Erika Engle

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Local Web publishers
face challenges in
brave new world

MAKING money via online publishing is not easy, but for many Internet news sites and so-called bloggers, it's not about the money.

The Honolulu Community-Media Council luncheon topic "Technology and Digital Journalism" brought three online publishers together, including: Malia Zimmerman, president of online news site HawaiiReporter.com; Burt Lum, president of technology consulting company mindwind labs and publisher of bytemarks.blogspot.com; and Ryan Ozawa, blogger and online community leader whose Web sites include HawaiiNews.com, HawaiiStories.com and HawaiiThreads.com.

Neither Ozawa nor Lum view their sites as businesses, though Lum's company does have a technology consulting Web site separate from his online column. By day, Ozawa is the Internet banking manager for Hawaii National Bank. Ozawa spent time at the University of Hawaii student newspaper Ka Leo but has since "not earned income as a journalist," he said.

HawaiiReporter.com is the editorial side of Zimmerman's company that researches public records for paying clients. It is a different business model than most advertising-supported media, by design, Zimmerman said. Her model seeks to avoid undue influence from political figures and threats of revenue loss from advertisers unhappy with editorial coverage, she said.

Making money is a challenge but "little by little" the company is succeeding, she said. HawaiiReporter.com accepts small advertisements that cost $25 per week.

Asked how the average person is to know whether the information contained on a site is trustworthy, Zimmerman said, "Let the buyer beware," encouraging news consumers to look into the ownership of news outlets, both online and traditional.

The difference between bloggers, or Web-loggers, and online news sites, Ozawa explained, is that the New York Times, for instance, will report something "and bloggers will jump on it."

In contrast, Zimmerman's site contains independently generated content and is an online newspaper, he said.

On election day bloggers around the country seized on exit polling data to project John Kerry the winner of the presidential race. They were wrong, spurring heated debate about blogging versus journalism within the media industry. Some journalists are bloggers, but not all bloggers are journalists bound by the fundamental principles of journalism and ethics.

The local election had an impact on Zimmerman's site and vice versa.

It has been cited for bringing Duke Bainum's lead in pre-election polls and dreams of winning the mayor's office to a crashing halt on Nov. 2. It is a characterization Zimmerman shied away from during yesterday's panel discussion.

Zimmerman's readership had been at about 13,000 readers per day but that has increased to 50,000 readers per day in the past three weeks, including people on the mainland and in international locations. As the site is not limited by space, time or deadlines -- unlike a news broadcast -- the site's policy is to post all contributed content, no matter its viewpoint, as long as the writing is clear. "We really want to give the community a voice that they don't have right now," she said.

Ozawa and Lum agreed that the full impact of the Internet has not been realized.

Lum cited the grassroots level of the many voices the Internet supports. Also, barriers to online access are continuing to fall away. In 10 years, "it will be terrifying," Ozawa said. "Everyone will have a blog" and "someone in Zimbabwe will know about your daughter's boyfriend before you do."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: eengle@starbulletin.com



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