Fewer people showed up to Centennial Hall Saturday than did Friday for the second, and final day of msnbc.com’s in-town review of Sarah Palin’s emails.
For much of the morning, paid employees of msnbc.com and Crivella West, the firm working with msnbc.com to provide a searchable database of the 24,000-plus pages of emails released by the state of Alaska Friday, outnumbered volunteers 6-2. More volunteers arrived as the noon hour approached, however, gathering around one table to sift through the massive mounds of paper.
“I’m retired, I have the time, and I can do this,” said Barbara Belknap, a Juneau woman who volunteered about seven hours of her time between Friday and Saturday. “And I can see where they needed people with local knowledge … going through thousands and thousands of sheets of paper, knowing what’s interesting, knowing what’s routine business, that sort of thing.”
Simmons described herself as a political junkie, saying that sparked her interest in the project.
Several factors may have lead to the small turnout Saturday. Msnbc.com and Crivella West were able to get the entire batch of documents online by 9:15 p.m. Friday, and by Saturday morning, the New York Times had a similar database online, so anyone wanting to review documents from home could do so with an Internet connection.
Ryan Crivella, an investigative analyst for Crivella West, said his company’s electronic archive has received more than 2.1 million page views since it went live Friday morning. Crivella West maintains the database that is hosted on msnbc.com.
Msnbc.com reporter Bill Dedman declined to provide numbers as to how many page views his website has received in regards to its coverage of the email release, which included the database, a live blog and several stories. He did say it was less than the 9 million views in a single day his msnbc.com story about the death of Osama bin Laden received.
The weather might have also played a role. Temperatures tickled 60 degrees Saturday, and rain was at worst a bare spittle, not the most conducive environment for encouraging people to spend a day indoors reviewing documents.
Also playing a role was the general lack of any earthshaking revelations. Dedman said while emails discussing Troopergate and Palin’s general defensive demeanor when faced with even the smallest criticism were interesting, they didn’t yet reveal anything major not already known or perceived by the general public.
“If there were (a bombshell), it’s probably in this list of documents that wasn’t released,” he said, referring to the nearly 2,000 emails the state withheld, claiming they are outside the scope of Alaska’s open records laws.
Still, he emphasized the importance of both the online efforts and the review of the emails in Juneau.
“Regardless of what one might find in the records, there’s the principle that we were going to stick it out and make them available to the public,” he said, in reference to the nearly 1,000-day struggle by several media outlets and citizens to obtain Palin’s emails. “But, beyond that principle, practically, it would seem to me that people in Alaska would notice things in these records. I don’t mean necessarily big things. Things large, things small, things of note that an Outsider might not notice.”
He said the Juneau volunteers brought less than 5 percent of the emails to his attention for review for anything newsworthy, with a smaller number than that leading to a blog post or further reporting. Belknap and volunteer Barbara May generally verified those numbers.
He also defended the use of “crowd sourcing” the project, that is, asking for volunteer help both in Juneau and online, saying it would be impossible for one journalist, or 10, to read 24,000 emails in a timely fashion.
“Every time we ask people to crowd source, there are people who comment ‘why are you asking us to do your work for you?’” he said. “That’s just a fundamental misunderstanding. Those are people who don’t get that we’re in a much more interactive, collaborative world now where journalists still do journalistic things and readers still do reading. But, we’re talking to each other as their reading and we’re reporting and editing. And that a good thing.”
And for the right person, even enjoyable.
“It get a little addictive, I have to say,” Belknap said.
To see msnbc.com’s archive of the Palin emails, visit http://palinemail.msnbc.msn.com/.
• Contact Deputy Managing Editor Charles Ward at 523-2266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: This story has been changed from it's original form to reflect the fact the story on msnbc.com about Osama bin Laden's death received 9 million views in one day. It has also been changed to more accurately reflect Bill Dedman's statement that nothing major had yet been revealed in the review of Sarah Palin's emails.