Once upon a time in Maui

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At the first fundraiser auction I ever go to, one for FACES Foundation last October, I end up with a week’s vacation at condo in Maui. I remember the setup clearly: a strong Pisco Sour to kick off the evening, red wine flowing throughout dinner, and the discomfort coming from being the youngest, and least formally dressed, person in the room. So, when the first item went up on the block, I ended up in a bidding war with the couple sitting beside me. And won.

We got to look forward to the trip for months. Spittle and Leah would be joining us for eight days at the end of March; a good ol’ fashioned, computer-free spring break in between lives of craziness. We had no plans other than plenty of sun, bananagrams, reading, and hanging out.

Considering we managed to hike and snorkel too, I think we were successful. Highlights include:

  • Hiking Haleakala’s crater, particularly the walk out on fog-shrouded cliffs.
  • Winning that one time at bananagrams.
  • Touring every fro-yo shop on the island.
  • Dinner on the last night at Star Noodle. Delicious.

Pro tip: groceries are unreasonably expensive unless you end up at Costco, where they seem to be the same price as stateside.

BCNI Philly: Peer News, emerging news hybrid in Hawaii

“What is the atomic unit of journalism?” Howard Weaver asks as he discusses the pre-launch philosophies of Peer News. This is an important question because the news startup doesn’t want to brand itself as a news site. Doing so will lock your community into thinking about you with a particular paradigm. Instead, Peer News wants to offer a range of services to its audience.

Started by Pierre Omidyar, this news startup in Honolulu will be an online-only, subscription-only approach to covering political news. Online-only means no legacy costs or issues and, at this time, they have no plans for taking advertising. In addition, one of the insights Pierre made while thinking about this is that local civic government news is an elite niche with a capacity for “hyper-efficiency.”

If you’re starting a subscription model, Howard asks, why is this going to be worth more than a free beer on Facebook? [edit] For this operation, the compelling argument is the opportunity for a close relationship with a skilled journalist in a valuable local niche. By becoming a member of the site, the user has equal opportunity to posting their opinion and joining the discussion.

Peer News be charging $20/month because that’s what the competition charges for home delivery. There are five reporters, two web developers, an assistant editor, and an editor. By having the technology capacity internal, they hope to be able to innovate with how they package and deliver information. For instance, they hope to emulate Google Living Stories to provide contextual, canonical pages for ongoing stories and issues.

One question from the audience: how do you reconcile the fact that, by charging a subscription fee, you’re excluding some percentage of the population from access to information and democratic debate? There was also a spirited debate, albeit lacking much data, about paywalls and whether this would work well at a local level. Howard argues, however, that they’re selling the experience and not the goods.

Two reasons they think this news startup can work. First, the entire operation requires a lot less financial resources than running a print newspaper. Peer News provide high-quality journalism and break even with operating revenues of a couple million dollars a year. Second, they’ve identified a local niche whose information is high value to a certain part of the community.