It's been a little over 10 years since Haku Mo'olelo began, providing The Maui News city editor a venue to discuss newspaper decisions and news stories. That first column on Aug. 1, 2001, provided a brief history of newspapers in the United States.
Today newspapers are dealing with a massive change in their marketplaces brought on by personal computers, the World Wide Web and an innovative Internet search operation calling itself Google.
Google was initiated in 1996 as a research project by a pair of Stanford University graduate students. It developed into the Internet's leading tool for accessing information scattered across the Web.
It has also upended the newspaper business model that originated in the 19th century. That business model relied on the newspaper as a primary information resource in a community, with an extensive base of readers looking for products and services offered by businesses in the community. Businesses bought advertising in a newspaper to reach a diverse readership.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a different model. They didn't pay journalists to gather information. Their technology searched the Web for information that other media produced, aggregated it and made it available to viewers conducting searches. They also didn't rely on businesses purchasing advertising space on their site, at least not immediately.
Page and Brin borrowed an advertising technique developed by another website, overture.com, in which businesses with their own websites paid pennies when a Google viewer clicked on the businesses site letting the business site know it had a potential customer contact. The pay-per-click model established an information site could generate revenues linking customers in need of a product or service to businesses providing them.
What all of the new media resources don't provide that newspapers still offer is a level of trust within a community. Newspapers are not perfect in providing all the information that readers want, but over the past century the daily newspaper established with readers confidence that a newspaper's story was more likely to be reliable, if not complete.
Newspapers could build on that relationship online. Instead publishers are retrenching, cutting staff and coverage, having online readers pay for access to information and cutting back on the kinds of information provided - even as the potential audience is expanding online.
That applies to all of the information that newspapers have provided. The Maui News, for instance, has Hawaii's most informative dining and entertainment section, one that appeals to both visitors as well as residents - and which could be a major information source for visitors planning their trips. It's been reduced rather than built online to possibly draw a larger audience in the visitor market.
None of Hawaii's newspapers offer stories on businesses providing products and services that consumers may want, leaving the field open to online sites usually involving consumer self-reports - that may or may not be reliable and cannot cover a community like Maui County.
Rather than building their market with information that consumers, residents and potential visitors want, Hawaii newspapers are retrenching and offering less while trying to get the online audience they want to draw to pay for what subscribers get. They don't offer more to the wider market with more diverse interests and concerns when it comes to learning about the community covered by the local newspaper.
It doesn't seem to be a healthy business model.
Early in development of the Web, the concept of virtual shopping malls was created. If newspapers retain a level of trust in their community of readers, their online sites could host such a mall with information on which the audience can feel they can rely in their consumer decisions. Businesses that don't like what a newspaper reports need not participate, just as they don't now.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at email@example.com. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.