Tuesday, July 12, 2011

‘Elephant Chain Effect’ in Honolulu Rail Stories

Dedicated media watchers have seen it innumerable times: An issue that’s covered by one newspaper, station or TV network starts showing up in other media. The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other “enterprise” newspapers often are the first to cover a major issue that TV networks play second fiddle to a few hours later.
It happens locally, too. Coverage in Honolulu's two newspapers was the takeoff for the evening newscasts for decades, and now that the “new media” are part of the journalism mix, the number of story “leaders” is growing, too. Sometimes that’s not so good.

We briefly noted HawaiiReporter.com’s treatment of a story last week on the office space in downtown Honolulu now occupied by the staff of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART). The implication was that this was a new and questionable action; the first paragraph says “(HART) has leased premium office space in the midst of Honolulu’s pricey downtown civic center.”

This Just In – Not!

The story nowhere mentions that HART’s staff is essentially the staff of the city’s Rapid Transit Division, which was transferred from the Department of Transportation Services to HART lock, stock and barrel on July 1. And nowhere does the story note the essential fact that RTD has been housed in this space since 2007!

Most media watchers – dedicated or not – presumably would agree this information was essential to the story and that leaving it out was egregious. The many respected Honolulu radio, television and newspapers journalists we’ve known over the years would not have tolerated its exclusion.

The late Sandy Zalburg, an “iconic” city editor of the Honolulu Advertiser in the paper’s heyday, was known to throw incomplete stories (like this one) out an open window in the Advertiser’s second-floor office above South Street.

Complete or not and in the “elephant chain” tradition of one media outlet following another, HawaiiReporter’s “news” became the foundation of a story on Hawaii News Now last night. Finally the fact is mentioned that the space has been occupied by city staff for years, but incongruously, the story reports, “HART employees first moved into the 17th floor in 2007….”

HART was created on July 1, so “HART employees” didn’t move into that space. RTD employees did and have been on the 17th floor for four years.

Accuracy is important. Completeness is important. Not misleading your readers or viewers is important.

Someplace, somewhere – Sandy Zalburg is walking toward an open window, story in hand.

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