Vitae Foundation v. KUOW – Video of the hearing

On Saturday March 31st, 2012, The Washington News Council had a hearing on the Vitae Foundation v. KUOW case involving a story on Vitae’s youroptions.com website. You can read about the results of the case and watch the hearing in its entirety below. Also feel free to check out some of the “press” surrounding the case.

Part 1 – Opening Statements

Part 2 – Questioning

Part 3 – Questioning (continued)

Part 4 – Discussion

Part 5 – Discussion (continued)

National coverage from CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan
National coverage by Mike Janssen of Current.org
National coverage by Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times
Local coverage from Mark Griswold of Sound Politics
Local coverage from NW Daily Marker’s Bryan Myrick
Local coverage from PubliCola’s Erica Barnett

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Standing Strong: Poynter highlights our future as the last News Council

Media watchdog Craig Silverman is a stickler for accuracy. We’re a big fan of his work, and are pleased to hear his interest in our nation’s last remaining news council. Check out his piece on Poynter:

How the last U.S. news council hopes to survive

Craig let us review parts of the draft for factual accuracy ahead of time, and we found a few mistakes that were quickly taken care of before it went out. Something we’d like to see more of in the journalism world.

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Thank you Kathi Goertzen

The late Kathi Goertzen - from KOMO newsThe Washington News Council sends our deepest sympathies to the family of Kathi Goertzen, KOMO 4 anchor, and to all our friends and colleagues at the station. On Nov. 11, 2001, the WNC ‘toasted and roasted’ Kathi, along with Jean Enersen and Susan Hutchison, at our 3rd annual Gridiron West Dinner. The evening included a tribute from Peter Jennings of ABC News, an introduction by Dan Lewis, some hilarious outtakes, a funny “Anchorettes” video from Patty Murray, a goofy performance by Ralph Munro, and a stand-up comedy routine by Rob McKenna and Ron Sims. It was quite a show!

You may watch the event below, or order a copy on TVW’s website:

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Washington News Council upholds complaints from Leschi School Community and IUOE Local 609 against KIRO7 Eyewitness News

The Washington News Council held a hearing on Saturday, June 16, from 9 am to noon at Town Hall (downstairs) to consider multiple complaints against KIRO7 Eyewitness News. After hearing detailed presentations from the complainants, the WNC’s Hearings Board voted to uphold the complaints almost unanimously.

NOTE: You can watch the original KIRO story here. You can also watch a full video of the News Council hearing itself, thanks to TVW.

See coverage on this story from The Stranger, (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) Crosscut, The Seattle Weekly (Part 1 and Part 2), Seattle Schools Community Forum, NW Daily Marker (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) as well as the special feature from imediaethics.org

Chris Halsne (left) on KIRO7, talking about Chester Harris (right). Click the image to visit the KIRO story in question. No representatives from KIRO attended the hearing, although they were invited to come. Media participation is voluntary.

The complaints concerned two [CORRECTION: actually, three] stories that aired on May 10-11 about an African-American custodian at Leschi Elementary School, Chester Harris. The stories alleged that Harris had “manhandled” or “bullied” children at the school. They also questioned Harris’ past history, which included several arrests but only one conviction.

However, after the stories aired the Leschi School principal, staff, teachers, parents and International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 609, which represents custodians and other school support staff, defended Harris and criticized the KIRO stories. They flooded KIRO with phone calls and emails, contending that the stories were inaccurate, unfair, sensationalized and unethical. They noted that Harris was merely trying to break up a potential fight between two boys, and asked that the stories be retracted and removed from KIRO’s website, which did not occur. Not satisfied with the response from KIRO7, they turned to the Washington News Council and begin filing formal written complaints, plus signing the WNC waiver form pledging not to sue KIRO7 for defamation, as we require.

At the hearing, which was open to the public and the media, WNC President John Hamer welcomed the crowd and briefly described the mission and programs of the News Council, and thanked TVW for filming the hearing for broadcast statewide and posting on the TVW website. Hearings Board Chair Karen Seinfeld explained the hearing schedule and WNC procedures. WNC Hearings Board members then introduced themselves.

Panel members were: John Hamer, Chuck Rehberg, John Knowlton, David Schaefer, Steve Boyer, Eddie Reed, Sandy Schoolfield, Ted Van Dyk, and Stephen Silha. All are current or emeritus members of the WNC’s Board of Directors. Seven worked as professional journalists for many years. Four are past presidents of the WNC’s Board.

Videos of two of the KIRO stories were then shown on a big screen, with help from Jacob Caggiano, WNC communications strategist. [NOTE: The third story was not available for viewing; it had never been placed on KIRO's website. A copy has been requested.]

To begin the hearing testimony, presentations were made by Mike McBee, recording and corresponding secretary for the IUOE, Local 609; Teresa Stout, administrative secretary at Leschi Elementary School; and Laura McMahon, mother of a Leschi Elementary School student. Dozens of IUOE union members, Leschi staff and teachers, and parents of Leschi students attended the event. Many, including Principal Cashel Toner, wore Leschi School sweatshirts to show their solidarity. Custodian Chester Harris also attended, with his son, Brandon.

After the complainants’ statements, WNC Hearings Board members asked questions to get more detail and clarify issues. They then discussed the stories and allegations openly, in what Chair Seinfeld described as “a peek into the jury room.” Finally, after brief closing statements by the complainants, the panel voted on several questions. [NOTE: WNC President and Executive Director John Hamer participated in the discussion but did not vote, explaining that he had expressed strong opinions about KIRO7 and Chris Halsne in the past and thus could be perceived as being biased.] Votes were collected and counted by Kathy Schrier, WNC executive assistant, with help from Teresa Hunt, former WNC executive assistant.

WNC HEARINGS BOARD FINAL VOTES

1. Did the KIRO7 Eyewitness News stories of May 10 and 11, 2012, accurately describe the actions of custodian Chester Harris when it contended he was “manhandling” or “bullying” students at Leschi Elementary School and that he “grabbed” a student without cause? VOTE: 8 No, 0 Yes.

2. Did KIRO7′s use of a hidden camera to film Leschi Elementary School students without obtaining permission from the principal, administration or parents violate the privacy of the students or put some students at potential risk? VOTE: 7 Yes, 1 did not vote.

3. Should the KIRO7 story about Chester Harris have included comments from Leschi School officials noting that a previous charge against him by one of the station’s primary sources was found to be false and groundless after thorough investigation? VOTE: 8 Yes, 0 No.

4. Should the KIRO7 story have included comments from school officials noting that another of the station’s primary sources has a restraining order against her from coming onto the Leschi Elementary School grounds? VOTE: 8 Yes, 0 No.

5. Was the KIRO7 story’s report that “little has been done” in response to previous complaints a fair characterization of the actions by the Leschi School staff and Seattle Public Schools? VOTE: 8 No, 0 Yes.

6. Did KIRO7 delete comments from Leschi community members from its website that were critical of its May 10 story and defended Chester Harris? VOTE: 7 Yes, 1 did not vote.

7. Did KIRO7′s May 11 story, an interview with the mother of the boy who was allegedly “grabbed,” sufficiently offset any unfairness in the May 10 and [earlier] May 11 stories? VOTE: 8 No, 0 Yes.

8. Did KIRO7′S story [stories] unfairly damage the reputations of:

a) Chester Harris? VOTE: 8 Yes, 0 No.

b) the Leschi School Community? VOTE: 8 Yes, 0 No.

c) Seattle Public Schools? VOTE: 5 Yes, 3 No.

d) the IUOE, Local 609? VOTE: 3 Yes, 5 No.

9. Does KIRO7 have any obligation, under generally accepted media-ethics codes, to:

a) Retract its stories? VOTE: 4 Yes, 4 did not vote.

b) Remove the stories from its website? VOTE: 4 Yes, 4 did not vote.

c) Air a follow-up story setting the record straight? VOTE: 3 Yes, 5 did not vote.

d) Apologize to all those whose reputations were damaged? VOTE: 4 Yes, 4 did not vote.

e) All of the above? VOTE: 7 Yes, 1 did not vote.

f) None of the above? VOTE: 0 votes Yes or No.

Members of the audience were also given ballots and invited to vote. A total of 40 ballots were received. Not all voters voted on every question. (Members of the public were also invited to vote and comment online. Voting was open until June 30; results are posted below.)

AUDIENCE VOTES ON JUNE 16:

1.Yes 0, No 39
2.Yes 38, No 1
3.Yes 39, No 0
4.Yes 36, No 3
5.Yes 0, No 38
6.Yes 37, No 2
7.Yes 2, No 36
8.a) Yes 39, No 0 b) Yes 38, No 1 c) Yes 35, No 2 d)Yes 35, No 0
9.a) 0 b) 1 c) 5 d) 2 e) 33 f) 0

We also invited members of the public who were not able to attend the June 16 hearing to vote online on the same questions. More than half of the 45 who voted online were not connected to the school, the union, or the media. Again, not everyone voted on every question. Here are the results of these votes:

ONLINE VOTES FROM JUNE 16-30:

1.Yes 2, No 40

2.Yes 40, No 2

3.Yes 43, No 2

4.Yes 43, No 1

5.Yes 3, No 41

6.Yes 35, No 0

7.Yes 4, No 35

8.a) Yes 41, b) Yes 39, c) Yes 33, d) Yes 23

9.a) 17 b) 17 c) 18 d) 17 e) 39 f) 2

BACKGROUND

The Washington News Council first received a formal written complaint on May 14 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 609, which represents Harris and other staff in Seattle Public Schools (see their letter to KIRO, summary of the case, and WNC complaint form). The WNC also received numerous individual complaints from the Leschi School administration (see their letter to KIRO), staff and teachers, followed by complaints from many individual parents, and finally from the Leschi PTA. The number of complaints totaled 15 [UPDATE: 16] – which is the largest number of complaints against any stories in the WNC’s history. After reviewing the complaints, and deciding that they raised “serious questions of journalistic performance and ethics,” the WNC accepted them for its process. The first step was to notify KIRO that the complaints had been received and accepted.

The complaints were hand-delivered to KIRO’s front desk on May 25, addressed to Todd Mokhtari, news director. [NOTE: Mokhtari was then still employed by KIRO but subsequently left for another job in Los Angeles.] An addendum including the PTA’s complaint and a list of requests to KIRO were hand-delivered on May 31. KIRO was asked to respond to the complainants and to the WNC by June 1. However, KIRO did not respond to the WNC’s phone calls, emails or written letters.

Many parents and teachers also expressed concern because KIRO did not get permission to film students whose faces are clearly visible in the broadcasts. Some families had domestic-violence issues, so showing students’ faces on TV put them at risk, complainants said.

KIRO also had deleted negative comments about the story from its website, upsetting parents and teachers who had commented online. Several complainants noted that KIRO relied on sources who had previous conflicts with school administrators, and relied on sources from members of the same family though presented them as being from two separate families.

WNC hearings are not a legal proceeding, but an open public discussion of media ethics and performance. There are no sanctions for the news media other than publicity. Media participation in the WNC’s process is entirely voluntary, but under News Council guidelines, hearings will proceed with or without the media organization’s attendance. Their non-participation does not prejudice the Hearings Board’s votes. A table with KIRO’s name on it was available in case the station’s representatives decided to attend. They did not.

The entire hearing was filmed by TVW and may be viewed at tvw.org. It was also aired on TVW stations statewide, and is available on DVD. It will be used in high-school and college journalism classes statewide as a case study in media performance and ethics. If KIRO decides to respond to the hearing results in any way, their response will be posted on the WNC’s website and added to any instructional materials used in classes. We cordially invite KIRO and Cox Media Group executives to respond, by phone, email, written letter or on the air.

You can see the complete packet of complaint materials, a total 26 different documents regarding the case. Please call the WNC office at 206.262.9793 with any questions.

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WNC Awards Three $2,000 Scholarships for 2012

2012 scholarship winners Ilona Idlis and Elizabeth Sharrard

Ilona Idlis, left, winner from the University of Washington; Elizabeth Sharrard, right, winner from Bellarmine Prep, who will attend Seattle University in the fall. WNC Executive Director John Hamer is center. Not pictured is winner Erin Flemming. Photo by Kathy Schrier.

The Washington News Council has awarded three $2,000 scholarships to Washington state students planning careers in communications.

Two Dick Larsen Scholarships, which go to a past graduate of a Washington high school currently enrolled in a public or private college/university in this state:

Erin Flemming, 21, a University of Washington student and graduate of Evergreen High School. Flemming has been on the Dean’s list consistently at the U.W. and has also written for The Daily, The Seattle Times and TVW’s Legislative Review. She is currently interning at The Jordan Times in Amman, Jordan. Her mother attended the reception at the WNC office on July 9 and accepted the scholarship on Erin’s behalf.

Ilona Idlis, 21, a University of Washington student and graduate of Sammamish High School. Idlis has written for the UW’s Election Eye Blog for the Seattle Times, the UW News Lab and The Daily. She is an active member of Young Democrats at the University of Washington and has also been on the Dean’s List. She launched a “Support the Ta-Tas Bra Drive” as part of an annual volunteer mission to donate brassieres to women in Nigeria.

The Herb Robinson Scholarship, which goes to a graduating Washington high-school senior who is entering a public or private college/university in this state:

Elizabeth Sharrard, 17, a graduate of Bellarmine Preparatory School who will enter Seattle University this fall. Sharrard was editor-in-chief of The Lion, Bellarmine’s student newspaper, and formerly its opinions page editor. She was president of Key Club and a top student in several Advance Placement classes. She was an intern at Guadalupe House, a transitional housing home in Tacoma.

The WNC’s scholarship program is open to students with a serious interest in communications – journalism, public relations, politics, or a related field. Awards are based on scholastic achievement, financial need, and the quality of a written essay. This year’s essay topic was: “Journalists expect all institutions and sectors of society to be transparent, accountable and open. Should the same expectations apply to journalists?”

Dick Larsen, who died in April 2001, was one of the most respected political reporters in Washington state. He served for more than 20 years as political writer, editorial columnist and associate editor at The Seattle Times, and later wrote a column for the Eastside Journal. He also worked in politics and public relations, and was an accomplished illustrator/cartoonist.

Herb Robinson, who died in October 2003, was among the state’s most respected print and broadcast journalists. He was editorial-page editor at The Seattle Times for 12 years and a member of the editorial board for more than 20 years. He was previously news director at KOMO-TV, where he started and anchored its first news broadcast program. He began as a copy boy at The Times.

We offer these scholarships to honor the high standards of fairness, accuracy and balance in journalism and communications that Dick and Herb achieved throughout their careers. NOTE: The WNC would especially like to thank Deanie Larsen, Chuck Nordhoff and Sandy Schoolfield for their generous donations to our 2012 scholarship fund.

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Flynn’s Harp: News Council weighs future in new-media era


Mike Flynn, the former publisher of the Puget Sound Business journal, just wrote a piece supporting our nation’s last standing news council (yours truly!). Have a look over at Flynn’s Harp and consider supporting us as we keep up the fight against unfair and unethical media practices.

The challenge has been the reluctance of the media to help any organization, including WNC, look over its shoulder, a reluctance put in perspective by Blair Thompson, whose Washington Dairy Products Commission was among the entities that have come to WNC with complaints.

“The media readily arrogate to themselves the freedom, indeed, the right, to hold everyone in our society accountable to their scrutiny,” said Thompson. “Unfortunately, what many media are reluctant to do is to allow themselves to be held accountable for their actions. The disinclination of most media to be held accountable can express itself in hostility to anyone who tries, and this has includes the Washington News Council.”

Also stay tuned for our upcoming hearing against KIRO TV, more on that very shortly!

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Did You GiveBIG on May 2? Then GetBEER in May!

SPECIAL OFFER: If you GaveBIG! on May 2 as part of The Seattle Foundation’s campaign to help ALL non-profit organizations in our community, then you can GetBEER! any day in May (M-F, noon-6 pm) at the WNC office above the Pyramid Alehouse across from Safeco Field.

The Washington News Council is offering ONE FREE BEER to anyone over 21 who can SHOW PROOF that they donated on May 2 to ANY organization on The Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG list.

This is our way of thanking all those who donated so generously. Come toast our community’s fabulous philanthropic spirit! (Root beer is available for minors and/or teetotalers. Pretzels optional.)

Just stop by the WNC’s office above the Pyramid Alehouse at 1201 1st Avenue South, Room #331, between noon and 6 pm to get your free beer, plus a $5 OFF discount card to the Pyramid Alehouse (while they last).

NOTE: Be sure to check Mariners’ and Sounders’ game schedules first. Parking is tight on game days!

BONUS: Anyone who donates to the WNC anytime in May, will also receive a cool WNC/TAO coffee travel tumbler — IF you come visit our office. Climb black metal stairs on front of Alehouse to top floor, then turn left down long hallway to WNC office. Call 206.262.9793 with any questions.

Hop on down! GiveBIG a BigCHEER and GetBEER!

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Complaint against KUOW largely upheld at WNC hearing

Watch the hearing video in its entirety
National coverage from CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan
National coverage by Mike Janssen of Current.org
National coverage by Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times
Local coverage from Mark Griswold of Sound Politics
Local coverage from NW Daily Marker’s Bryan Myrick
Local coverage from PubliCola’s Erica Barnett

The Washington News Council (WNC) held a three-hour public hearing Saturday, March 31, at the University of Washington’s Communications Building on a complaint by the Vitae Caring Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM Public Radio in Seattle.

Pia de Solenni represented the Vitae Foundation and Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW spoke for the radio station. The hearing was filmed by UWTV and the WNC. A link to the full video will be posted soon on this website.

WNC Hearings Board members voted on six questions relating to the complaint. The full questions, and the Council’s votes, follow.

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    YES – 11 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    YES – 5 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN – 3 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 8 votes; ABSTAIN – 2 votes
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    YES – 10 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    YES – 4 votes; NO – 6 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 10 votes
Bill Gates Sr and Pia de Solenni

Bill Gates Sr. has a chat with Vitae Caring Foundation's Pia de Solenni after the hearing

Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander presided, sitting in for WNC Hearings Board Chair Judge Karen Seinfeld. The WNC Hearings Board included current WNC Board Members Scott Forslund, John Hamer, Martin Neeb and Shannon Myers, plus Emeritus Members Steve Boyer, Bill Gates Sr., Walt Howe, John Knowlton, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer and Chris Villiers.

“It was an extremely thoughtful and frank discussion about media accuracy, fairness and ethics,” said John Hamer, President and Executive Director of the WNC. “We were very pleased that KUOW fully participated in our process, and appreciative that the Vitae Foundation came to the News Council for recourse. This is what the WNC is all about.”

Pia de Solenni of Vitae issued the following statement after the hearing: “The Washington News Council provided a wonderful opportunity for Vitae to make its case and to demonstrate that KUOW had in fact run a news piece about Vitae that violated KUOW’s own code of ethics. Vitae contacted KUOW within 24 hours of the original story last April; but attempts to rectify the errors in the story were delayed by KUOW, both then and after the informal mediation meeting in July. While an outlet such as KUOW, an NPR affiliate, should have a level of professionalism that would have precluded the original piece from even airing, much less allowing the inaccuracies to stand uncorrected, the WNC offered a public forum in which a consensus was arrived at that KUOW had acted in a less than responsible manner. At the end of the day, this is not about which side of the abortion debate one happens to stand on, but about the accountability of news outlets that is absolutely essential in a free and democratic society.”

Guy Nelson of KUOW issued this statement: “KUOW was glad to participate in the WNC Hearing process on March 31, 2012. We were given the opportunity to clearly state our position and answer any questions from the WNC Board members. At the end of the hearing, I stated that KUOW has indeed met the stipulations of the WNC proposed resolution put forth in August 2011, and I asked the board members for comment. None of the board members spoke in disagreement. [Editor's Note: Some disagreed.] KUOW will consider further coverage of the issue of pregnancy care centers as it becomes important to our listeners.”

The 11-member Hearings Board agreed with Vitae on some of the six questions under consideration, and sided with KUOW on others. Board members had the option to abstain from voting for any reason.

The Board voted 11-0 that KUOW did have a “journalistic responsibility” to contact Vitae and/or two related organizations before airing its story on April 13, 2011. Nelson said the station’s reporter tried to contact CareNet, a related organization, but calls were not returned.

The Board also agreed with Vitae, 10-0, with 1 abstention, that the story contained “substantive errors” worthy of on-air corrections or clarifications. The station made some corrections and clarifications, but only on its website and not on the air.

The Board voted 8-1, with 2 abstentions, that KUOW’s story did not “accurately characterize” abortion information that was accessible on a Vitae-sponsored website.

However, the Board voted 10-1 that KUOW did not have “any responsibility to provide Vitae additional on-air coverage” after the original story aired. Panel members were divided 5-3, with 3 abstentions, on whether KUOW had a responsibility to give “equal airtime” to both sides. They voted 6-4, with 1 abstention, that a follow-up interview with Vitae posted on KUOW’s website did not “sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story.”

The questions were worded by members of the WNC’s Executive and Complaints Committees over the past several weeks, in an effort to focus on the key issues in the complaint.

The hearing began with presentations by De Solenni and Nelson, followed by rebuttal statements from each. The WNC Board members then asked questions of each side. After a break, the hearing reconvened for open discussion among Board members, with follow-up question for clarifications by the two parties as needed. Vitae and KUOW each made brief closing statements.

The Hearings Board members voted on written ballots and then confirmed their votes on each question by a show of hands.

Members of the audience, including students, were also given written ballots and asked to vote on the six questions. Those results were tabulated after the hearing. They were:

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    • Students: YES – 6 votes; NO – 0 votes
    • Other Attendees: YES – 4 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    • Students: YES – 4 votes; NO – 2 votes
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 2 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?
    • Students: YES – 1 votes; NO – 4 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 0 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    • Students: YES – 3 votes; NO – 1 votes; ABSTAIN 2 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    • Students: YES – 4 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN 2 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 1 votes; NO – 3 votes
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    • Students: YES – 1 votes; NO – 4 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 2 votes

The Washington News Council would like to thank Pia de Solenni and Guy Nelson for participating in our complaint and hearing process. Media participation in WNC proceedings is entirely voluntary.

We’d also like to thank all those who attended. We invite follow-up comments and suggestions on our complaint and hearing process, which we will be thoroughly reviewing in the months ahead, as we have done regularly in years past.

The Washington News Council’s decisions carry no legal weight, but we believe our process of discussing media accuracy, balance and ethics in an open forum is valuable for the public, the press and democracy. If you agree, disagree, or just want to talk, we’d love to hear from you.

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Scholarship Applications due May 1 & June 1, 2012!

Amy Meyer of Eastern Washington University receives the 2011 Dick Larsen Scholarship from Grant Larsen (left) and John Hamer (right).

The Washington News Council is accepting applications for two $2,000 scholarships to be awarded in 2012 to Washington state students planning careers in communications:

•    The Dick Larsen Scholarship will go to a past graduate of a Washington high school currently enrolled in a public or private college/university in this state. NOTE: Application deadline is June 1, 2012.

•    The Herb Robinson Scholarship will go to a graduating Washington high-school senior who is entering a public or private college/university in this state. NOTE: Application deadline is May 1, 2012.

The scholarship program is open to students with a serious interest in communications – journalism, public relations, politics, or a related field. Awards will be based on scholastic achievement, financial need, and the quality of a written essay. To be eligible, you must have demonstrated potential in the field of communications, and a clear need for financial assistance.

Dick Larsen, who died in April 2001, was one of the most respected political reporters in Washington state. He served for more than 20 years as political writer, editorial columnist and associate editor at The Seattle Times, and later wrote a column for the Eastside Journal. He also worked in politics and public relations, and was also an accomplished illustrator/cartoonist.

Herb Robinson, who died in October 2003, was among the state’s most respected print and broadcast journalists. He was editorial-page editor at The Seattle Times for 12 years and a member of the editorial board for more than 20 years. He was previously news director at KOMO-TV, where he started and anchored its first news broadcast program.
We offer these scholarships to honor the high standards of fairness, accuracy and balance in journalism and communications that Dick and Herb achieved throughout their careers.

To apply, you must submit a completed application form, two letters of reference, a school transcript, and three samples of your work. Send all application materials to:

Scholarship Committee
Washington News Council
P.O. Box 3672
Seattle, WA 98124-3672

All materials must be postmarked no later than May 1 or June 1, 2012. The Scholarship Committee may interview finalists and/or speak with references. Winners will be notified before the end of June. If you have any questions, please call the WNC office at 206-262-9793 or email info@wanewscouncil.org

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WNC To Hold Hearing on Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW Complaint

***UPDATE*** we now have the hearing video and full set of documents involved with the complaint as a downloadable PDF. We also have national coverage by The Washington Times and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Ombudsman. Plus local coverage in Sound Politics and the Northwest Daily Marker.

The Washington News Council’s Board of Directors has set a date for a hearing on a formal written complaint from the Vitae Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM concerning a story that aired April 13, 2011.

The hearing will be Saturday, March 31, 2012, from 9 am-noon, at the University of Washington’s Communication Department, Room 120. It is open to the public.

You can download a PDF collection here to read the basic complaint and initial correspondence between Vitae and KUOW.

WNC Hearings Board Chair Karen Seinfeld presiding over the Sue Rahr v. Seattle Post-Intelligencer case

Karen Seinfeld, Chair of the WNC Hearings Board and former Chief Judge of the Washington State Court of Appeals, will preside at the hearing. (UPDATE 3/16/12: Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander will be presiding in Judge Seinfeld’s place at the hearing.)

The WNC Hearings Board will be comprised of current and former WNC Board Members, including Martin Neeb, Scott Forslund, Shannon Myers, Bill Gates Sr., Steve Boyer, John Knowlton, Erik Lacitis, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer, Paula Selis, Chris Villiers and Walt Howe.

The WNC recently received two grants from the Gates Foundation and Microsoft for 2012 operating expenses.

To see how a WNC hearing works, here is a link to a video and background information of a 2006 hearing in the Sheriff Sue Rahr vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer complaint, held at Town Hall Seattle.

(The P-I chose not to participate in the hearing, which is their right as media participation is voluntary. They posted a 17-page written response on their website, much of which was read into the record by Judge Seinfeld at the hearing. Had they attended, they would have had full opportunity to “stand by their stories” in public, respond to questions from the Council, and make their case in an open forum.)

The WNC received the Vitae Foundation’s formal written complaint on June 9, 2011, and the Council’s Board of Directors accepted it for our process after careful review. The WNC’s Board unanimously agreed that the complaint raised “serious questions of journalistic performance or ethics,” which is our main criterion for acceptance. The Board takes no position on the merits of a complaint at that stage, however.

We notified both sides that the complaint had been accepted and began a 30-day resolution period, encouraging both Vitae and KUOW to seek a compromise resolution. WNC convened a meeting on July 14, 2011, at the WNC office with Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW and Pia de Solenni, representing the Vitae Foundation. The resolution period was extended for another 30 days, and extended again through the end of the calendar year. Both sides were urged to continue seeking a compromise.

Following WNC’s three-part recommendation of a proposed compromise resolution, Guy Nelson did conduct a brief telephone interview with Debbie Stokes (CORRECTION: An earlier version identified her as “Debbie Nelson.” We regret the error.) of the Vitae Foundation on Sept. 30, 2011, and posted the transcript on the station’s website. However, the station did not acknowledge that the original story was incomplete and misleading, as they had conceded privately. Nor did they do an on-air story, which was part of the proposed compromise. Nelson said they would “seriously consider” doing a follow-up on-air story, which was part of our proposed compromise, but set no timetable.

The WNC tried through 2011 to mediate Vitae’s complaint, hoping that a satisfactory compromise resolution could be reached. WNC Board Members believed that a resolution was possible. However, in January 2012 it became clear that resolution was unlikely. More than six months had passed — far exceeding the WNC’s normal 30-day resolution period — and there had been little progress.

Under the WNC’s Complaint and Hearing Procedures guidelines, if the complainant is not “satisfied with the news outlet’s proposed resolution to the complaint,” a hearing date to air the issues is scheduled. Vitae was not satisfied with KUOW’s response and therefore requested a hearing. The WNC’s Board, after careful deliberation, agreed to set a hearing date.

A hearing is not a trial, but an open discussion of journalistic standards, which is healthy and helpful for both sides — and for the general public. WNC has asked both parties to submit final written statements by March 10 that include “any new information obtained or agreements reached during the process of trying to resolve the complaint.”

WNC’s Complaints Committee will phrase questions for the Council to consider at the hearing, identifying “which actions by the news outlet allegedly violated standards of accuracy, fairness and/or journalistic ethics.” Final wording of the questions will be shared with both parties and made public at least 10 days prior to the hearing.

One resource the WNC may use at the hearing is National Public Radio’s newly revised Ethics Handbook, which was just released last week.

WNC’s guidelines also state: “Parties may continue to try to resolve the complaint prior to a hearing, but if they do not reach a resolution before the day of the hearing, the hearing will proceed.” If the complaint is resolved to both KUOW and Vitae’s satisfaction by March 30, the hearing will be cancelled.

For further information about the complaint or questions about WNC’s process, contact:

John Hamer (206.262.9793)
President and Executive Director
Washington News Council
1201 1st Ave. South, #331
Seattle, WA 98134

8:30 a.m. – Doors open to Room 120, U.W. Communications Building, to public and news media. (Open at 8 a.m. to WNC Hearings Board)

9:00 a.m. – WNC President John Hamer welcomes attendees,
makes brief remarks about WNC complaint & hearing process.

9:05 a.m. – Hearings Board Chair Gerry Alexander calls hearing to order, asks all Board members to introduce themselves

9:10 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:25 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by KUOW

9:40 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:45 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by KUOW

9:50-10:30 a.m. – Questions (40 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board

10:30-10:45 a.m. – Break

10:45-11:30 a.m. – Discussion (45 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board members (questions of Vitae and KUOW only to clarify issues)

11:30 a.m. – Chair Alexander asks if either party wants a brief recess to reconsider positions or eliminate questions. If so, action is taken.

11:35 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

11:37 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by KUOW

11:40 a.m. – WNC Hearings Board votes on written ballots, which are counted by WNC staff. Vote results announced by Chair Alexander.
Hearings Board members confirm their votes by show of hands.

12:00 p.m. – Hearing is adjourned by Chair Alexander.

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