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by Jennifer Ching, student writer

On a typical day, with a few clicks of a mouse, we can download music, watch videos, shop, or manage a bank account. Everything, it seems, is going digital and moving to the Internet, including – news. This migration to the Web is putting pressure on journalists as newsrooms around the country are producing both print and online editions of their papers while cutting back their staff.

According to the July 9, 2007 article “Job Cuts Averted as Bid for Journal Stays Open” in The New York Times, “The newspaper industry broadly is suffering through a decline in advertising revenue, its main source of income, and analysts say that trend is a fundamental, long-term shift, not part of up-and-down cycles. Many other companies have reacted with staff reductions, and newsrooms across the country – including those at The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe (which is owned by The New York Times Company) – are shrinking.”

John Windrow, weekend editor at The Honolulu Advertiser and HPU journalism instructor, agrees. “The news industry has eliminated thousands of jobs since the year 2000. Newspapers all over the country are trying to deal with this and expand their Web operations at the same time.”

In response to the pressure to do more with less, award-winning journalist Byron Acohido encourages his colleagues to “go back to basics” and remember the purpose and power of solid reporting. Acohido, a Seattle-based technology reporter for USA Today, spoke September 5 at a Press Club event sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists Hawai‘i Chapter. A veteran reporter with 30 years of experience, he worked for The Seattle Times for 10 years before joining USA Today in 2001. While at The Seattle Times, he won a Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting in 1997 for his series of reports that revealed rudder control problems on Boeing 737 airplanes.

Acohido spoke to SPJ members at Thirtynine Hotel in downtown Honolulu about “Watchdog Journalism in the Internet Age.” He described how newspaper companies are focusing on online content and on attracting businesses to buy Web advertisements on the online versions of their papers. Because of this emphasis on the online content and advertising, reporters are under pressure; not only do they have to write stories for the printed edition, but for the Web as well.

Acohido’s response to the pressure: just do your job as best as you can and focus on your readers. “Go back to basics,” he said. “Be creative and aggressive. Get an attitude about serving your readers: what’s going to be useful to them?”

Acohido described the way he reports on his particular area, technology and Internet security, and how he does his best to meet management’s print and online requirements (He has to contribute to a blog, for example). His approach has produced many stories with valuable information for readers on such topics as identity theft, online fraud, and how well the average PC is protected from Web attacks. He often collaborates with fellow USA Today tech writer Jon Swartz in writing these articles, and in April, he and Swartz will publish a book called Zero Day Threat: The Shocking Truth of How Banks and Credit Card Companies Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity.
Paradoxically, part of Acohido’s strategy for dealing with the pressures of reporting for the Web is to use it as a resource for information. “Use the Internet – it will help you,” he says, adding that you have to check and verify your information and sources. He estimated that he gets half of his information from interviewing people and half from the Internet.

Acohido’s talk was well received by his colleagues. “I found it very informative,” said Dave Briscoe, Associated Press news editor based in Honolulu. “It’s always good to have a reporter who’s had different experiences [come] and share.”

“ [It was a] privilege to have a Pulitzer winner come and talk to our chapter,” said Kathryn Wagner, managing editor at the Honolulu Magazine and one of the event’s organizers.

“ I thought it was great that he came,” said John Windrow, HPU journalism instructor and weekend editor at The Honolulu Advertiser. “I thought what he said makes great sense: that you just have to use what you have and do the best you can, and you can still do important stories,” Windrow continued. “He did a series of very important stories about fraud and [people] ripping people off on the Web with their computers, and that’s important to everybody. That’s the kind of thing newspapers should be doing, things that help people in their everyday lives and at the same time are hard news. And that’s obviously what he has done.”


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