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By Pavel Stankov. September 10, 2013 - 9:41 pm
The Huffington Post joined the local media landscape Sept. 4 with the launch of HuffPost Hawaii, a collaboration with the all-online news service Honolulu Civil Beat.
HuffPost Hawaii, which joins the global news aggregator’s other regional newsrooms across the United States and worldwide, will provide coverage on topics of local interest, from politics to entertainment, and will present the islands editorially to the rest of the world.
The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington joined Honolulu Civil Beat creator Pierre Omidyar on the eve of HuffPost Hawaii’s debut to discuss what the partnership between the two organizations means for Hawaii’s public life and the future of journalism.
“It’s about having a conversation,” Omidyar said throughout the talk.
The new site’s goal, both entrepreneurs said, is to expand through social media and online journalism opportunities for people from all walks of life to participate in discussions about issues in the state.
“HuffPost Hawaii is going to be both a journalistic enterprise and a platform,” Huffington said. “It’s wonderful that tomorrow we’re going to have the president of [Hawaii] Pacific University and a student of [Hawaii] Pacific University side by side. We’re going to have well-known voices and completely unknown voices. … That [is a] mixture without any hierarchy except quality – if you have something interesting to say, you can say it at HuffPost Hawaii whether you’re homeless, a kid, the head of a university, the mayor or the head of the Transportation Authority.”
Omidyar, who is also the founder of eBay, likewise identified democratization as the major benefit of HuffPost Hawaii.
“In the old days you would hope to have your letter to the editor published,” he said. “Now it’s different and it’s a wonderful evolution.”
Huffington said her partnership with Honolulu Civil Beat would resemble “a mixture like life,” meaning HuffPost Hawaii will cover a wide range of topics, from highly sensitive issues to what panel moderator Beth-Ann Kozlovich called “eye candy.”
“The truth is that all of us occasionally enjoy reading something about Justin Bieber, don’t ask me why,” Huffington said. “And if you only want stories [about] Kierkegaard, you can go just for Kierkegaard.”
The mix of popular and obscure, familiar and unknown, offers both benefits and challenges to media consumers, according to Omidyar. On one hand, diverse content allows for interesting conversations about a variety of hot-button topics as more people have access to more information. On the other hand, despite this exposure, the richness and diversity of what is learned can diminish as people tailor their reading to their interests.
“It’s very easy to get stuck in an echo chamber where the only things that you read, view or consume are things that confirm to your own opinion,” Omidyar said. The CEO of Civil Beat said he expects bridging this gap will be the next stage in public journalism.
Omidyar and Huffington said HuffPost Hawaii will work to tackle one of the challenges of open online forums – inappropriate or rude behavior. The Huffington Post has been working to restructure its policy on anonymous posting and will join the model of Honolulu Civil Beat, a longtime user of the Facebook commenting system in which every post has an identifiable author. HuffPost Hawaii will also moderate comments to ensure accountable, civil and productive dialogue.
Another challenge is what Huffington called “fetishization of ‘virality.’”
“I think this is the snake in the garden,” she said.
Overreliance on trends and hyperconnectivity are problems that are “incredibly important because the addiction to technology is a real addiction,” Huffington said, adding that she speaks as a “recovering addict.”
Huffington said she is impressed with Hawaii’s relaxed attitude and life centered on togetherness and tolerance, values which Omidyar said he hopes will be propagated as Hawaii’s message to the world via HuffPost Hawaii.
“News organizations in our community have been shrinking and so [has] the ability to tell [them]. This new product is creating new capacity,” Omidyar said.