The Council’s formation began at a June 1998 meeting between representatives of the Northwest News Council, created in 1992 to cover both Oregon and Washington, and the CounterPoint Center for ReMEDIAtion, an independent nonprofit media-critique organization. At that meeting, Oren Campbell of the Northwest News Council suggested that his group be divided in two, with a branch in each state. John Hamer and Mariana Parks of the CounterPoint Center offered to work with Campbell to organize a Washington News Council.
An informal organizing committee was formed consisting of Hamer, Parks, Campbell, Cliff Rowe (Pacific Lutheran University journalism professor), Dick Larsen (former Seattle Times political writer), Joel Horn (Wright Runstad), Heidi Kelly (The Gallatin Group) and Chuck Nordhoff (Rainier Strategies). They were soon joined by Sandy Schoolfield, who had recently become a member of the CounterPoint Center’s Board of Directors. That Board decided that the News Council would be the primary project of the Center, and the Center would cease its media-critique activities. The Board voted unanimously to change the organization’s name and to amend its mission statement. Schoolfield became Acting President of the new Washington News Council, and John Hamer became its Executive Director. These changes were approved by legal counsel (Davis Wright Tremaine) and the name change was duly registered with the Washington Secretary of State’s Office in Olympia.
A Founding Board for the Washington News Council was assembled in August 1998. Its members: Patsy Collins (former KING-TV owner/The Bullitt Foundation), Jim Ellis (State Convention & Trade Center director), Bill Gerberding (former University of Washington president), Ken Hatch (former KIRO Broadcasting president), Jeannette Hayner (former State Senate Majority Leader), Dennis Heck (TVW president), Pat Herbold (State Gambling Commission member), Ron Judd (King County Labor Council leader), Mike Lowry (former Governor of Washington), Stan McNaughton (PEMCO president), Charles Royer (former Mayor of Seattle) and Bill Ruckelshaus (Madrona Investment principal and Browning-Ferris chairman).
The Founding Board invited prominent members of the community, both media and public, to a breakfast on Sept. 14, 1998, at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle. Keynote speaker was Gary Gilson, Executive Director of the Minnesota News Council, whose appearance was made possible by a grant from Northwest Airlines. About 100 people attended this inaugural event for the Washington News Council, and nearly half of them agreed to list their names as supporters of the Council. Hamer and Gilson later visited Spokane to meet with media and civic leaders there. Hamer, Gilson and Campbell also met with newspaper editors and television executives in Tacoma, Olympia and Vancouver.
To select the actual News Council members, an extensive nomination and application process was devised. This process was very open and widely publicized. In October 1998, almost 1,000 nomination forms were mailed or faxed to the media and to citizens statewide. Anyone could nominate up to three people: one media, one public, plus themselves in either category. The nomination process was the subject of several print and broadcast stories around the state, including The Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The (Bremerton) Sun, The (Vancouver) Columbian, Seattle Weekly, Queen Anne News, Puget Sound Business Journal, Eastside Journal, the Kirby Wilbur Show (KVI-AM), Northwest Week (KBTC-TV) and others. In addition, a WNC Website was designed by Mariana Parks. It included basic information about the Council, links to related newspaper articles, a link to the Minnesota Website, lists of media and public supporters, and the nomination form, which could be printed out and mailed or faxed. The nomination deadline was Oct. 30, 1998.
The response was impressive: 180 nominations were received from all over the state, about equally divided between media and public members. About half of those in each group were self-nominated. Every nominee was mailed a 2-page application form, along with a personal letter explaining the responsibilities of Council membership and a page describing the Council’s anticipated first-year activities and the 1997 activities of the Minnesota News Council. Applicants were also asked to submit a brief resume. The deadline for applications was mid-November, with those who had been nominated by others given more time to respond than those who had nominated themselves. In the end, 65 completed applications were received. A detailed data bank was constructed by Sandy Schoolfield to categorize and describe applicants.
To assess the applications fully and fairly, a Selection Committee was named: Sandy Schoolfield (WNC), Pat Batts (Washington State Farm Bureau), Linda Coldiron (Association of Washington Business), Patsy Collins (The Bullitt Foundation), Dennis Heck (TVW), Mack Hogans (Weyerhaeuser), Peter Horvitz (Eastside Journal), Ron Judd (King County Labor Council), Heidi Kelly (The Gallatin Group), Dick Larsen (former Seattle Times), Barry Mitzman (KCTS-9 TV), Assunta Ng (Northwest Asian Weekly/Seattle Chinese Post), Bill Stafford (Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle), and Liz Thomas (King County Trade, Commerce and International Affairs Office). Selection Committee members agreed they would not be eligible for Council membership. Other Founding Board members, as ex-officio members of the selection group, were considered eligible for Council membership.
In a series of three meetings and extensive phone/fax/email consultations, the Selection Committee narrowed the applicant pool. The goal was to achieve maximum professional, geographic, ethnic and ideological diversity. At a final four-hour working-dinner meeting on Nov. 16, 1998, 20 media and public members of the News Council, plus a non-voting chair, were selected by consensus after careful and thoughtful discussion. A few positions were left open for more outreach to achieve even broader diversity. After further consultations, two more members were added that week. On Nov. 20-22, 1998, a press release announcing the formation of the Washington News Council went out to print and broadcast media statewide.
The Washington News Council convened for the first time on Dec. 12, 1998. This was an introductory reception and organizational meeting also attended by members of the Founding Board and Selection Committee. Since Council members also serve as the organization’s Board of Directors, they established members’ terms, formed working committees, named chairs/co-chairs, and discussed plans and activities for 1999. Likely activities will include educational forums, mock hearings for students, public relations, media outreach, fund-raising events, office relocation, equipment updating, Website enhancement, newsletter publication, and council hearings on citizen complaints.
Startup funding for the News Council has been generously provided by the William H. Gates Foundation, Seattle Foundation, The Bullitt Foundation, PEMCO, Premera/Blue Cross, Baldwin Resource Group, The Gallatin Group, Northwest Airlines, and numerous individuals including Bruce and Jolene McCaw, Patsy Collins, Jim Ellis, Sandy Schoolfield, Fred Weiss, Bill Baldwin, Ken Hatch and Don Covey. Others have devoted hours of volunteer time and/or made in-kind contributions.
The Washington News Council represents a diverse group of citizens who share a strong belief in a free press. The quality of all applicants was outstanding, and many of them would have made excellent Council members. All of those chosen strongly support the First Amendment and believe that excellent, trusted media are vital to a democracy. The Council has come together to create a constructive arena for journalists and citizens to explore issues related to fairness, balance and accuracy — and to understand each other better.