New journalism ventures in the works

In a city filled with unemployed reporters, creative talent, and entrepreneurial spirit, journalism experiments abound.

Among the new efforts brewing in Seattle are 10 projects that came out of the “Journalism That Matters” conference at the University of Washington in January. The four-day conference, “Re-imagining News and Community in the Pacific Northwest,” brought about 250 members of the media and the broader community together to brainstorm ideas on journalism’s future.

Recent years in Seattle have been marked by the closure of two daily newspapers (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the King County Journal) and ever-shrinking staffs at other local news outlets, so the discussions seemed particularly timely and urgent.

“In times of crisis, people start talking about new possibilities,” said Mike Fancher, former executive editor of The Seattle Times who was one of the dozen or so conference organizers and stewards.

Journalism That Matters was co-founded by Peggy Holman of Bellevue and Stephen Silha of Vashon Island. She’s author of motivational books “The Change Handbook” and “Engaging Emergence.” Silha is a former Christian Science Monitor reporter and now a documentary filmmaker.

JTM meetings have been held around the country since 2001, but the Pacific Northwest efforts are unique. In Seattle, business and civic leaders are as involved as members of the media, said Fancher and Holman.

“Seattle has attracted the broadest mix of activists,” Holman said. And the conference organizers, who now call themselves the “Collaboratory,” continue to meet monthly to help nurture the projects that spun out of the winter confab.

Since January, 10 different groups have been moving forward on various initiatives. Last month, representatives from nearly all of the groups met to report on their progress.

(Full disclosure: John Hamer, president of the Washington News Council, is a member of the Collaboratory and the WNC is sponsoring two of the projects. I, however, have had no involvement in this group.)

Whether all 10 initiatives that came out of the JTM Pacific Northwest conference can score the necessary funding to survive remains uncertain. While some have obtained initial grants, others remain unfunded. Fancher acknowledged that each will face heavy competition for financing.

“It won’t be easy,” Fancher said. “But the passion people have for this is encouraging.”

Here is a brief run-down of the 10 initiatives:

1.                    Seattle Digital Literacy Initiative: The UW School of Communications is funding this project for two years, led by Sarah Stuteville of the Common Language Project. Journalists visit local schools, leading discussions about the role of the media and teaching students how to become more informed consumers of the media, as well as better story-tellers.

2.                    Building on Transparency: Journalist and former Seattle Times op-ed writer Matt Rosenberg is leading this project, which is developing a public document database called “Public Data Ferret.” The project is part of a bigger public engagement project in King County called Countywide Community Forums, which has received private funding from donors such as the Spady family, owners of Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants.

3.                    Abundant Journalism: Led by Fancher, this group eventually wants to link journalism projects and initiatives with potential donors.

4.                    Microfinance: The initiative would provide business and micro-finance training for journalists who want to launch new media ventures.

5.                    Media Mapping: Jacob Caggiano of the Washington News Council is working on a project that maps media news and information outlets across the state. A detailed spreadsheet provides their contact information. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided matching funds for the WNC’s efforts.

6.                    TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable, Open: Another Washington News Council effort, led by John Hamer, asks individual journalists and news organizations to sign a pledge and display a seal on their websites committing to be transparent about who they are, accountable if they make mistakes, and open to other points of view.

7.                    Global Health Reporting: In a nod to the significant global health work being done in Seattle, members of this initiative, led by Sanjay Bhatt of The Seattle Times, are surveying the sector to see what needs to be covered in the future.

8.        Seattle Happiness Index: This group, led by Michael Bradbury of REALscience, is developing the Seattle Happiness Index, which would measure community well-being

9.                Civic Communications Commons: This group wants to create an online commons that will serve as an information hub and conversation place for news topics. They plan to look for partnerships within the civic, business, and media communities.

10.                     JTM Website Technology: Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest is developing a new website, expected to go live this month.

Heading forward, the Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest Collaboratory is scheduling monthly presentations by the individual initiative teams, and the entire group plans to check in quarterly.

Time will tell if any of these projects gain traction and become sustainable. What do you think of these efforts, and which of them would you like to see move forward?


About Heidi Dietrich
HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi's blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she's writing at


  1. Thanks for the coverage and context, Heidi. The Public Data Ferret project, made possible through the good graces of the Countywide Community Forums program, is now in its 18th week of regular segments on KOMO-AM 1000 Seattle. An archive of the audio and transcripts is here: And Countywide Community Forums – – begins a new round of civic conversations in early September, on King County budget and tax issues.

  2. Jericho says:

    Great coverage and context!


  1. [...] Northwest “Building On Transparency” initiative, Ferret also was covered in a recent report by Heidi Deitrich at the blog of the Washington News Council, which was in turn highlighted by the national [...]

  2. [...] “Whether all 10 initiatives that came out of the JTM Pacific Northwest conference can score the neces….” [...]

  3. [...] Blog of the Washington News Council [...]