Monday, February 4, 2008

Musings: Making Waves

The sky actually seemed to grow darker, though sunrise was fast approaching, as Koko and I walked this morning. The clouds were low and leaden, but released no rain. I guess they got a lot of it out of their system last night, when I woke several times to downpours, rumbling thunder and the sizzling flash of lightning.

Talked to a friend in Hanalei yesterday, where the rain was so heavy I could hear the torrent over the phone line, and he reported there was so much water on the road that when cars drove through it, they created a near surf-able wake in his front yard.

OK, so that was probably a bit of an exaggeration. But the big swells and rough ride encountered by the Superferry on its last voyage are documented on this short video, shot by Molokai’s George Peabody.

Just watching it made me feel queasy, but mostly I was astonished by the noise. It sounded like the start of a motocross race. Even if the thing isn’t colliding with whales, it’s got to be annoying the hell out of them making all that racket.

I noticed that website also had a link to the USA Today story on the Superferry that ran right about the same time as that paper’s piece on the development in Koloa.

I find it fascinating that the critical, or at least questioning, stories about Hawaii seem to be published in the travel sections. The news side of publications in America rarely touch that stuff, but it somehow makes a “destination” more desirable to recount tales of paradise on the verge of being lost.

I’ve got my testimony on the House’s version of the proposed shield law all ready to send in to House Judiciary Chairman Tommy Waters. It’s not a bad start, except for the bit about limiting protection to those who complied with and met applicable standards of journalism ethics.

In this day of infotainment, advertorials and other such bastardizations of the news, I think the media would be would be hard-pressed to define journalistic ethnics, much less the lege.

The law does a thorough job of protecting professional journalists associated with media outlets, but bloggers, independent journalists and other news disseminators do need protection because they do not have the same legal resources as the media corporations to fend off requests for information.

I’ve been called upon twice in my career as a journalist to reveal information. Once was in my cub reporter days, when I took a fake obituary over the phone. The case resulted in both civil and criminal charges against the caller. The paper’s attorney said I had to testify in the criminal case, which I did, but was given the option of testifying in the civil case, which I didn’t.

The second was when an alleged suspect in the Kauai serial murder cases sued me, as well as a reporter from The Garden Island and the police department, over a story I published in Honolulu magazine that contained comments from unidentified police officers. The attorney thought the case was a “fishing expedition” to try and learn what evidence the cops had against the guy, and it was eventually dismissed.

I didn’t even have my notes anymore for that story. I write a lot of stuff and live in a small house, and I can’t keep my notes forever. I always wondered, anyway, if a reporter had to just turn over the notes, or decipher the chicken scratching, too.

While I think it’s best to use attributed sources as much as possible, the reality is that many people who know something are afraid to talk, or not authorized to talk or otherwise feel they would suffer some sort of recriminations for speaking on the record. It’s important to be able to reassure those people that information they’re giving confidentially won’t be traced back to them.

And it often seems like the bigger the story, the less likely people are to talk on the record.

Still, it's important for journalists to ensure they aren’t being duped, and evaluate carefully both the information that’s given off the record, and the sincerity and possible ulterior motives of the person who provided it.

I consider that part of journalistic ethics, and it should come into play whether one is shielded or not.


Anonymous said...

"Paradise on the verge of being lost." Nice, Joan.

Anonymous said...

"Just watching it made me feel queasy, but mostly I was astonished by the noise. It sounded like the start of a motocross race. Even if the thing isn’t colliding with whales, it’s got to be annoying the hell out of them making all that racket."

Joan, I think that noise is motocross bikes back behind George in the background. At first I thought it was the engines too, but they don't sound like that. It's got to be motocross bikes near where George was filming.

Aloha, Brad