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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Turnabout fair play in tech chaos

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Topping your local news tonight, a case of delayed bachi.

In 1995, the new age of television had its inauspicious start. KHNL became the first television station in the world to shoot and broadcast digital video. The newly assembled news team became crash-test dummies assigned to find the kinks in the new technology.

There were a lot of kinks.

News stories would freeze during live broadcasts. Video became un-synched with audio, resulting in an unwatchable "lip slip" effect. Anchors would be looking into the wrong cameras. Microphones wouldn't be on. Many tears were shed. Many swear words were uttered (some on air). A pen or two got thrown.

And oh how the other guys laughed.

To ensure full disclosure: at the time I was employed at KHNL as a reporter. In the months before the official launch, we would go out to cover brushfires and news conferences as if there was an evening newscast and would run through the entire broadcast, sometimes more than once, just for practice. These rehearsals continued even after the new newscast premiered, but still, it was a bloody mess many nights.

It took guts to show up at those brushfires and news conferences and take the heat from our competitors:

"So when is this story going to run? Next year?"

"If this video is going to be on tonight, when you plan to run the audio?"

Or they would make fun of the station's slogan: "Live, Local, Late, Broken."

And now, look.

Who would ever imagine that the Big Guys, KHON, would be going through the same kind of on-air meltdowns, a result of new owners launching new technology? (More disclosure: I worked at KHON for a year before moving to KHNL.)

In the last weeks, it's been like the early days of KHNL on KHON, with stories freezing up on-air, anchors getting flustered, and a pen or two getting thrown.

The big difference is, in 2006, with TiVo and YouTube.com, the mistakes don't just disappear after the credits roll. They are captured and linked and passed around.

Just last week, a KHON photographer at a news conference tried to brush off the ribbing from his competitors, saying, "I don't care anymore it's just a paycheck."

We used to say that, too. We didn't mean it, either.

Most of us who battled through those early days of the KHNL startup left the station long ago. But that doesn't mean we've forgotten or that the turnabout in fortunes doesn't register.

The lesson here is to be careful about who you dis. The fickle finger of fate may come around years later and even the cool kids in town can find themselves suffering at the pointy end. Then, the ones you used to laugh at will be the only ones who truly understand your pain.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.