How to cover the big volcano when it erupts

News site uses history, context and livestreams to cover The Big Island’s volcano

For decades, as a senior editor and then managing editor of The Seattle Times, Jim Simon represented the newspaper of record.

Today, as managing editor of Honolulu Civil Beat, a nonprofit, digital-first site dedicated to public affairs reporting, Simon must think differently when breaking news, such as the Kilauea volcano, erupts. Instead of scores of reporters, Simon has eight, plus two fellows and a roster of freelance “columnists.”

“We’re not a breaking news organization. But we’ve come to realize that people expect us to be out there, have a presence,” Simon says. Publishing quick AP updates on the Big Island’s lava vents and explosions from their resurgence on May 3 — such as a 12,000-foot-high plume of ash and a "red alert" from U.S. Geological Survey late Tuesday — has allowed Civil Beat to tackle new fronts.

Such as? An in-depth story on the history of speculative land development near the lava beds — “almost Florida-style,” as Simon puts it. The context story has been the site’s most popular. “Over time, four or five of these communities have been wiped out, but they’re also among the most affordable housing in Hawaii.”

Another example: Recounting the attempts to divert lava flows in the past, even a 1935 bombing of the volcano by George Patton, and how nations such as Iceland seek to control lava today.

Social reporter Anthony Quintano has spent the past three days above a ridge line from the flow, sending back livestreams, photos and other reports, Simon says.

Civil Beat focused on investigative and accountability reporting when it launched. But editors realized it must have some presence on these big stories as well. In April, before the volcano rumbled to life bigtime, the site's biggest stories were on the “quiet” flood that hit the north shore of Kauai, which Simon calls one of the prettiest sites on earth. Simon sent a reporter to cover it and saved the nonprofit some money by having the reporter stay with a friend.

Although much of Civil Beat’s Hawaii audience is from Oahu, Civil Beat’s readers (which includes tourists from the U.S. mainland) have been to and care deeply about Kauai and The Big Island, Simon says.  

Quick hits

MISSOURI PAPER BOUNCED: The state’s Capitol News Association removed the Missouri Times from its group and the paper may lose its statehouse office after its publisher paid $50,000 to a lawyer involved in the investigation of the state’s governor, the Kansas City Star reported.

NOT MONOLITHIC: Don’t overgeneralize America’s rural residents, says author Sarah Smarsh. Barely half vote; maybe a quarter vote for the winning candidate; yet the whole state is painted red, Journalist’s Resource quotes her as saying. “It renders enormous swaths of this country invisible: people of color in rural areas; moderate or left-leaning people in rural areas; and, for that matter, conservative people in urban areas, of which there are many,” she says — such as Trump.

TWITTER, HELPFUL?: The social medium says it’s going to start hiding responses that "detract from the conversation." Offending users will still appear for followers but not in conversational threads or search results. "You’ve heard of Twitter jail?” Slate’s Will Oremus writes. “Let’s call this Twitter purgatory."

GENDER IMBALANCE: Men still dominate Europe’s media, and spend much of their time covering other men, a new report says. The study, conducted by the European Journalism Observatory, looked at 11 countries. It found the imbalance particularly striking in legacy print outlets.

CHANGE THE CHANNEL, NO DIFFERENCE: The Washington Post looks at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and what happens when one company effectively owns three TV channels.

BYE BYE, EXIT POLL: The Associated Press is replacing its exit polls with voter surveys, including those taken online and by phone during election day and the four days preceding it, the news service announced. Its in-person exit polls were criticized for excluding absentee and early voters. More than 85,000 voters are expected to be surveyed in this year’s midterm elections, more than four times the number of exit polls conducted in the 2014 midterms.

SO, WHAT AM I FIRED FOR?: The liberal Pittsburgh City Paper fired veteran editor Charlie Deitch without giving him a reason, he says, but suggests it was because of the paper's coverage of conservative lawmaker Daryl Metcalfe. Deitch says the move came a week after he was told not to cover Metcalfe, who is a client of the parent company (wait: conflict?). The City Paper did not give a reason for its move, only saying that Deitch had served readers "incredibly well." Rob Rossi was named as editor. 

SHE SHOOK UP TEEN VOGUE: Former editor Elaine Welteroth urged young journalists not to conform and said diversity is vital to represent audiences today. “There’s so much opportunity to mean more to this audience,” Welteroth told New York Times gender editor Jessica Bennett. To accomplish that, leaders and employees need to represent every kind of person. “That was something I was very diligent about. You can’t just change the image or the stories, you need to change the storytellers.”

FOX NEWS SETTLEMENT: The network has paid about $10 million to settle 18 gender and racial discrimination lawsuits by current and former employees against the company, the NYT's Emily Steel reports. The settlement included a buyout of the contract for Kelly Wright, Fox's only black male anchor. 

What we’re reading

DIPLOMA, NOW WHAT?: Here’s a breakdown of where graduates move after college. Local editors: Are they coming your way? To do what?

PARTING GIFTS: When Jerry Brown returned as governor to California, the state had a $26 billion deficit. He leaves with an $8.9 billion surplus and a booming economy that has just passed Britain as the world’s fifth biggest, George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times reports.

MERYL STREEP TO STAR IN ANOTHER JOURNALISM MOVIE: First came "Heartburn." Then came "The Post." Now, Streep will be a star of “The Laundromat,” which will portray the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Panama Papers” investigative project and will be directed by Stephen Soderbergh, says the Hollywood Reporter. The screenplay was based on the book “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite,” by Jake Bernstein.

BEFUDDLED: David Letterman can’t figure out why he didn’t have more women writers. Tina Fey doesn’t give him a break — and neither, in this article, does Nell Scovell, the second of his women writers (after 24 men).

BUYING THE GLOBE: He was in. He was out. How Boston Red Sox owner John Henry overcame doubts to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co., by Dan Kennedy for WGBH.

R.I.P. TOM WOLFE: Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Radical Chic. The Me Decade. How to describe the author of those phrases and the stream-of-consciousness style “New Journalism,” who died Monday in Manhattan? How’s this, from essayist Joseph Epstein? “As a titlist of flamboyance he is without peer in the Western world,” Epstein wrote in the The New Republic. “His prose style is normally shotgun baroque, sometimes edging over into machine-gun rococo, as in his article on Las Vegas which begins by repeating the word ‘hernia’ 57 times.”

DON'T MAKE TOM WOLFE WRITE AN INVERTED PYRAMID: “Wolfe once took The Associated Press writing test and ‘dismally failed,’ he recounted, noting that he was faulted for embellishing the test material, a primal sin at the AP.” - From Hillel Italie’s obituary for the AP. (h/t Jon Gambrell)

RELATED: How Tom Wolfe made me feel better about the semicolon, by Poynter's own Roy Peter Clark. Here’s one Wolfe example, from the novel “A Man In Full.”

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