Internet fascinates audience during media panel discussion at Peninsula College

PORT ANGELES — When talking about the media, you just can’t escape readers’ interaction with the Internet.

An audience of about 15 people — many of them students — seemed most interested in the Internet on Wednesday during the second day of Peninsula College’s First Amendment Festival, which featured a 45-minute panel discussion by four North Olympic Peninsula media executives.

Participants at the college’s Little Theater were Rex Wilson, executive editor of the Peninsula Daily News; Fred Obee, general manager of the weekly Port Townsend /Jefferson County Leader; Brown Maloney, owner of the weekly Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum; and Todd Ortloff, station manager of KONP Radio.

The event was preceded by a presentation Tuesday from The Buccaneer student newspaper staff on its trip to a national media conference in New York and the staff’s interviews with media figures.

Peninsula College journalism program director Rich Riski moderated Wednesday’s forum.

The topic: “Publish or Perish — The State of Media on the Olympic Peninsula.”

The general mood among forum participants: wariness about the future and about the impact of the Internet.

Engaging readers

There’s little choice but to engage readers over the Internet, posting news content on websites and, to a restricted extent, allowing readers to anonymously post comments on articles, they said.

The strategy has borne some fruit.

“News websites are still the No. 1 website in a given market,” said Maloney, who also is on the board of directors of The McClatchy Co., which owns 30 daily newspapers.

Wilson, noting the newspaper industry is in “uncharted territory,” called media’s involvement with the Internet “very, very experimental” but added he’s pleased how the Internet has exposed more readers to newspapers.

For example, in March, www.peninsuladailynews.com had 1 million visits — the first on the North Olympic Peninsula to hit the mark — helped by a story about a Joyce man who died March 23 trying to save his dying wife.

The article was picked up nationally by www.drudgereport.com, which links stories directly to their publication sources, and the PDN received 70,000 additional hits in 24 hours, Wilson said.

“That proved to me how important and amazing the Internet is,” he said.

Obee said he saw Facebook as “a branding tool” for the Leader in pursuit of a goal:

“We want to be seen as the go-to source for information in the community,” he said.

He added: “Every media have lost audience except the Internet.”

Meanwhile, KONP has 1,400 Facebook “friends,” Ortloff said, adding that the radio station “just kind of stays in the background” as far as its involvement with the site.

“People are looking for some way to interact, whether playing ‘Farmville’ [on Facebook] or saying, ‘I hate that story,’” Ortloff said, though KONP does not allow anonymous comments on its website, www.konp.com, suggesting they would be too incendiary.

“We would end up taking down more comments than we leave up,” he said.

“Being articulate, putting thought to paper, that’s getting to be a bygone era,” Maloney mused, adding, “we are just starting to take comments” on Internet articles.

To protect against libel, the PDN has “rules of conduct” for letters to the editor — at the bottom of the Commentary page — that anonymous Internet commenters often do not abide by, and libelous comments are removed, Wilson said.

Added Obee: “The problem most of us have with blogs is, generally, they don’t offer anything of value.”

But with what Riski called “fragmentation of the media” — the countless outlets to choose from — does newspapers’ involvement with the Internet make money?

It does, and it’s a growing portion of newspaper revenue, but not by that much — not yet, participants said.

For example, media advertising representatives can use the number of Internet visits as a selling point, preserving the ability of newspapers and radio stations to employ the First Amendment “to protect us and protect you against government interference so we can do a better job for you,” Wilson said.

He added that just like the North Olympic Peninsula’s media, the retail economy is suffering.

“We are a business,” Wilson said of the PDN.

“What we do is sell [advertising] space. That’s how we get our revenue. We need to make a buck to keep the lights on, to keep the presses going. It’s just harder to do that right now.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]

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