The assumption is the World Wide Web is increasing the amount of information available. Through Web logs and social media such as Facebook, there are more individuals contributing information.
But the technology expanding information resources is affecting the kinds of information provided. Physicist/futurist Michio Kaku described the issue in his 1998 analysis, "Visions, How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century" (First Anchor Books, October 1998, www.anchorbooks.com): "The problem with the Internet is that everyone from cranks to seasoned experts offer their unsolicited advice, creating incessant noise. Editors will probably assume an increasingly important role by presenting something that the Internet cannot: wisdom."
A decade later though, there are fewer newspapers and editors. The losers will be the communities served by newspapers like The Maui News.
Stressed by a failing business model, daily newspapers across the United States are cutting staff and news pages. Revenues are falling as businesses switch from the shotgun approach of newspaper advertising to targeted ads made possible by the Internet.
Advertisements are a primary revenue source for newspapers and broadcast media. They pay for reporters and editors sifting through a day's events to post the most newsworthy. In decades past, ad revenues also paid for reporters who could spend weeks and months pursuing questionable decisions of businesses, government agencies or individuals.
The investigative reporter is a luxury, made possible when the revenue stream to a newspaper produces a surplus, allowing a reporter to forego day-to-day news to focus on gathering detailed information needed to substantiate stories on malfeasance and misfeasance. Readers expect both kinds of reporting. When there are fewer reporters to do the work, readers will get less of the more expensive kind.
Even with a small staff compared to metropolitan dailies, The Maui News has produced investigative reports that informed the community.
Thirty years ago, reporters Tim Mahoney and William Hennessy detailed errors by Maui County officials that led to premature failures of the Lahaina wastewater system, and a confrontation with the Environmental Protection Agency that contributed to the resignation of Mayor Elmer Cravalho. More recently, writer Ilima Loomis detailed the disassembling of Maui Land & Pineapple Co. under the leadership of Steve Case and David Cole.
With newspapers struggling to break even by cutting staff, resources for those kinds of stories are no longer available. A Pew Research Center report, "State of the News Media 2011," (stateofthemedia.org/) found newspaper staffs nationally were cut 30 percent over the past decade while advertising dollars shifted from newspapers to the Web.
Another Pew Research Center report notes that people increasingly rely on online sources. More people say they get news from television (78 percent) than online sources, (61 percent), but just 50 percent say they relied on their local newspaper ("Understanding the Participatory News Consumer," Pew Research, March 1, 2010; www.pewinternet.org). The State of the Media survey noted that businesses in 2010 spent more on online advertising ($25.8 billion) than on print newspapers ($22.8 billion).
There still will be investigative news reports, but few will be generated by small-town newspapers. Nationally, nonprofit investigative news groups have formed with writers sometimes working with newspapers on major stories. In Hawaii, the online Honolulu Civil Beat is developing in-depth stories on state government activities.
But fewer reporters in small-town newsrooms around the country means fewer stories about local government, activities and events that affect the community.
The Pew surveys found that 56 percent of the respondents relied on a portal website such as Google that aggregates news stories from multiple sources, while 38 percent turned to a newspaper website. What the surveys don't show is that the originating source of online news more often than not is a local newspaper or broadcast media site.
There is more information proliferating through the Internet, but there also is less.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.