Obama visit generated plenty of interest
By Mark Platte
The arrival of President Obama on our island once again resulted in mixed feelings, I'm sure, for most Honolulu news organizations.
We are grateful for the routine photo and story opportunities on what are typically the slowest news weeks (and shortest-staffed times) of the year but we also have to gear up for almost around-the-clock coverage of a presidential visit that is not likely to result in real news.
We also have to determine how much First Family coverage is too much. There is tremendous interest in the president and first lady but this being Hawai'i, we like to give our VIPs and celebrities their privacy and space.
Looking back over a 13-day period, President Obama was on our front page eight times. We also wrote eight other stories that appeared on the front of the Hawai'i section or inside. So 16 print stories in all, not counting the online breaking news posts, video, Twitter feeds and photo galleries. We actively solicited photos of those who spotted the president.
The stories looked at the tourism impact of a presidential visit, Obama's affinity with the Islands and his relationship with the military, the proposals to name public places after him and his jaunts to the gym, golf course, tennis courts, shave ice stands and tourist attractions. He also made national news twice when he spoke about the failed terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas Day.
"Like him or not, the president's vacation was a major event during the 11 days he and his family were here," said reporter Dan Nakaso, who did the bulk of the reporting on the presidential visit. "His motorcade disrupted traffic every day while people lined up outside his vacation compound in Kailua, along Kailua Beach and at Marine Corps Base Hawaii just hoping for a glimpse of the first family.
Judging by our online numbers, interest in the presidential visit was very high, with nearly 160,000 page views and 81,000 more for just the online photo galleries. We produced two live videos of the president's arrival and departure and an interactive map showing areas where he visited as president-elect last year and president this year. The site that contained all our coverage garnered nearly 20,000 page views.
The Advertiser was part of the White House pool of reporters so we got about a dozen updates a day as to what the president and his family were doing. On Dec. 28, we held our breath when this pool report came through just before noon while Obama was playing golf with friends at Luana Hills: "Sudden departure from the golf course. We are told it is not a matter of national security or because of the president's safety. It is a personal matter."
Followed by: "The President returned in a very high speed and dramatic motorcade to his vacation home. The pool bus got dropped at one stage. Now holding just inside secured residential zone on the bus. An ambulance just swept by with flashing lights. No further details available."
It turned out to be a minor injury to the son of Chicago doctor Eric Whitaker, one of the president's golf-playing friends, but it certainly had the media on a high state of alert.
Advertiser Staffer Mary Vorsino was part of the pool, which involved writing up frequent entries for other media organizations. Much of it was tedious with long days that started at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and extended sometimes until after the Obamas finished dinner. On some days, the pool barely got a glimpse of the president.
When the first family was inside their Kailua rental home, the pool had to hang out at a vacant home nearby, where they could write, charge their electronic equipment and use the restrooms.
"It was no luxury residence, but certainly a step up from where pool reporters waited in December 2008 — in a grassy area outside the security checkpoint to Obama's vacation home," Vorsino said.