Sunday, February 3, 2008

Musings: Advertiser as PR Machine

The sky was gray and white, and promising rain, which it delivered half-way into our walk this morning. Beneath the protection of a black umbrella I watched it drift past the Sleeping Giant, immersing him in mist, and all the inland mountains were so hidden that it was almost as if they didn’t exist.

Even on these days when the sky is monochromatic, the landscape is full of color: red hibiscus, orange tangerines, yellow blossoms, white spider lilies, pink oleander, all set against a background of varying shades of green.

Thunder is rumbling and the winds here have died down some, but are still gusty. Apparently the conditions are rough enough to keep the Supeferry in dock — this is day eight now — even though its rudder repairs are reportedly finished.

I was quite stunned to see, right there above the Honolulu Advertiser’s main on-line story about the Superferry, a sidebar that looks remarkably like an advertisement, passed off as a news story.

Entitled "Your guide to Hawaii Superferry," it is a full on plug for the ferry service, replete with schedule and the line: WHETHER FOR WORK OR PLAY, A NEW WAY OF INTERISLAND TRAVEL.

The paper seems to have crossed the line here between reporting and advertising, and its publication of this "sidebar" really calls into question the newspaper’s objectivity in regard to this issue.

Unfortunately, the main article itself isn't much better, starting with the misleading headline: Superferry toughing out winter weather.

Sidelined for eight days running, and six days before that, it is clearly not toughing out the winter winter.

Indeed, the lede asks: How long can the Hawaii Superferry hang on?

And then it proceeds into a long promotional piece on how even though the ferry is carrying only a fraction of its projected load, it's current in all its payments and has no plans for military service.

Not a word is said about its recent rudder problems, but It does include a comment from a so-called “transportation management expert” — UH business professor David Bess — claiming there’s no reason a ferry service shouldn't succeed in Hawaii. He then attributes a lot of the Superferry's troubles to “a case of bad timing.”

This is followed by his full-on plug for the ferry: “All the specifics aside, it's good for competition, and having an alternative to air travel opens up the flow of commodities for freight travel that are not currently available."

Later in the piece his comment is revealed to be shibai by one of the Superferry’s own investors, Maui Land and Pine, which isn’t even using the service because "currently the rates are not cost-effective.”

The article does report on the plight of one couple stranded by the ferry — the first time this week the paper has bothered to look into that aspect of the ferry's spotty service — but then wraps up with another pitch by another UH professor, Tom Kelleher, saying that all the ferry’s gotta do is hang in there.

Persistence, it seems, is the key to its success.

That, and getting front page promo pieces published in the Advertiser. Heck, why buy ads when you get coverage like this for free?


Anonymous said...

Come on, you're kidding right? Christie Wilson's "main article" is "balanced," to use a cliche, by your own account, with an equal pro and con approach.
You have to know that anything 100% negative, like your postings on the Superferry or O'Reilly on immigration, are auto-matic-al-ly inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

Check it out:

Aloha, Brad

Anonymous said...

I checked it went like this...opinion, opinion, opinion, biased opinion, opinion, very biased opinion, opinion, ludicrous opinion.