Kodiak Daily Mirror: Video conference a success

“You’re talking in a tin can” were the first words Sen. Lisa Murkowski had for Kodiakans at Monday’s town-hall on health care in the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium. But for most of the rest of the hour her words came through clearly, making the experiment with virtual town-hall meetings a success.

“It went well. Technically, very well,” said Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debora King. “Especially seeing as it was the fist time we’ve done this. We were happy with the crowd, and the quality of questions on both sides of the issue.”

It went well enough that the chamber booked Sen. Mark Begich on Monday, Oct. 5, for his own virtual town-hall meeting from 1 to 2 p.m. The event will also take places in the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium.

But the jury is still out on whether the virtual town-hall meeting is the wave of the future.

“I thought it went well, but I would have liked to see more people,” said Amy Erickson, an aide from Murkowski’s Anchorage office. “Some people were upset that the senator didn’t come in person.”

Neither Murkowski nor Begich have been to Kodiak in person since May 2008.

Despite the relative technical success of the town-hall meeting, it was not exactly the same as a physical appearance. At one point a member of the audience had to repeat a question while the senator mouthed wordlessly from the screen to indicate that the audio was down.

The audience communicated with Murkowski through a camera in front of the stage that panned and zoomed through the faces of the crowd.

Early in the meeting, some enthusiastic waves from a group of Kodiak Middle School eighth-graders helped lighten the mood and gave the senator something to do besides stare back at the camera.

By:  By Sam Friedman. Originally published by the Kodiak Daily Mirror on September 15, 2009