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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Project turned folks into citizen journalists

By James Gonser
Community News Editor

A unique experiment in community journalism launched three years ago called myAdvertiser.com ends today with the demise of The Honolulu Advertiser and its website.

But while it lasted, myAdvertiser.com was the only place Hawai'i residents could self publish their own stories to promote community events and have them read by thousands of their neighbors.

"I am really sad to see myAdvertiser go," said Caryn Kunz, a former Advertiser reporter who helped launch the website. "It's such a great partnership between the newsroom and the community. Everyday people get involved with their neighborhoods as citizen journalists, and the newsroom is able to fill a void in hyper-local news stories and photos."

The myAdvertiser mandate was to give people a public voice. The only limitations were no advertising, no opinion and no pornography.

The idea for reader-submitted stories came to Advertiser editors in 2007 as more and more people turned away from the printed page to our website, honoluluadvertiser.com.

As our page count continued to shrink, so did the "news hole" we could provide for schools, churches and clubs to get the word out about car washes, school plays or art shows. But online has room for all of it.

So, with a couple of interns, guidance from Sandee Oshiro, managing editor for digital and multimedia, and our online staff, the myAdvertiser website was created.

The site was researched, debated and designed using software developed to make mini publishers out of community groups.

MyAdvertiser became nine geographically focused sites covering the entire state and allowing people to look for breaking news and events affecting their neighborhoods.

"MyAdvertiser.com has provided the Hawaii State Public Library System with a unique venue for getting the word out about our many library programs and events conducted statewide," said Paul H. Mark, information specialist with the library.

Last summer, myAdvertiserU was added to the sites to give journalism students experience posting their stories online and giving the public an insight into student activities.

"The UH-Mānoa Journalism Program's partnership with MyAdvertiser.com has been a mutually beneficial and constructive relationship," said Kevin Kawamoto, associate professor in the School of Communications. "Journalism is not an exercise in private writing. Students were tasked with going into the community and finding stories that would be of interest to the public. They were writing not for themselves, but for a community of readers.

"MyAdvertiser.com has been an important link to that community, and it also showed our students how to engage with an online media source. They uploaded their own stories and photographs, and felt empowered by the possibilities of digital media. They can now take the skills they learned through this process and transfer them to any other online media environment they may encounter in the future."

The website also featured a group of community-minded bloggers who wrote about their neighborhood activities, for better or worse.

Volunteer bloggers included Lorraine Gershun in Kapolei, Kristen Brummel in Mānoa, Alan Okami in Kalihi, Shad Kane in West O'ahu and RJ Mendoza on the Big Island.

"I became a blogger to be an example for my students and it turned out to be so much more than that," said Gershun, a teacher at Wai'anae High School. "Through writing about Kapolei I have developed a strong connection to my own community and feel a great sense of pride in the Second City where I choose to live. That is huge."

After presentations to dozens of Neighborhood Boards, schools, Rotary Clubs, private groups and nonprofit organizations, myAdvertiser had grown to about 100,000 page views a month and 15 to 20 story submissions a day.

"I particularly enjoyed working with all of the great community members, nonprofits and college students here in Hawai'i," Kunz said. "They were really committed to making sure word got out about the diverse programs, events, and issues in our neighborhoods.

"Hopefully the newest version of daily print media in Hawai'i makes community journalism a priority in the absence of myAdvertiser."