First Beatup At Civil Beat

Randy Ching | Civil Beat

We've been meeting online for weeks.

But somehow it felt different when we were all in the same room for the first time Thursday evening.

There, in flesh and blood, were more than a dozen of the names I've come to know from their contributions to Civil Beat discussions, including: Allison Takeshita, Pam Chun, David Briscoe, Claire Tom, Dave Kozuki, Joannie Pan, Robert Thomas, Olin Lagon, Ken VanOrman, Bruce Campbell, Jason Ubay and Gus Higuera.

Noelle Chun, our Money reporter-host, did an able job of live tweeting the event. You can find her coverage by searching for the #becivil hashtag.

Beatups are another way we're going to bring members together with key players in our community. At our first beatup, we thought it was important that the key players be our members. We want to make sure we're in sync with you.

The group sat in a circle of padded folding chairs, under fluorescent lights that wash our quilt-like carpet. Outside the windows on the Diamond Head side of the newsroom, the trees swayed in the evening breeze. But our focus was on what brought everybody together in the room: Civil Beat.

It didn't take long to get down to business. The first comments would have been funny, if they hadn't made me wince. Here we had invited our members to give us feedback in person and the first thing they said was that it was hard to give feedback on the site.

"It doesn't seem to work very well," David Briscoe said. He said it didn't feel like we were reading it regularly or responding to concerns raised there.

"We haven't done as good a job on that as we'd like," Civil Beat President Randy Ching acknowledged.

Then Briscoe asked a pretty basic question: "Couldn't somebody go through that and answer?"

"That seems very reasonable," Randy replied.

In the end, we don't want to make excuses. And Randy didn't try.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to give the impression that all we heard was critical. What came through loud and clear was appreciation for the different kind of journalism we're doing and for the quality of conversation on the site.

If anything, members were asking us to be even more different. We heard a lot of different things. We're providing depth, but sometimes articles are too dense. The gray thumbs up/thumbs down are confusing. Should people be able to join discussions without reading the content? Add more personality.

Great points. There are two others that I want to share.

"The journalism you've been doing has been solid," said Briscoe, former Associated Press bureau chief in Honolulu. "But I want to be blown away."

That's what we want, too. Our goal is to do journalism you'll remember.

They gave us a range of suggestions for how we could do that, especially good storytelling and smart interpretation of the news.

"I want you to interpret the things I've been hearing about," said Joannie Pan.

The good news in all of this was that the members thought there was something different about what we're doing, and that they valued it.

When asked what he tells friends about why he's a member, Gus Higuera said: "I tell them it's a unique way to get engaged in local issues. It's a different perspective on local issues."

But the bad news is that we haven't made that obvious. When you land on the site it's not entirely clear how Civil Beat is different.

The "value proposition" of the site is "kind of vague," Higuera said.

Later, another member, Bruce Campbell, suggested that we needed a backgrounder on rail. We have one, proof that they're right about the site being challenging to understand. We could make the benefits of the site more obvious and accessible, they said.

"The benefit of being online is that you can rapidly experiment," Publisher Pierre Omidyar told the group.

That, you can be sure, we will do. Twenty-four hours later, we rolled out a new way to navigate the site.

And there's a lot more to come, thanks to the folks who joined us on Thursday.


DISCUSSION: What would you like to tell us about Civil Beat? What's working for you and what would make the service more valuable? Share your thoughts in our Civil Beat discussion.

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