As we planned our coverage of the Aug. 31 debate between U.S. Rep. Ed Case and U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka, we knew we had to try something new.
Most of those who were interested would be watching the debate on PBS Hawai'i and making their own observations about how the two candidates fared.
The Advertiser had to provide something more, starting with our online coverage. Our aim was to offer quick updates, a video analysis, some video clips from the big event and a place for online readers to hang out and have their say.
Volcanic Ash columnist David Shapiro wrote a real-time, interactive blog that would score the debate like a prizefight, giving an extra point to a candidate who won the round and an extra point to those who scored a knockdown. It wasn't only great fun to watch Dave's scoring system after each debate topic, but the reaction was tremendous. Dave's blog attracted 6,224 page views starting at 6 p.m. when we opened up the discussion. His live debate blog drew 200 comments.
We liked the blog so much that we published it in the print edition the next day.
Meanwhile, reporters Dan Nakaso and Johnny Brannon were breaking news updates during the debate minutes after the candidates made their points. Those updated stories, fashioned quickly and cogently on deadline, proved popular as well and garnered 4,400 hits. We opened a separate forum for anyone wishing to offer an opinion. That generated 4,138 page views and nearly 140 posted comments, some of which made it into print the next day.
Political columnist Jerry Burris had a starring role on debate night: He wrote his daily blog on the debate, crafted an analysis for the next day's front page, provided commentary for an online video and then went live on KHNL News 8's 10 p.m. newscast. His video attracted 460 page views the night of the debate and 1,116 page views the next day. We call Jerry our multimedia star because he was everywhere on debate night and did a spectacular job.
PBS Hawaii allowed local television stations about 2 1/2 minutes of footage to show on their broadcasts, and we edited our own version, which drew 895 page views.
With online success complete, we turned our attention to the print edition. Reporter Derrick DePledge handled the main story with able assists from Brannon, Gordon Pang, Treena Shapiro and Peter Boylan. Reporters were charged with getting as many voices of people as possible to comment on the debate, and we ran an entire page of quotes.
I am still taking a few phone calls about our headline ("Advantage: Case") which I personally suggested and approved. I explained to those who called that the summary of the main story represented that Case clearly did better in the debate, based on the reaction of political experts. That was the news. I was trying to avoid a headline that said nothing, along the lines of "Candidates spar over Iraq and sovereignty issues." Several readers (and a few on our staff) said it showed bias. So be it. I believe it summarized the story.
We learned something from the debate coverage. TV can broadcast the debate, analysts can analyze and the printed page can provide depth and nuance, but there's something special about an interactive chat that prompts people to gather online and hash over the finer points of a big news event, even into the early morning.
To be sure, there was little news made in the debate. There rarely is under such stilted formats. What really matters is what the voters think, and though a lot of it is personal and political spin, it contributes to a community dialog that is interesting to read and hard to ignore.
I was struck by the thoughtful nature of the comments, whether I agreed with them or not. It reinforced for me that many people care passionately about this race, and that much is at stake. And it made me proud that we could provide an outlet where our readers have a chance to contribute and challenge others to think more deeply about the issues.