Monday, June 11, 2001

Modest ads help keep
city Web site humming

The issue: The City and County is
accepting advertising on its Web site
as part of its contract with an Ohio
company to maintain the site.

HONOLULU'S city government has drawn attention by entering the wide world of advertising on its Web site. The online ads are generating little revenue but, along with a proposal to open Hawaii's school doors to commerce, raise questions about the injection of marketing from the private sector from the portals of government. While raising some eyebrows, such a commercial presence seems appropriate if conducted with a modicum of restraint.

More than a year ago, the city entered into a contract with eGovNet Inc. to build the city's Web site, enabling Honolulu residents to use a variety of services and to make certain transactions, such as auto registrations and building permits, over the Internet. As part of the agreement, city employees are provided free access to the Internet.

The Columbus, Ohio, company also sells advertising space on the site. Only a half dozen companies, including AIG-Hawaii, Bank of Hawaii, BMW and Prudential Locations, have bought ads on the city's Internet portal. Revenue is expected to total only $25,000 this year, a quarter of the potential for the site, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"We knew there were some issues that might arise," Courtney Harrison, the city's chief information officer, told the Journal. "But we thought we could study it to death or just do it." Harrison added that "a certain decorum" -- for example, no pop-up ads -- must be maintained.

Honolulu was preceded only by Marion County, Ind., in building an online infrastructure of this type, according to eGovNet, which points to the Honolulu site in promoting its services on its own Web site.

Since then, Salt Lake City and Florida's Miami Dade County have begun accepting ads, and the Ohio legislature has directed that state to sell ads on its site.

While the city could open itself up to lawsuits on First Amendment grounds, courts have ruled that government sites are not required to sell ads to just anyone, according to the Journal. Advertising on the city's Web site should be little different than selling space on city buses, an accepted practice across the country, while hawking ads for city park benches is regarded as unseemly.

The acceptance of ads on the Web site seems to be an effective, if appropriately modest, method of helping pay for Internet access to city government.

City & County of Honolulu

Prime-time is giving
politicians a good name

The issue: Fictional shows on
prime-time television in recent
years have portrayed government
in a more favorable role.

POLLS show that Americans have lessened their confidence in government in recent years, but government officials can cheer on actors who portray them on television and help reverse the trend. Cynicism created by Watergate may still be hovering over the country more than a quarter century later. However, a little boost from Hollywood could increase trust in government, hopefully encouraging bright and ambitious young people to consider honorable careers in public service.

The Council for Excellence in Government conducted a study of 161 episodes from all 122 fictional prime-time series on the four major networks. While three out of four government-themed prime-time shows from 1992-98 portrayed a faulty government, the study found that nearly three of four episodes in the past two years have shown government working well. Among current series, effective government is portrayed in three out of five episodes.

Television is "an important and powerful civics lesson" that could increase public trust in government, says Patricia McGinnis, the council's president. "There is a lot of potential there."

Leading the way is "The West Wing," in which a liberal President Josiah Bartlett and his staff cope with office politics and national issues, displaying high motives and good humor. "It's the only show on television that I actually watch," Michael McCurry, former President Bill Clinton's press secretary, said last year. He told Brill's Content magazine that it was the first series in a long while that "has treated those who work in politics as human beings." Even conservative Republicans have to acknowledge that assessment, as much as they may cringe at the policies of the Bartlett administration.

"The West Wing" was single-handedly responsible, according to the study, for giving elected officials the second most improved image recorded among all occupations portrayed on TV. Elected officials rose from dead last in occupational rankings in the 1990s to 12th, ahead of business characters and teachers. The study showed that judges and prosecuting attorneys were viewed in the most positive light.

Teachers, who play quirky and vulnerable roles in FOX's "Boston Public," had the least positive image of any group -- not much help for attempts to deal with the nation's teacher shortage.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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