Remarks from my “refirement” party

John Hamer gives remarks at his "refirement" photo by Brian Glanz

John Hamer gives remarks at his "refirement"

Thank you ALL for coming. I really appreciate your being here to help me celebrate my “refirement” as I’m calling it. And I truly mean that. It has been a GREAT 15-year run, but I’m excited about this transition to a new stage of my life. A lot of you have asked me what I plan to do next. Well, I have a long “to do” list that includes spending more time with my first grandchild in L.A., and we have another one on the way. I also plan to do more volunteering, more mentoring or tutoring, more writing, maybe some teaching – and of course more hiking, biking, kayaking, reading, drinking and napping! Especially napping.

But I’m not retiring completely. One project may be to archive the history of the WA News Council, as many of you have suggested. We’d like to preserve our legacy somehow. Suzie Burke, our current WNC Board Chair, has graciously offered space for an exhibit at History House in Fremont, so the News Council will be immortalized not far from the Lenin Statue, the J.P. Patches Statue, and the Fremont Troll – which somehow seems very appropriate. Suzie said there’s only one condition: I have to ride as a Naked Bicyclist in the Fremont Solstice Parade in June. I’m sending Mike Egan in my place, since he’s already done that, as the picture of Mike at Suzie’s Gridiron Roast shows. We also got a lot of nice comments when we announced our closing, and if you’d like to add YOUR comments (Pro or Con!), please do so tonight. There’s a bulletin board at the side of the room.

David Horsey congratulates John Hamer and the WNC, alongside other good wishes. photo by Brian Glanz

David Horsey congratulates John Hamer and the WNC, alongside other good wishes.

When we started the News Council back in 1998, many people predicted we wouldn’t survive — including some of our original Founders and Board Members! A lot of other people HOPED we wouldn’t survive, including most journalists in this state, especially some of my oldest friends and colleagues in the newsrooms around town. Right, David Horsey? There’s an old saying: “Never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel.” Well, we picked a fight with those who not only bought ink by the barrel, but airtime by the year and pixels by the billions! But as the years went by, even some of my old journalist friends grudgingly accepted us – especially as long as they didn’t have complaints filed against them! The media didn’t always like our complaint and hearing process — but the public loved it! We helped a lot of people who were damaged by media malpractice and had nowhere else to turn. We helped them get their reputations back, in public.

It hasn’t been easy. We’re not a nonprofit that houses the homeless, feeds the hungry, cures the sick, cleans the environment, supports the arts or saves the animals. We’ve just tried to keep the news media accurate, fair, honest and ethical – which I believe affects all sectors of our society. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t firmly believe that the news media are the lifeblood of our democracy, and it’s absolutely vital that we have high-quality news and information to make decisions. Today there’s a valid concern about whether we’re getting that – especially since everyone is a journalist today, or at least they think they are. We are all deluged 24/7 with news, blogs, opinion, rumors, videos, photos, from all over the world. I call it a “cyber-tsunami” and we’re in danger of drowning in it. But who can be trusted to be accurate, fair and ethical? These days, you just have to make up your own minds. That’s one reason the WNC is closing: A little citizens’ group like ours is really challenged to keep up. But we tried, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished over 15 years.

Bill Gates Sr., enjoying remarks during Hamer's retirement. photo by Brian Glanz

Bill Gates Sr., during Hamer's remarks.

WNC wouldn’t have survived without the help of everyone in this room, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. My hat is off to you! You gave your time, your talent, and your treasure to help us. Some of you had more time, some more talent, and some more treasure. But you all helped, even if just with your moral support.

One person I want to single out tonight is Bill Gates Sr. The WNC literally would not be here without Bill. Patsy Bullit Collins, may she RIP, was on our Founding Board. She told Bill about the WNC and urged him to join our first Working Board. I’ll never forget the day when my fax machine started clicking and an application came with Bill’s name on it. I thought: Nah, this is a joke from one of my friends. But we had a section that asked: What experience do you have that would be helpful to the News Council? And Bill wrote: “A lot of experience.” Period. I thought, Wow, maybe it really is him!

So I called the number on the application and left a message, and Bill called back and said, Yes, he wanted to join our Board. And I said, we’ll have to think about that and we’ll put him on the waiting list…NO, I said he was on Board! He said he was pretty busy running what was then the William H. Gates Foundation, so he might not make it to all our meetings. Well, he almost never missed a meeting in all the years he was on the Board. He did miss one when he said he had to fly to London. I asked what was going on in London. He said his son was being knighted by the Queen. I said, now THAT’S a pretty lame excuse! But Bill’s help was truly extraordinary — financial, intellectual and ethical. I learned so much from you, Bill – about the simple things that are so important in life no matter what we do: Saying thank-you to those who help you, returning phone calls and emails expeditiously (which you always do), being persistent in the face of obstacles. For those who don’t know Bill’s little book, “Showing Up for Life,” I can’t recommend it highly enough. Lots of wisdom here. It’s a great read.

Some say that 80% of life is just showing up, and the other 20% is knowing when to move on. Well, I’m moving on after tonight, and I want to thank some others who have been especially helpful. There is another person without whom the WNC wouldn’t exist, and that’s Kathy Schrier, my half-time Executive Assistant. Kathy came on board almost 10 years ago and she really kept the place running, plus she had the patience to put up with me and all my crazy ideas. Kathy, you’ve been fabulous. And I genuinely can’t thank you enough.

During a loud round of applause for Kathy Schrier. photo by Brian Glanz

During a loud round of applause for Kathy Schrier.

Even after we close the doors of our office upstairs, Kathy and I will continue to maintain the TAO of Journalism Website and promote the TAO concept nationwide and worldwide. These TAO of Journalism “TAOttoos” as we call them were Kathy’s idea, and I want ALL of you to put one on tonight. They last about a week or so, or will come off with soap and water. We have people all over the world who have taken the TAO Pledge and display the seal in print or online, including hundreds of high-school journalists all over the U.S. We have bloggers in India, website sin Australia, and the B-Town Blog in Burien. Our goal is to keep nudging it out there as a way to help anyone doing journalism to gain credibility and earn trust. If journalism is going to matter, it must be trusted – and if it is to be trusted, it must be Transparent about who they are, Accountable if they make mistakes and Open to other points of view. That’s a pretty low bar! It should be a no-brainer. So we’ll keep the TAO going as long as we can. Any proceeds from our WNC Estate/Office/Garage Sale items in the back table will go to TAO website maintenance, mailings of TAOttoos and TAO nylon flyers. So buy something or throw a little money in the pot to help us. Just TAO it!

Now I want to call out a few more people who have helped us. My current Board Chair, Suzie Burke, who has been absolutely vital to our success. And as one of the savviest business people in Seattle, plus one of the most generous philanthropists I know, she kept me focused on the bottom line. My other Board officers, Vice President Heidi Kelly (who was on our original organizing committee in 1998) and Treasurer Tom Ranken. You have been a great team.

John Hamer and current Board Chair, Suzie Burke enjoy Mike Egan's remarks. photo by Brian Glanz

John Hamer and current Board Chair, Suzie Burke enjoy Emcee Mike Egan's remarks.

My past Board Presidents: Stephen Silha, David Schaefer and Cyrus Krohn. Can’t thank you all enough. All those who are on the Board or are Board Members Emeritus, raise your hands. Steve Boyer, whose idea it was to start a News Council in this state. Steve, I blame you for my so-called career. Steve was on our original Organizing Committee, along with my wife, Mariana Parks, Bill Baldwin, Chuck Nordhoff, Heidi Kelly, Joel Horn and Sandy Schoolfield. Thank you all!

I want to thank those who came to us with Complaints: Dr. Richard Wollert and Sheriff John Urquhart. Any others here? Leschi School? Vitae Foundation? Beef and Dairy Commissions? It took courage for you to stand up to the news media that damaged you with inaccurate stories. Thank you. I hope we helped you get your reputations back in public. Our process wasn’t perfect, but it sure beat a letter to the editor and was lots cheaper and faster than a libel suit.

Raise your hand if you donated to the WNC over the past 15 years, whether it was $50 or $100 a year, or as a member of our “100 Friends of the WNC” at the $1,000 level (Herb Bridge, Tom Hayward, Suzie Burke, Karen Seinfeld, others?). If you’re looking for other ways to help improve journalism, Stephen Silha and Peggy Holman are running a group called Journalism That Matters, which I’ve been involved with over the years. Our TAO of Journalism actually started at JTM meeting in Washington, D.C., several years ago. Talk to Stephen and Peggy to learn more about how JTM will help carry on some of the work of the News Council in a larger arena. They’re doing good stuff nationwide.

All of our young WNC interns and scholarship winners over the years, raise your hands. You were a great group, and we were glad to help you – we always paid minimum wage! – and many of you got our $1,000 or $2,000 Dick Larsen or Herb Robinson Scholarships. We gave 30 of them over 15 years, and many of our interns and winners have gotten great jobs in journalism or politics – or both, there is some overlap there!

Part of the crowded room during Hamer's remarks. At right, his wife, Mariana Parks. photo by Brian Glanz

Part of the crowded room during Hamer's remarks. At right, his wife, Mariana Parks.

Our Gridiron West Dinners was one of the most fun events in Seattle every year, and several of you helped with that: Monica Tracey, our event planner; Jim Anderson of Cabaret Productions; Kevin Joyce of EnJoy Productions. All who sponsored tables at our annual Gridiron West Dinners to help “roast and toast” various people. There’s a PHOTO BOARD on the side table with some of the highlights of our 15 Gridiron West Dinners, so check it out.

And finally, our Emcee, Mike Egan, who I’m now going to give the mic so he can give you a little photo slideshow, followed by the “Open Mic Roast” which I know is why some of you came. If you want to say a few words about me, get your name on Mike’s list and he’ll call you in order. But you need to follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics in your remarks: Seek the Truth and Report It; Minimize Harm; Act Independently; and Be Accountable. If you violate that code, I will GONG you off the stage. So get your facts right! I know I can trust you, just like we can all trust the media, right? Hah!

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