Thousands flock to Web chat

In a first for the state, Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano held an hour-long interactive Webcast April 17, fielding questions via e-mail regarding a statewide teacher strike. "We had a phenomenal turnout," said communications director Jackie Kido, adding that the site received more than 50,000 hits. "It was so effective, we will make it a periodic event...when certain issues become of a statewide interest."

Kido said more than 2,000 questions were e-mailed, although Cayetano could answer only about 60 to 70 in the time allotted. Because the state's 1.2 million population is spread out over eight major islands, she said the Web chat encouraged participation from residents who may feel isolated geographically or don't have time to travel to the capital.

"It takes an airplane to get from county to county, and the Internet is a perfect way to communicate," Kido said, adding that Hawaii is the most wired state per capita in the nation.

The Webcast was entirely devoted to the strike. Thirteen thousand public school teachers and 3,100 University of Hawaii faculty members walked off the job April 5 in a dispute over salary increases. The university faculty recently settled with the state, and the K-12 teachers were expected to ratify an agreement Tuesday.

In the Internet chat, Cayetano discussed the strike with a moderator — Hawaii Public Radio host Beth Ann Kozlovich, whom Kido called "extremely respected and fair." She said the goal was to make the Webcast high-quality and "visually appealing" so that people's first electronic experience would be a good one. Users could type questions in a box underneath the Webcast. Of the more than 2,000 e-mail messages, Kido said about 40 percent were submitted the day before when the site became available, and 60 percent were e-mailed during the live chat, held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. She said the moderator, who had a laptop computer in front of her, chose the questions. Several dozen e-mails were from outside the state, Kido said.

Kido said all users who sent e-mail received an automated response. A few were given personal responses, but Kido said many questions were similar in nature and would be posted as frequently asked questions on a special Web site regarding the strike (www.strike.hawaii.gov). The governor's Web chat is also archived on the site.

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