Wednesday, November 30, 2011

‘New Media’ May Have Its Place, but Don’t Expect To Find ‘Balance’ and ‘Objectivity’ There, too

We mused yesterday about how different the community’s conversation on Honolulu rail might be if there were a DeeJay on the air to counter the daily anti-rail remarks by a certain morning talk show host. Today we step back to marvel at and its “reporting” on the Honolulu rail project.

“Journalism” it isn’t – not if your idea of journalism as a craft includes the traditional standards that apply to objective, unbiased reporting. To be sure, some of the website’s content is produced by writers who earned their spurs decades ago working at newspapers, but’s coverage of the rail project is driven by an anti-rail agenda that shouts from your computer’s screen with each and every post on the project.

Time out: Please see the white-type paragraph in the blue band at the top of this blog. Yes2Rail exists to promote rail, but at least we strive for accuracy when describing rail’s goals, elevated rail’s advantages and the drawbacks of so-called alternatives, like at-grade transit.

Yesterday’s post on rail was typical of the site’s rail coverage – an anti-rail writer’s summary of the lawsuit filed by several plaintiffs with the intent to stop the rail project. The lawsuit’s first hearing was scheduled for this morning in federal court, and we’ll be summarizing what happened there later today or Thursday.

The 1500-word-plus piece might well serve as a can’t-do-this-in-real-journalism teaching point for high school and college students if balanced, objective journalism is their intended career path. Some examples:

• Flat-Out Inaccuracy: “Ansaldo company officials convinced HART board members to sign the deal when they presented more information on the company’s finances in a closed door meeting and told the city that (it) has contracts for $10 billion worth of transit projects around the world.”

The door to the hall may have been closed, but the HART meeting itself was open to the public and was reported extensively by the Honolulu news media. Calling the meeting “closed-door” implies that the public was excluded and the discussion was a back-room deal. got it flat wrong.

• Cheerleading: This piece and just about every rail-related post at is transparently tilted toward and supports the viewpoint of rail opponents. If one paragraph has a rail supporter’s comment, the next five or more will be about the opponents. The top third of Tuesday’s post was a perfect example.

• Stretchy, Sketchy Writing: Some stuff at simply demands a response or comment. For example, from Tuesday’s post: “The public appears to be passionately spit on the project, with support largely coming from the neighborhoods that believe the rail will alleviate their traffic.”

Is that for sure what those neighborhoods believe? The writer presumes to think she knows – or more precisely, to know what residents of those neighborhoods think. Cliff Slater and obviously believe rail is being built to reduce congestion – a fundamental misunderstanding of the project’s goals. As we noted in October, traffic will grow over the decades no matter what; building rail or even more highways can’t reduce it in the long run. The people we’ve heard from in neighborhoods along the route appreciate rail for what it will be – a travel alternative that will allow them to completely avoid traffic congestion by providing fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through the urban core.

About those neighborhoods: OF COURSE they support the project! Conversely, look who opposes it; they’re generally from neighborhoods not directly served by the rail’s route. You hear it from opponents all the time: “I won’t ride it, so why should I support it?” They might consider supporting it because it will greatly benefit other communities on the island – just as building the H-3 freeway benefited windward side residents and Kalanianaole Highway improvements benefited Hawaii Kai residents.

More from Tuesday’s post: “The opposition alliance speculates rail proponents’ (sic) are ramping up publicity around the project, to include press releases on the newly signed Ansaldo contract and (Senator) Inouye’s announcement, to convince taxpayers and Judge Tashima that the rail project is a done deal.” Really? Supporters think a federal judge will be persuaded by press releases to ignore the evidence presented to him? That’s just nonsense and not atypical of what you find at

Finally: “Former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, a Democrat who served in public office for more than three decades, said the rail project is driven by politics, not sound engineering.” Mr. Cayetano’s opposition to rail seemed to be driven by politics when Mufi Hannemann was the biggest rail supporter as mayor of Honolulu. That was the media buzz whenever Mr. Cayetano spoke up against rail during the former mayor’s tenure.

But more to the point, Mr. Cayetano has said he supports at-grade transit instead of elevated rail – for reasons that appear to be about aesthetics, not engineering. He would be hard-pressed to explain why at-grade rail is superior for anything other than aesthetics; it can’t match elevated rail's fast, frequent, reliable and safe service – all attributes sorely needed by Oahu commuters. naturally does not challenge Mr. Cayetano’s assertions in this regard.

Other content in the Tuesday post deserves attention, such as the writer’s statement that the Italian-owned consortium selected to build Honolulu rail, Ansaldo Honolulu Joint Venture, is “financially troubled.” The description is overly broad and attributes to the joint venture a condition that is simply not supported by the facts. HART met last Friday to explore this very issue and came to a conclusion that is completely opposite of what wrote – in a meeting that was open to the media and the public.

Which brings us back to where we began today’s Yes2Rail post. The bottom line: Don’t expect to find fact-based, objective reporting on the Honolulu rail project at Hawaii Reporter. It’s no more in evidence there than it is five mornings a week on that anti-rail radio show.

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