to keep up with it.
When that moment of singularity is reached – when machines start inventing other machines – the speed of change in society will spike like a volcano erupting, and technological innovation will become a never-ending blur of advancements, like having new iPhone releases offered every three minutes daily.
Instead of pining for the past or pretending we are not destined for this sort of dramatic societal shift, I recommend looking as far in front as our headlights can shine and trying to prepare ourselves for what’s next.
In this spirit, I’m going to speed up Reader Rep this week, too, to quickly get to some of the many ideas I’ve been wanting to write about (before a computer comes along and takes my job).
• Journalists can’t do it alone: A common question I’ve been asked recently by members of the public is what are journalists going to do about it? That “it” depends on the context and interests of the questioner, but I think the inquiry generally misunderstands the place of journalists in a society.
Journalism prompts democratic discussion, provides a forum for such discourse and holds people in power accountable for their words and actions. It does not create legislation, enforce policies or take action to the streets. That’s your job, citizen.
We journalists try to shine light on issues of urgent importance and vet facts (truth) from “alternative facts” (lies). You decide what to do with that information.
• What’s your code of ethics? I have written a lot during the past year about the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, the standards that delineate journalists as distinct from other types of information peddlers. But I recently received a thoughtful email that expands upon this topic from reader Marcella Alohalani Boido, a Hawaii State Judiciary certified court interpreter.
She wrote that in her job, everyone signs a commitment to follow a Code of Professional Conduct, but that in practice, not everyone follows it. She added that simply reading the code and listening to a lecture on it is not adequate preparation for the pressures of working in real-life contexts with it as your guide.
No matter what your occupation, you have to embody and embrace your code, and we all depend on each other to do that. Those who do follow their code honor their profession, and those who don’t disgrace it.
• What does that advertisement really cost? I wrote recently about the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s misguided advertising policy to publish “adult”-themed products and services on the back of its sports pages, near high school scores and calendars.
In turn, reader James H. Wright copied me on an email complaint that he made to the Star-Advertiser in which he was reading the publication online with his children and a questionable pop-up advertisement appeared with a “Bottoms Galore” cartoon featuring a dialogue with a “perverted neighbor.” A Star-Advertiser employee did respond to Wright’s complaint and vowed to “block” the ad from circulation.
Yet what was left unsaid in that exchange is that media organizations nationwide, desperate for new revenue streams, are turning to massive advertising conglomerates to blindly make money with inherent costs to consumers and damage to their branding as a “family” news source.
One of those negatives is that news organizations often do not know what will appear on their sites, juxtaposed to what stories, creating some awkward pairings. Blacklisting site by site, like the Star-Advertiser did here and what many groups have tried against right-wing hate mongers, is inefficient and also speaks to an organization’s emphasis on revenue weighed against careful editorial control of its content.
• How many readers does Civil Beat have? As a noncommercial news source, Civil Beat does not rely on advertising, and therefore does not need to boost its audience size in an effort to raise ad rates. But editorial reach is important anyway, in terms of impact, and a couple of you have wondered in reader comments over the past few months about the organization’s audience size.
I asked Editor Patti Epler for the statistics she tracks, and she said the Oahu-based site has about 200,000 unique visitors and 500,000 page views a month (or 2.4 million unique visitors and 6 million page views a year).
I have tried to get equivalent numbers from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser before, but have been told company policy prohibits release of those. I did, though, stumble upon this online Alliance for Audited Media report for the Star-Advertiser in 2014, which has a variety of interesting readership stats for the state’s largest media organization:
• The dairy farm in Kauai question: Another question that has come up a couple of times in reader comments surfaced with Glenn Oshiro last month, when he asked who are the Civil Beat journalists and editors following the “Kauai Dairy/Omidyar/fresh water and ocean water contamination story?” He added, “The silence does a disservice to CB, Mr Omidyar, and the integrity of Hawaii food.”
In essence, I think, this question really is about how Civil Beat covers its founder Pierre Omidyar, a philanthropic Honolulu-based billionaire with countless side projects in this state and elsewhere.
Epler said coverage of Omidyar and his many ventures is a constant challenge for Civil Beat in various ways, from perception to pragmatics. For her full view, read the column she wrote in 2015 titled “The Billionaire In The Corner.” But for the Kauai dairy farm story, in particular, she said that while the online site has written about it in the past, Civil Beat doesn’t typically cover procedural government stories on neighboring islands, in part simply due to lack of staff there.
This is another case of “the media,” as I’ve written before, not being an amorphous force outside of societal influence and control. The media actually is a bunch of different people working for different organizations, most trying to make money as for-profit businesses, with different cultures, goals and resources. The media simply is a direct reflection of us and our interests.
Whether we want higher ethical standards or just more neighbor-island coverage, the path to that goal is the same. Support what you want. Invest in it, through attention or otherwise. We get the media – and the democracy – we deserve, created through either our support or neglect.
Brett Oppegaard has a doctorate degree in technical communication and rhetoric. He studies journalism and media forms as an associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, in the School of Communications. He also has worked for many years in the journalism industry. Comment below or email Brett at email@example.com.
Reader Rep is a media criticism and commentary column that is independent from Civil Beat’s editorial staff and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Civil Beat.