Washington News Council to Close on May 31

The Washington News Council’s Board of Directors has announced that the organization will close its doors on May 31, 2014, after 15 years of holding this state’s news media publicly accountable for accuracy, fairness and ethics.

The WNC, founded in 1998, is the only news council left in the United States that reviews citizen complaints against media organizations and holds public hearings to review and vote on the quality of print, broadcast or online stories.

"We had a great 15-year run" – John Hamer

“We had a great 15-year run, and we helped a lot of people who were damaged by media malpractice,” said John Hamer, who co-founded the WNC and serves as its Executive Director and Board President. “But the news media have changed tectonically since we began. The eruption of online digital news and information made our mission of promoting high standards in journalism much more difficult, if not impossible. How can anyone oversee a cyber-tsunami?”

Hamer will retire this spring at age 68, as he announced in January to his Board of Directors, Founding Board and Board Members Emeritus. The WNC conducted a three-month national search for a new Executive Director. But after interviews and conversations with several applicants, the Board decided that a complete reinvention was needed, not just a new Executive Director.

“The News Council did a lot of fabulous work but it’s time for a restart,” said Suzie Burke, chair of the WNC’s Board of Directors and President of Fremont Dock Company. WNC Vice President Heidi Kelly and Treasurer Tom Ranken, who make up the Board’s Executive Committee along with Hamer, agreed.

Coverage of this announcement includes:

Hamer noted that the News Council’s public complaint and hearing process may be less effective in this new digital media age, when everyone is a “journalist” – or at least they think they are. “Who can oversee ethics on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the other social media platforms? We’re all deluged daily with factoids, sound bites, rumors, opinion and commentary. Citizens just have to make up their own minds about who can be trusted in the media today.”

The WNC process could be updated for the new digital media age, Hamer said. “Our model was fine when we had only newspapers, TV and radio stations, and a few magazines. But now we get news and information online 24/7 in the palm of our hands. The public needs to find new ways to engage in media oversight and maybe take the news council concept to the next level,” Hamer said.

The WNC can point to a long list of accomplishments over the past 15 years:

Judge Karen G. Seinfeld leads the Hearings Board

Complaint Hearings. The WNC held 10 public hearings on citizen complaints against media organizations. All but one complaint (“Hubert Locke vs. The Seattle Times”) were upheld by open votes of the Council members after lengthy hearings. The WNC’s votes carry no legal weight, but are in-depth discussions of media accuracy and fairness, based on the media’s own journalism ethics codes. Several other complaints were informally mediated by the WNC to compromises that satisfied both sides.

The WNC’s last hearing, in the case of “Dr. Richard Wollert vs. The Seattle Times” was broadcast and webcast by TVW. Citizens around the globe voted and commented along with Council members, which was unprecedented in the history of news/press councils worldwide. The complaint was largely upheld.

Earlier efforts to engage the public in media oversight also broke new ground. At hearings on “Leschi School Community vs. KIRO7 Eyewitness News” and “Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW 94.9” the audience was invited to review the complaints and vote along with Council members. In “Sam Reed vs. KIRO7” there was no public hearing but citizens voted and commented online. In every case, voters upheld the complaints against the media outlets. “Sue Rahr vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer” was also upheld by the Council. The P-I did not attend but submitted a lengthy written response that was read aloud at the hearing. It did not answer Sheriff Rahr’s concerns about the stories, however.

Hamer said: “We gave people a place to make their cases in public and a chance to get their reputations back. They were all extremely grateful for that, when they had nowhere else to turn short of costly and time-consuming libel suits, which are almost impossible to win. The Testimonials video on our website shows how much we helped people who came to us for assistance.” He added that a review process may be especially needed in now that inaccurate stories are perpetually accessible through search engines. “A smear lasts forever,” Hamer said. “A lie goes viral online before the truth gets rebooted.”

Anat Balint, Gal Uchovsky and John Hamer in a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency" in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Risto Uimonen

John Hamer on a panel in Tel Aviv

Public Forums. WNC sponsored or co-sponsored more than 20 panels or forums on media issues statewide, including events in Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma. It collaborated with the Society of Professional Journalists, Journalism That Matters, The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the University of Washington, Washington State University, Pacific Lutheran University, and others. Hamer spoke to Rotary clubs and other civic organizations all over the state about media ethics. WNC sponsored a media-ethics breakfast series with notable guest speakers. In addition, Hamer was a member of the global Organization of News Ombudsmen and attended three of their annual conferences. He was on panels at the ONO meeting at Oxford University in 2010, and at the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe conference in Tel Aviv in 2013.

Washington News Council 2013 Scholars and John Hamer

Washington News Council 2013 Scholars and John Hamer

Independent Audit. In 2007, the WNC published “Reporting on Yourself,” an independent outside critique of The Spokane Spokesman-Review’s coverage of the River Park Square project in downtown Spokane, whose developers also owned the newspaper. Editor Steve Smith requested the audit, which was unprecedented in the history of American journalism. The WNC spent months reviewing 10 years of S-R coverage and issued a critical report with specific recommendations. Under the terms of the WNC’s agreement to conduct the audit, the entire text was printed, unedited, in a Sunday issue of the newspaper. The project won the Ancil Payne Award for Media Ethics from the University of Oregon’s School of Communications and Journalism. Copies are available on request, and it is being used as a case study in journalism classes nationwide.

Student Education. Hamer visited dozens of high-school and college journalism classes statewide, often conducting “mock hearings” where students would review actual complaints and play the role of the News Council, voting on the merits of the cases. The WNC awarded 30 scholarships to Washington state students planning careers in communications. The $2,000 scholarships were named after former Seattle Times Editors Dick Larsen and Herb Robinson. Receptions for the winners and their families were held every year since 2000. The WNC also hired student interns every year since 1998, and paid them minimum wage to assist in the office and help at WNC events.

Visit TAOofJournalism.org

TAO of Journalism. WNC originated this concept several years ago. It allows anyone practicing any form of journalism worldwide to take the “TAO Pledge” to be Transparent, Accountable and Open and post the TAO Seal in print or online. The TAO Pledge is totally voluntary and is not overseen by the News Council, but by the pledger’s audience of readers, viewers or listeners. The TAO of Journalism idea is spreading globally and is especially popular among student journalists. The national Journalism Education Association endorsed it and held three national “TAO Pledge Days” for American high-school journalists. Kathy Schrier, WNC Executive Assistant and Executive Director of the Washington JEA, continues to promote the TAO concept at twice-annual student journalism conventions nationwide. TAO Pledgers include bloggers and websites as far away as Asia, the Caribbean and Australia. Pledgers receive a TAO poster, stick-on “TAOttoos” and TAO nylon flyers, as well as a digital TAO Seal that they may print or post. “It’s so important to instill these ethical values in young student journalists,” Schrier said. “If all journalists were as transparent, accountable and open as they demand of everyone they cover, they would be more trusted.”

from a 2010 Gridiron West advert in the PSBJ

Gridiron West Dinner. The WNC held 15 consecutive Gridiron West Dinners, an annual  “roast and toast” of media, political, business and community leaders. The first event, in 1999, honored four veteran journalists (Dick Larsen, Shelby Scates, Mike Layton and Adele Ferguson). Subsequent dinners honored local columnist Emmett Watson, TV Anchorwomen (Jean Enersen, Kathi Goertzen, Susan Hutchison), former Governors (Al Rosellini, Dan Evans, John Spellman, Booth Gardner, Mike Lowry); Jennifer Dunn & Gary Locke, John & Jim Ellis, Bill Gates Sr. & Mimi Gardner Gates, Tom Foley & Slade Gorton, Bill & Jill Ruckelshaus, Kemper Freeman Jr., former Seattle Mayors (Wes Uhlman, Charley Royer, Norm Rice, Paul Schell & Greg Nickels), Suzie Burke, Dale Chihuly, and Norm Dicks & Christine Gregoire. The last Gridiron “roasted and toasted” David Horsey and Patti Payne on Nov. 8, 2013. All are available on TVW’s Archives.

The WNC office above the Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle will close on May 31. The Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA), which has shared office space with the WNC, will relocate. Hamer and Schrier will continue to promote the TAO of Journalism among students and other journalists worldwide. Hamer plans to consult, speak, write, blog and possibly teach to promote media ethics.

The WNC’s “archives,” including records of 10 public complaint hearings since 1999, 20-plus public forums on media performance, and albums/videos of 15 Gridiron West Dinners, will be preserved for posterity. Board Chair Suzie Burke has offered space for a WNC exhibit at History House in Fremont.

Hamer added: “Thanks to ALL who have supported the WNC so loyally and generously over the past 15 years. I deeply appreciated and greatly valued your advice, counsel, feedback, suggestions — and donations! Each of you has contributed tremendously, as your time and resources allowed. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for your service and friendship.”

Bill Gates Sr., John Hamer, and Kathy Schrier

Hamer said he would especially like to thank Bill Gates Sr., who was one of the original members of the News Council Board and donated more than $500,000 since 1998: “I can’t thank Bill Sr. enough. We wouldn’t be here without him – and he never missed a meeting when he was on the Board.” Hamer also thanked Jim Ellis of the WNC’s Founding Board, who was among the first to endorse the group’s formation. Other founders were Patsy Collins, Bill Gerberding, Ken Hatch, Jeannette Hayner, Dennis Heck, Pat Herbold, Ron Judd, Mike Lowry, Stan McNaughton, Charles Royer and Bill Ruckelshaus. An organizing committee included Mariana Parks, Bill Baldwin, Sandy Schoolfield, Chuck Nordhoff, Heidi Kelly, and Joel Horn. “All of their support was invaluable.” He also saluted his WNC Board Members Emeritus, past officers, and Hearings Board Chairs Bob Utter, Karen Seinfeld and Gerry Alexander, who presided at the public hearings. “And my very special thanks to Brian Glanz and Jacob Caggiano, who did such fabulous work on our websites and with social media,” Hamer said.

Brian Glanz, John Hamer, and Jacob Caggiano of the WNC

Hamer also thanked members of “100 Friends of the WNC,” who each donated $1,000 annually, plus foundations and corporations that sponsored tables at the Gridiron West Dinner, including the Gates Foundation, Horvitz Foundation, Kemper Development, Chihuly Studio, Boeing, Microsoft, Premera, Wells Fargo, PEMCO, Lynden, Wells Fargo, Fremont Dock, Clear Channel Outdoor and Puget Sound Business Journal, plus many other individuals and companies.

Finally, Hamer said: “I’ll be in the office above the Pyramid Alehouse much of April and May, packing up 15 years of records and memorabilia. Call if you’d like to come by for lunch or a beer. A ‘refirement’ party will be held on Monday, May 19, from 5-8 pm at the Pyramid Alehouse. We’ll have good food, free beer and an ‘open mic roast’ of me. Hope to see you there.”

CONTACT: John Hamer, WNC President and Executive Director
Phone: 206.262.9793 office OR 206.910.5270 cell
Email: jhamer@wanewscouncil.org

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Washington News Council Becomes World News Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 1, 2014

Operating worldwide from Washington State

The Washington News Council, after 15 years of extraordinary success in holding the news media in this state publicly accountable for accuracy and ethics, is now going global.

On April 1, the WNC will become the World News Council (WNC), with oversight of all newspapers, magazines, television, radio, newsletters, websites, blogs and other digital news and information sources worldwide, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and all other social media.

“Everyone in the world is a ‘journalist’ now – or at least they think they are. So everyone can – and should – be a media watchdog,” said John Hamer, who is retiring April 15 as Executive Director of the Seattle-based WNC (Fact Check: True). “It’s time for concerned citizens to weigh in all around the globe to reform their media.”

Anyone who wants to may join the World News Council and begin holding the news media in their nation, city, town, village or neighborhood publicly accountable. “The media won’t oversee themselves, so the public has to do it,” Hamer said. “Someone should.”

Hamer concluded: “To help us celebrate this historic transformation, we invite you to drop by our office in Room #331 above the Pyramid Alehouse for a free beer on May Day (May 1) from 6-8 pm. You will also be able to meet the new Executive Director of the Washington News Council.” (Fact Check: True).

CONTACT: John Hamer (jhamer@wanewscouncil.org) 206-262-9793

WEBSITES: http://wanewscouncil.org & http://taoofjournalism.org

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If YOU Ran the News Council, What Would YOU Do?

The Washington News Council is at a critical turning point. After 15 years of widely praised but sometimes controversial work, the WNC is seeking new leadership to “reboot” the organization for the new digital media age.

John Hamer, founding Executive Director and now President of the WNC Board, is retiring on April 15, 2014 (his 68th birthday). “It’s time to pass the torch,” Hamer said. “My successor can either fan the flames and keep the fire burning — or set fire to the place, burn it to the ground and start over!”

The WNC, founded in 1998, is the last news council in the United States that reviews citizens’ complaints against media organizations and holds public hearings to discuss and vote on their merits. Its most recent public hearing, in June, 2013 on a complaint against The Seattle Times, was webcast worldwide so interested observers could vote and comment online along with WNC Board members and the live audience.

“We really need to reinvent, restart, rethink, revitalize, reinvigorate, refresh, reform and re-whatever the WNC,” Hamer said. “We’ve been doing things pretty much the same way for a decade and a half. We’re willing to be flexible, creative and open to new ideas.”

What would YOU do if YOU were running the Washington News Council? Comments and feedback are welcome. Or apply for the job opening!

1. Scrap the public hearings (which journalists almost universally hate, because they are held publicly accountable) and just review and judge complaints online?
2. Invite the general public to weigh in on complaints and vote on media accuracy, ethics and fairness – but only if they identify themselves (no anonymous comments)?
3. Give Communications/Journalism schools regionwide a more active role in shaping the News Council’s programs and direction?
4. Involve journalism students statewide or regionwide in the News Council’s complaint-review process, as an educational benefit?
5. Expand the WNC to also cover Oregon, as did our predecessor organization, the Northwest News Council?
6. Expand the WNC to cover Idaho, Montana and possibly British Columbia, as a Cascadia News Council, working with the B.C. Press Council that already exists (as with other provincial councils)?
7. Use social media more actively to engage the public in open online discussions of media accuracy, fairness and ethics, such as a regular Google chat group on media issues?
8. Continue the WNC’s innovative “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” Pledge and Seal project, which has spread slowly but steadily worldwide, especially among student journalists?
9. Continue the WNC’s Media Ethics Breakfast/Speaker Series, which brings prominent journalists to Seattle for in-depth discussions of media standards and performance?
10. Keep giving two WNC Scholarships annually to Washington students planning careers in communications?
11. Update, publicize and market the WNC’s Online Media Guide (OMG), an innovative digital database of about 1,000 news and information sources statewide?
12. Continue the WNC’s annual Gridiron West Dinner to “roast and toast” prominent media, political, business and community leaders in a fun-filled evening of song, comedy, video and affectionate tributes?

OR, what other ideas do YOU have to take the News Council to the next level of effectiveness and service to citizens? Suggestions invited, no matter how crazy they may seem.

Journalism is undergoing a total tectonic transformation today – and the Washington News Council is ready and willing to do the same. Onward! Or upward! Or outward! Or downward! YOU can help us decide. Engage!

Email info@wanewscouncil.org or call 206.262.9793 with your ideas.

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CHALLENGING JOURNALISM JOB OPPORTUNITY!


GOT GUTS? SEEKING ENERGETIC, ENTREPRENEURIAL MEDIA-SAVVY
INDIVIDUAL TO HEAD ONLY NEWS COUNCIL IN THE UNITED STATES.

Applications are now being accepted for the position of Executive Director of the Washington News Council in Seattle, Washington. Deadline: March 15, 2014. Email cover letter (not to exceed 750 words) and resume to info@wanewscouncil.org or mail to WNC, P.O. Box 3672, Seattle WA 98124. Call 206.262.9793 with any questions.

“New executive director sought for last U.S. news council; only gutsy need apply” — Sandra Oshiro, Poynter
“Washington News Council head John Hamer to retire” — Patti Payne, Puget Sound Business Journal

WARNING! THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT A JOB FOR THE FAINT-OF-HEART.

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS WILL INCLUDE:

  • IMAGINATION & DRIVE TO “REBOOT” WNC IN DIGITAL AGE.
  • STRONG COMMITMENT TO FIRST AMENDMENT/FREE PRESS.
  • BELIEF IN HOLDING NEWS MEDIA PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE.
  • EQUANIMITY IN FACE OF SKEPTICISM FROM JOURNALISTS.
  • ABILITY TO RAISE OWN SALARY AND OPERATING EXPENSES.

The WNC is an independent forum for media ethics founded in 1998. It is the last such organization of its kind in the United States, although dozens of press councils exist all over the world. (SEE AIPCE.NET) The WNC’s stated mission is: “To help maintain public trust and confidence in the news media by promoting fairness, accuracy and balance and by creating a forum where the public and the news media can engage each other in examining standards of journalistic ethics and accountability.”

The WNC’s founding Executive Director and now Board President, John Hamer, has announced that he will retire on April 15, 2014 (his 68th birthday). He may remain as President Emeritus at the discretion of the WNC Board on a advisory/consulting basis, but the new Executive Director will report directly to the Board.

PLEASE NOTE: The WNC is at a turning point after 15 years of solid and successful operations. Financial sustainability is a challenge. The new Executive Director will need to raise sufficient funds to sustain the Council’s work — including his/her salary. He/she will have the opportunity to “reinvent” the WNC and take it in new directions, and/or maintain some current programs and activities. He/she may need to recruit new Board members, several of whom are retiring as their terms end. He/she may also need to hire a new part-time executive assistant, as the current person in that position has a full-time teaching commitment at least through June 2014. He/she may need to work from home, depending on whether funds are adequate to pay current rent of office above Pyramid Alehouse near Safeco Field (free parking; beer downstairs; baseball across street).

GENERAL RESPONSIBILITIES
“Reinvent/reboot” WNC to be relevant and effective in new digital media age. Work with Board of Directors to review/redefine/revitalize mission and goals.

FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
Take responsibility for fund-raising and developing resources to support WNC.
Prepare annual budget in partnership with Board Executive Committee.
Submit regular financial statements to Executive Committee and full Board.

MISSION AND PROGRAMS
Lead review of WNC’s current mission, goals, programs and activities.
Reevaluate existing Board structure and implement any needed changes.
Suggest new directions and activities to fulfill mission as appropriate.

ORGANIZATIONAL OPERATIONS
Oversee effective administration of WNC office and activities.
Hire and manage staff, consultants and interns as appropriate.
Hold quarterly Board meetings and monthly Exec Comm meetings.

PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
Degree in journalism, communications, management or related field.
Experience dealing with news media and working journalists.
Strong expertise in fund-raising and nonprofit development.
Solid financial oversight and budget-management skills.
Organizational abilities including strategic planning and tactics.
Management abilities to oversee staff/interns/consultants.
Experience working with nonprofit Board of Directors members.
Transparent and high-integrity leadership standards and practices.
Strong written, verbal, and digital communication skills.

ACTUAL JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

1. Work with Board of Directors to update and fulfill WNC’s mission.
2. Raise sufficient funds to keep WNC sustainable, including own salary.
3. Oversee day-to-day operations of organization, staff, and volunteers.
4. Serve as primary spokesperson to news media and general public.
5. Help change complaint hearings into online digital review process.
6. Decide on future of “TAO of Journalism” Pledge & Seal project.
7. Determine evolution of Online Media Guide (OMG) project.
8. Decide whether to continue awarding annual WNC scholarships.
9. Determine whether to continue Media Ethics breakfast series.
10. Provide creative leadership in 24/7 online digital media world.

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Gridiron West Dinner Was “Best One Ever”

The WNC’s 15th Annual Gridiron West Dinner on Nov. 8 at The Westin Seattle to “roast and toast” David Horsey and Patti Payne was “the best Gridiron ever,” according to many who were there.

More than 500 people packed the Grand Ballroom at the Westin, after a VIP reception that included special “Payne Royale” champagne drinks and delicious hand-passed hors d’oeuvres.

Honoree Patti Payne colorfully documented the evening in her Puget Sound Business Journal column, Puget Sound BizTalk, “Flame broiled: Patti Payne and David Horsey get roasted on stage.” Find below an embedded video of the event from the Seattle Channel.

The evening began with a welcome from Emcee Mike Egan, who introduced Anthony B. Robinson for an invocation that expressed appropriate gratitude for God’s gifts of laughter and humor.

Caela Bailey and Kevin Joyce of EnJoy Productions led the audience in “America the Beautiful,” followed by a raucous, rocking version of “I Gotta Feeling (Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good, Good Night)” – which it definitely was.

WNC Board Chair Suzie Burke and Board President John Hamer thanked table sponsors, beginning with Presenting Sponsors at the $15,000 level: Puget Sound Business Journal, Clear Channel Outdoor and Kemper Development Company, who all had front-row tables along with the Horsey and Payne families and friends.

“Boaster” Table Sponsors ($10,000 level) were Boeing, the Peter Horvitz Foundation, and Microsoft. “Roasters” ($5,000 level) were the Sheri & Les Biller Family Foundation, Chihuly Studios, Fremont Dock/U-Park, Lynden Inc., Seattle Mariners, Wells Fargo and Dr. Richard Wollert.

At the “Toasters” ($3,000 level) were Trish Carpenter, Evergreen Health Foundation, Gorton Legacy Group, Cathi Hatch, Dr. Rodney Hochman, Toni Hoffman, The Keller Group, Stacy Lill, Media Plus+, Sue & Robert Merry, Overlake Medical Center, Stewart Phelps, Puget Sound Energy, Marilyn Smith & Christine Warjone, Smith & Stark, Doug & Janet True, True NW Communications, Umpqua Bank, Virginia Mason Hospital, and Wal-Mart.

The menu included an arugula, endive and apple salad; peppercorn filet of beef and grilled swordfish with butternut squash puree and sautéed greens, and a trio of miniature pies for dessert (apple, lemon and chocolate). Wines were from Chateau Ste. Michelle. Centerpiece baskets included a custom-label wine from Northwest Cellars, a jar of homemade jam from Patti Payne, and a cartoon book by David Horsey, plus items from the Puget Sound Business Journal and the WNC.

A video testimonial was shown after dinner, with powerful statements from Bill Gates Sr., Sam Reed, Sue Rahr, Pia De Solenni, Blair Thompson and Dr. Richard Wollert – who all took part in complaint hearings sponsored by the News Council in the past.

Suzie Burke asked attendees to make extra donations to the WNC, which are tax-deductible, to support the organization’s vital work. John Hamer introduced Devon Geary, a U.W. senior who won one of the WNC’s two $2,000 scholarships this year. The other winner, Rianna Ramirez, is a freshman at WSU. The WNC has awarded a total of 28 scholarships in the past 15 years.

All WNC Board Members who were present then took the stage to sing “Hello, David” and “Hello, Patti” – the first of several parody songs. The audience sang along with lyrics projected on two big screens. During the song, Kevin Joyce and Caela Bailey came onstage dressed as David Horsey and Patti Payne. The crowd went wild.

They then sang a parody of “Blurred Lines” complete with “twerking” by Egan that had the audience in stitches. Emcee Egan then did a “Pictorial Tribute” slideshow using vintage photographs of David Horsey and Patti Payne, including baby pictures. Egan’s hilarious verbal “captions” are always a highlight of the event.

Horsey and Payne came onstage and took seats in two large overstuffed golden chairs that resembled thrones, fittingly. Joyce and Bailey returned for a parody song: “Just Give Me Something to Write About,” focusing on Payne.

The first pair of “roasters/toasters” — Constance Rice and Rod Hochman — both poked fun at Payne and got lots of laughs from the crowd.

Bailey and Joyce then reappeared, with Kevin wearing David Horsey’s cowboy shirt, hat and chaps, to sing a parody: “Mommas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Draw Cartoons.”

Egan then introduced Gov. Dan Evans and Gov. Jay Inslee. Evans came onstage and did a hilarious toast/roast of Horsey. Inslee sent a letter saying he was stuck in Olympia for the special session of the Legislature, which he called himself.

Bailey and Joyce then did a duet alternating between “My Funny Patti Payne” and “Dirty Laundry.” People fell off their chairs laughing.

Bob Cremin took the stage to “roast and toast” Payne, and he pulled several items out that he said were found in Patti’s bra – a model airplane, a set of bull horns, and a native American mask. Les & Sheri Biller gave remarks poking gentle fun at Patti.

Joyce and Bailey reappeared for a side-splitting version of “L.A. Workman” with Kevin in black leather pants and a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand.

Casey Corr and Art Thiel, who both worked with Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, delivered caustically comedic comments that had the crowd going wild. As fellow journalists, they showed no mercy.

Darielle and Daniel Horsey, David’s daughter and son, took the stage for a funny and moving tribute to their Dad and his cowboy fetish. They noted he often got mad at his computer for not doing what he didn’t tell it to do.

They were followed by Lee Keller and Jill Whitmore, Patti’s daughters, who began with verbal remarks and then took up a cello and keyboard to play and sing a moving musical tribute to their mother: “You Raise Me Up.”

Winners of two raffle packages – a trip to New York City and a trip to Los Angeles — were Meredith Tall and Teresa Hunt, respectively. Centerpieces went to those with red stars on their nametags, who were mostly table captains or who helped in other ways on the event.

Hamer announced a special photo opportunity with “The Most People Reading a Patti Payne Column at the Same Time.” The Puget Sound Business Journal provided 500 newspapers, plus a special discount offer for those who subscribed that night.

Hamer then announced that Patti Payne had offered to host a special gourmet dinner at her home, with wines from DeLille and Betz, plus live music, for couples who agreed to pay $1,000 that night. Proceeds were earmarked for the WNC’s scholarship fund and other educational programs. About 10 people raised their hands to join the dinner party.

Finally, David Horsey and Patti Payne were provided time for “rebuttals.” Horsey presented several cartoons he had done of his “roasters” over the years. Payne was joined by John Ellis on piano and John Giuliani on bass, plus Cutts Peasley on drums, to sing her response. She closed with a moving rendition of “What a Wonderful World” that had the crowd in tears.

A champagne-and-chocolate After Party followed, along with a wacky “Pie Throwing Booth” at which John Hamer and David Horsey posed behind a vinyl portrayal of Michaelangelo’s “The David” statue with the face cut out. For only $20 a throw, people could try to hit them in the face with a whipped-cream pie in a metal pie pan. Several scored direct hits. Hamer and Horsey each got creamed.

This was the WNC’s second-largest Gridiron West Dinner in 15 years, exceeded only by the 550 who attended the event in 2005 to honor Bill Gates Sr. and Mimi Gardner Gates.

“This was the most fun and one of the biggest Gridiron Dinners we’ve ever done,” said President Hamer. “Our goal is to continue doing our vitally important work to hold the news media publicly accountable and to educate the public about media ethics. Stay tuned!”

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Washington News Council President on Ethics Panel at International Press Councils Meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Israeli President Shimon Peres, who just turned 90, had a powerful message for members of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (http://aipce.net) gathered here for their 15th annual meeting this month:

“Continue to fight. I know it’s not easy, but you have a mission, not just a profession.”

As head of the only remaining news council in the United States, I know just what he means. So do all the other press council representatives from all over the world who attended the conference, hosted by the Israel Press Council in its 50th anniversary year. http://www.moaza.co.il/BRPortal/br/P102.jsp?arc=27521

Anat Balint, Gal Uchovsky and John Hamer in a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency" in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Risto Uimonen

Anat Balint, Gal Uchovsky and John Hamer in a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency" in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Risto Uimonen

“It would appear that the issue of journalistic ethics is not as fashionable, and certainly not as glamorous, as it was 50 years ago,” said Arik Bachar, Secretary-General of the Israel Press Council, in welcoming AIPCE members at the Tel Aviv Hilton.

With the news media in chaotic transformation worldwide, press councils are trying to determine their most effective role in upholding high standards of journalistic ethics, accuracy and professionalism. It’s a tough challenge.

AIPCE is a loose network of independent content regulators for both print and broadcast media. There is no formal membership and no central secretariat. AIPCE members are mostly in Europe, with about a dozen from other nations.

Represented in Israel were press councils or similar organizations from Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Ukraine.

The Washington News Council is the only such organization in the U.S., since the Minnesota News Council closed its doors three years ago. A National News Council existed for more than a decade from 1973-84, but dissolved due to lack of support from The New York Times and The Washington Post, although Richard Salant and Mike Wallace of CBS News, plus many other respected journalists nationwide, were strong supporters.

My goal in attending was to discuss common problems, exchange ideas and to offer and receive advice. Over three days of meetings, meals and tours, there was ample opportunity to do exactly that. These people all care deeply about high-quality, accurate, ethical news media.

In an opening keynote address, Lord David Hunt, current chairman of the United Kingdom’s Press Complaints Commission in London, said: “In the UK, we have a crisis confronting the media. I have spent most of my life fighting Parliamentary efforts to regulate or control freedom of expression.” The British press scandals of recent years – phone hacking, bribing sources, invasions of privacy, sensationalism, etc. – led to the recommendation this month to form a new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), Hunt said.

“It will take over handling complaints from the PCC, but this new body will also have a standards arm with teeth and the ability to fine,” Hunt added. “This new independent board will monitor and enforce the Editors’ Code. In this way, we will be able to avoid Parliamentary control and go for a satisfactory independent regulatory body established by the industry that is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry, and thus able to command the support of the public,” Hunt said. “So please wish us luck.”

Can Press Councils Actually Help?

In an opening panel on “Press Councils in a World of Changing Journalism,” moderator Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute noted: “All media are becoming impossible to differentiate. The current regulatory framework has run its course. Without a coherent and cross-platform approach, citizens cannot base their judgments in any consistent way. Where in this bigger picture are press councils?”

Panelist Ola Sigvardsson, the Press Ombudsman of Sweden (http://www.po.se/) , noted: “There is at least one borderline we cannot cross. It is the ‘red line’, so to speak. And that is the word ‘self’ in self-regulation. We can only oversee those media outlets who want to be overseen.”

He acknowledged that many new media outlets may not want to be part of press council systems, but some will: “It’s a good thing that a new media organization wants to be part of self-regulation. That is using ethics as a mark of quality, and differentiating them from those media outlets that choose to stay outside.”

John Horgan, who is both the Press Ombudsman of Ireland and a member of the Irish Press Council, (http://www.presscouncil.ie/ )cited the “two poles” — voluntary regulation vs. statutory regulation of the media. “The plus of a voluntary system is that you don’t have issues with enforcement. The negative is that you can’t enforce an ethics code if the press doesn’t agree.” He said the keys are “accountability” for media outlets and “redress” for those damaged by inaccurate stories.

Who Is a Journalist, Anyway?

Many attendees raised the perplexing question of “Who is a journalist today?” The rise of individual bloggers and independent websites has greatly complicated the concept of media ethics oversight. “People look to established media institutions for credibility and authority,” Horgan said. “But how can the credibility of all be enhanced?”

Hanoch Marmari, editor of an Israeli online publication called “7th Eye,” commented: “All press councils must adapt to the cranky and creative media that we have today. For the first time in history, every person can directly influence the world around him.”

Marmari continued: “The oldest institutions of journalism are losing their influence. It is no longer possible to rely on a uniform code of ethics….We need a new definition of who is a journalist.”

He noted that a journalist is not just someone who holds a press card, because many journalists operate outside of any regulatory framework. “We should be defining journalism as a civic art, not as a profession. Thus, we can define the person who engages in this action. Their principles should be transparency, fairness, honesty and an aspiration to uncover the truth.”

Marmari concluded: “The public will be able to enjoy arbitration and complaint-handling services through press councils. If there are physicians without borders, then let us form a coalition of press councils without borders.”

What About Independent Bloggers?

Tal Schneider, an Israeli independent journalist and political blogger who formerly worked for the newspaper Maariv, said she sees little difference in her new role in terms of accuracy and ethics: “It’s always me responsible for every word and every character. The same ethics and the same rules apply to me as if I was a reporter in a paper….Every tweet or Facebook post that I do is a story. It must be well-written, factual, checked in advance and commented on before I put it up. If it’s wrong or it’s violating someone’s rights, it has to be corrected or apologized for.”

She noted that no editors oversee her work or correct her errors: “If I have any problems, it’s only on my shoulders. That gives me some extra precautions. I think a little bit further because it’s only on me.”

Should There Be a Voluntary Seal?

Altshuler noted that press councils could help set standards for all journalistic content, no matter who was producing it. She suggested a voluntary seal to mark guidelines.

Bachar asked if anyone required media organizations to publicize the fact that they cooperate with the councils. “Have you allowed your members to publish a watermark or emblem? I can’t imagine why people don’t want to flaunt it.”

Horgan responded: “Editors are afraid that if they publicize the press council, they will get more complaints! We are urging them to include [an emblem] not on a daily basis, but as part of a template. Most do, but some don’t. We have no way of enforcing that.”

Marmari added: “I can see a universe of multiple kinds of press councils that each individual or organization can accept their terms and work within it.”

Daphne Koene of The Netherlands Press Council http://www.rvdj.nl/english noted that the Dutch Union of Journalists had voted against expanding the council’s jurisdiction to online articles that consumers consider journalistic, “because they see it as a detriment to the purpose of the press council – being an instrument of self regulation for professional journalists – to expand the press council to this new content.”

Lord Hunt of the U.K. said that the new IPSO organization could be a “badge of respectability” for media organizations. He noted that The Huffington Post and other independent bloggers are “seriously discussing signing up for the new body.”

How Much Power Should Press Councils Have?

Press councils vary widely in their oversight and enforcement powers. Some have statutory authority, while others are purely voluntary.

Martin Lavesen of the Danish Press Council http://www.pressenaevnet.dk/Information-in-English.aspx said a big discussion is now underway in Denmark about increasing the power of the council. “Let it assess fines, suspend a newspaper, increase the time allowed for complaints,” he said.

Kjersti Loken Stavrum of the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission http://www.presse.no/ said: “Our profession should put out a promise of which way we should do our process….It must be some kind of promise that we can tell both the public and those who are our sources.”

What About Readers’ Comments Online?

In a panel on readers’ comments, Flip Voets of the Flemish Press Council in Belgium http://www.rvdj.be/node/210 said they issued guidelines for moderating online posts. If media outlets don’t moderate comments, they should “at least have tools to remove inappropriate comments as soon as possible.” The guidelines also recommended no anonymous comments, disallowing comments on controversial stories, and filters to block certain words. But the whole system is voluntary.

Risto Uimonen, of Finland’s Council for Mass Media, http://www.jsn.fi/en/ said his organization set rules for online comments on media sites and required editors to monitor the content and remove inappropriate comments. This guideline change has been in effect for two years and has “succeeded in cleaning discussions,” he said.

Doninique von Burg of Switzerland’s Press Council http://www.presserat.ch/ said they made recommendations two years ago to discourage anonymous comments. “The rules are the same as for letters to the editor,” he said.

The issue is still mostly unresolved, Horgan said: “If the newspaper pre-moderates the comments, then the paper is responsible. If papers do not pre-moderate, they are not liable. These are big legal, ethical and jurisdictional issues.”

Is a Universal Ethics Code a Good Idea?

In the closing session on “Journalistic Autonomy,” the keynote address was from Lorena Boix-Alonso, head of the Unit for Converging Media and Content with the European Commission. The EC recently floated the idea of a universal media ethics code to cover all of Europe, and mandatory press councils with enforcement powers in every nation. But it met with fierce opposition.

“At that you exploded,” Boix-Alonso remarked. “This was a big surprise to us. The intention was good, but we got a completely negative reaction from the people we wanted to protect.”

The EC asked for public input, and so far has received more than 450 comments online. “We will see whether we will do something, do nothing, or wait until the next European Parliament,” she said. “It’s a very good solution to have press councils, but we don’t have any intention of setting standards for them.”

She continued: “The key is to find the right balance between protecting the interest of the media and protecting the public interest.” There are many questions about press councils, she noted, including who should be members, who should fund them, and who can complain. “You may think that all is well and that you have wonderful press councils, but there are countries where it is not happening,” she said.

Adeline Hulin of UNESCO, who is doing her Ph.D. thesis on press councils, said: “Is there an ideal form of media regulation? No, there is no ideal form. Government regulation carries the risk of too much control. Self-regulation carries the risk of overly protecting journalists. Is a co-regulation system good?” Maybe, but she noted that in less democratic countries, any regulation can be misused by government authorities.

My conversations with Tamar Rukhadze, Executive Director of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, confirmed that. She told me that “journalists don’t have to ‘wait for the call’ [from authorities]” because they know where the lines are drawn.

Arik Bachar lamented that “Those who most should enjoy the benefits [of press councils] are not sufficiently committed anymore. Only a few mainstream outlets remain members, while this huge jungle out there is doing whatever they want.”

At the final session of the conference, Bachar concluded: “We should keep searching for the best solution that will keep the press honest, accurate, and – most important – free.”

What Lessons Can the WNC Offer?

In my panel at the AIPCE conference, “Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency,” I urged press council members to consider doing what the Washington News Council has done, including:

  • Webcast hearings on complaints and invite the public to vote and comment along with council members, to help “democratize” the process and “crowdsource” ethics.
  • Help educate students and citizens to encourage more media literacy and outside oversight of journalistic ethics and accuracy.
  • Urge media outlets to take the “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” pledge and display the TAO seal as a way to increase credibility and public trust. (http://taoofjournalism.org)

Will any of these efforts work? Who knows? As Israeli President Shimon Peres said on the opening night, it’s not easy. But what else is working? Not much.

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WNC Awards Annual Dick Larsen & Herb Robinson Scholarships

The Washington News Council has awarded two $2,000 scholarships to Washington State students planning careers in communications. The WNC scholarships are named after two former editors of The Seattle Times.

Washington News Council 2013 Scholars and John Hamer

WNC 2013 Scholars and John Hamer

The Dick Larsen Scholarship goes to a past graduate of a Washington high school currently enrolled in a public or private college/university in this state. The 2013 winner:

Devon Geary, 21, a University of Washington student and graduate of Shorewood High School.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Geary said. “Just to know that there are scholarships out there for young journalists is really great.”

Shortly after completing an ambitious study-abroad program in Peru, Geary found herself as a student reporter for TVW during the Legislative session. Geary was also the editor-in-chief for her high-school paper, The Kolus, and has written for The U.W. Daily.  “I love talking to people, helping them share information,” she said.

The Herb Robinson Scholarship goes to a graduating Washington high-school senior who is entering a public or private college/university in this state. The 2013 winner:

Rianna Ramirez, 18, a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Yakima, who will enter Washington State University this fall.

“I am very fortunate to have won this scholarship,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez played an integral role in reestablishing Eisenhower’s Five Star Journal newspaper, where she served as the paper’s arts and entertainment editor. She also volunteers her writing and design talent to a local arts organization called Allied Arts in Yakima and has contributed to the Yakima Review. Ramirez says what she likes most about journalism is just telling stories.

The two winners received scholarship certificates at the WNC’s Annual Board Retreat on June 22 at the Mercer Island Community Center. Parents John & Diane Geary, and Patricia and Jesse Ramirez, accompanied their daughters and joined the WNC Board for lunch.

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: “Define the role of the journalist in today’s rapidly changing, high-tech world. Who exactly is a journalist, anyway?”

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. The WNC has now awarded 28 scholarships since the year 2000.

NOTE: WNC Scholarships are funded by individual contributions. Our Scholarship Fund is currently depleted. Donations are welcome and needed.

PREVIOUS WNC SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS:

  1. Erin Flemming, University of Washington (2012)
  2. Ilona Idlis, University of Washington (2012)
  3. Elizabeth Sharrard, Seattle University (2012)
  4. Amy Meyer, Eastern Washington University (2011)
  5. Alexander Herbig, Seattle Pacific University (2010)
  6. Pete Sessum, University of Washington (2010)
  7. Chantal Anderson, University of Washington (2009)
  8. Sarah Reyes, Washington State University (2009)
  9. Maren Anderson, Pacific Lutheran University (2008)
  10. Jennifer Draper, Washington State University (2008)
  11. Olivia Hernandez, Seattle University (2008)
  12. Brittany Lewis, Pacific Lutheran University (2007)
  13. Nicole Peterson, WSU Vancouver (2007)
  14. Kacie McKinney, Western Washington University (2006)
  15. Byron Edelman, Washington State University (2006)
  16. Steffany Bell, University of Washington (2005)
  17. Sara Butler, Eastern Washington University (2005)
  18. Sarah McGuire, Washington State University (2004)
  19. Michelle de Beauchamp, Pacific Lutheran University (2004)
  20. Mary Andom, Western Washington University (2003)
  21. Hazen Hyland, Pacific Lutheran University (2003)
  22. Sarah McGuire, Washington State University (2002)
  23. Steven Friederich, University of Washington (2002)
  24. Chris Chancellor, Washington State University (2001)
  25. Adam Faber, University of Washington (2001)
  26. Cynthia Jones, University of Washington (2000)
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On the Organization of News Ombudsmen 2013 Annual Meeting

“You hold journalists accountable in much the same way that the media holds the public accountable.”

That’s what Marc Duvoisin, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times, told about 40 ombudsmen gathered in L.A. for the annual meeting of the Organization of News Ombudsmen last week.

However, he warned: “It’s conceivable that ombudsmen can be captured by their newsrooms” and fail to provide the tough, independent oversight that the job entails.

That’s not conceivable in Washington State. Why? Because there are no active, full-time ombudsmen at any news organization in this state anymore. The few news outlets that ever had ombudsmen – to hear complaints, resolve disputes and hold journalists accountable for inaccurate, unfair, or unethical reporting – all have eliminated the position.

The Washington News Council acts as an “outside ombudsman” for print, broadcast and online news media in Washington State. We review complaints from individuals or organizations who believe they have been damaged by flawed stories about them. We are independent and autonomous, funded by private donations. We accept no government support and are not subsidized by any media organizations. We’re also now the only news council left in the United States, since Minnesota’s closed its doors two years ago.

The number of ombudsmen at U.S. news organizations has also declined in the last few years, due mainly to financial problems in the industry. However, ONO membership has grown by 38 percent overall because new ombudsmen are being named in other countries around the world.

The concept of news ombudsmanship is actually 100 years old this year, according to Al Stavitsky, Dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was keynote speaker at the ONO convention.

In 1913, Ralph Pulitzer, owner of The New York World, established a Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play at his newspaper. His goal was to improve standards in the age of “yellow journalism,” Stavitsky said. The Bureau’s director reviewed citizen complaints, solicited responses from reporters and editors, and wrote back to complainants addressing their concerns.

Decades later, Norman Isaacs, Editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, created an ombudsman position at his newspaper in Kentucky, which inspired others nationwide. But many newspapers – including most recently The Washington Post — have eliminated the position as a full-time job.

Stavitsky titled his talk, “Pundits in Pajamas,” and noted: “Lots of media criticism is now available online.” But he asked: “Does all that online commentary accomplish what an ombudsman would accomplish? Can independent media critics, tweeters, bloggers or in-house media writers accomplish much the same thing as ombudsmen formerly did? Some say, ‘We can live without ombudsmen because there’s so much media criticism out there.’ But is that enough? My answer is no. Independent media commentary can amplify and supplement the work that ombudsmen do, but it can’t replace them.”

Stavitsky advised: “Leverage your core mission by engaging the crowd, but not at the expense of your own analysis. Use new tools to assess the state of journalism. Step up your game. Keep fighting the good fight. Your work has never been more important.”

Kirk LaPointe, former ombudsman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the new executive director of ONO, said today’s challenge is “information literacy.” He teaches media ethics at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and observed: “There’s lots of news advocacy. We should help people understand and make sense of all the noise out there. Help everyone be more media literate, not just students.”

[NOTE: LaPointe will be the speaker at a Washington News Council breakfast on June 12 at The Rainier Club. Call 206.262.9793 for more details.]

But many ombudsmen, who work for media outlets that are struggling financially, may be hesitant to alienate their bosses or to offend colleagues they see every day. The position is sometimes called “the loneliest job in the newsroom” – even by ombudsmen themselves.

Margreet Vermeulen, ombudsman at De Volkskraant newspaper in Amsterdam, told the group that there are now only two ombudsmen left in The Netherlands, down from 12 not long ago. “Yes, newspapers are an endangered species and so are news ombudsmen in my country,” she said. “Ombudsmen are not seen as part of the solution.”

Stephen Pritchard, ombudsman of The Observer in London and president of ONO’s board, said: We’ve got to get more ballsy about what we do. How can we redefine ourselves? Traditional media, if it’s going to survive, must be credible. Credibility is an incredibly serious issue for news organizations.” Pritchard advised his fellow ombudsmen to: survey their audience’s views of their role; write about all the cases they handle in a year; go out and talk to the public at schools, colleges, town halls and community centers; use social media, especially Twitter, to publicize what they do; and write better, more entertaining columns. “Don’t be dull!”

Rhonda Shearer, founder of iMediaEthics.org, a national media-critique site, called on ombudsmen to be tougher on their own profession: “Take off the boxing gloves and use bare fists. Start reporting on what goes on inside the newsroom. Name names. This is a messy business. There’s a lot of arm-wrestling that goes on in newsrooms. When we’re writing, there should be more of a window into behind-the-scenes emails, conversations between reporters and editors. Show more of the messiness of the business.”  She added: “Think like a reporter. What would be of interest to the larger public? Do more inside baseball.”

Michael Getler, ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and former ombudsman at The Washington Post, had this advice: “It’s a matter of doing our job more conscientiously, writing fair but tougher columns and not shying away from anything. If you don’t challenge journalists, their standards begin to slip. Reporters may not like it, but they know deep down when they were wrong.” Getler added: “The ombudsman’s role is to remain independent. You need to have somebody in-house who can be critical. Show you can take a punch, and not just give a punch.”

Edward Schumacher-Matos, ombudsman for National Public Radio (NPR), agreed:

“I do think we need to step up our game. It means much more than just being a judge, but engaging the audience more in the new trends that are happening in the newsrooms.” He responds to all complaints online, he said. “And sometimes I don’t even rule. I just toss out questions. I may say, ‘I don’t know; what do you think?’ I’ve tried to get our reporters to engage online with me. We talk about these things in the newsroom. Why don’t we have that discussion online, moderated by the ombudsman?”

Ed Wasserman, dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has proposed “credentialing” by ONO of interested citizens who would be trained in media ethics, and then act as “public ombudsmen” in their communities. Wasserman conceded it would take a lot of work, significant funding, and entrepreneurial leadership. But in the new digital media age, a broader view of ombudsmanship may be needed.

“We’re protecting a practice, not a practitioner,” Wasserman said. “We should come up with a set of principles of ombudsmanship if we’re going to take this on the road.” He noted: “Mistakes stay forever. Errors hurt. Corrections seldom catch up with them. And people don’t believe corrections.” However, he added: “The courts aren’t the best place to resolve complaints….Don’t give up on rigorous standards of verification and fact-checking. There’s no substitute for good journalism that gets it right in the first place.”

David Jordan, editorial policy and standards editor of the BBC in London, added: “We’re all in the business of trust in our institutions, and we’re all in the business of accountability….The links between the expectations of your readership, and the link to accuracy, are strong. An ombudsman contributes to the bottom line by contributing to the trust of readers in the newspaper. If you can’t establish that, you’re in trouble.”

In other parts of the world, some innovative efforts are under way. Among the most interesting is in Argentina, where Cynthia Ottaviano is the new ombudsman for the Argentinian Public Broadcast Authority’s Defensoria del Publico. It was created by the Argentinian Parliament but has no sanctioning capacity. It holds public hearings, hears complaints, does educational forums and reaches out to the unions, schools and others nationwide. Ottaviano told the ONO group:

“Our role is that of servers, as a mediator, as a bridge. Our advocacy is for the public, the readers, the viewers, the listeners. Why do we not incorporate ways to allow the audience to generate a debate on the standards that we defend? Why can’t we have them participate and get involved? Be proactive. Hand out media codes of ethics. Invite the participation of everybody. Then the audience can be the ones to judge the complaints. Without participation, there is no democracy.”

Yavuz Baydar, ombudsman at Sabah in Istanbul, Turkey, was part of a group that visited Egypt recently to discuss media reform in the Middle East. People from Libya and Jordan also attended, and most of the participants were women, Baydar said. In a workshop on media self-regulation, journalists were encouraged to set up media councils, hear complaints from readers, viewers, and listeners, and take criticism from other journalists.

“The pressure for media accountability is high,” in the Middle East, Baydar said. “Only 10% of the stories are accurate. Some form of media self-regulation is needed.”

After three days of meetings and informal discussions, a universal consensus on the role of news ombudsmen was elusive, at best. ONO members all know that the media-accountability game has changed, and are trying to find their most effective role in the new online digital age.

As Kirk LaPointe, the new ONO executive director, put it: “In the past, the public connected through letters and phone calls. Today, there’s a whole lot of connecting going on through comments, media criticism, blogs, and other organizations. If ombudsmen don’t address it, you run the risk of being irrelevant. You should pay attention to other things that play a role in the reputation of your organization. There needs to be new consideration given to what’s being said about the journalistic conduct of every media organization.”

Jeffrey Dvorkin, the outgoing ONO executive director and former ombudsman at NPR, asked: “Are we doing an old job in a new media environment? ONO is really about a discourse. There are more people engaged in that discourse than at any time in the history of the world. There’s lots more media criticism now, but they’re not doing it very well. Ombudsmen have to be more evangelical. We’re doing the right job at the right time. And we’re needed now more than ever.”

In the closing session, Stephen Pritchard added: I can’t remember an ONO conference where we talked so intensely about the job!” Then the meeting was adjourned – with the future of news ombudsmanship still unclear. Needed now more than ever? Perhaps. But to do what, exactly?

NOTE: The Washington News Council will hear a formal complaint against The Seattle Times at a public hearing on June 1 at Town Hall (9 am to noon). Audience members will be invited to vote along with the WNC’s Hearings Board. The hearing will be videotaped and webcast by TVW, and online viewers will be able to vote as well. No news council in the world has ever done this, as far as we know. It’s an experiment in expanding the concept of “outside ombudsmanship” to the public. Join us! Weigh in!

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Results of Complaint Hearing, Dr. Richard Wollert v. The Seattle Times

Updated June 4, 2013 with a correction from The Seattle Times and June 16 after public, online voting ended.

The Washington News Council held a public hearing on a formal complaint against The Seattle Times from Dr. Richard Wollert, a Vancouver psychologist on June 1, 2013 at Town Hall Seattle.

The Council’s 10-member Hearings Board, chaired by Karen Seinfeld, former Chief Judge of the Washington State Court of Appeals, split their votes on the questions that were considered at the hearing. One question was not voted on, at Dr. Wollert’s request. Read the press release with vote results, and here are the audience vote results from the day of the hearing.

Remote viewers were invited to watch the recorded coverage from TVW, with this link and to participate by voting online, through June 16.

Here are the summary public vote results from the online ballot, in which 51 people participated, and please also see the public comments submitted along with the online votes.

Crosscut.com published coverage of the hearing in an article, “Independent panel: Seattle Times unfair to psychologist,” on June 3. GeekWire published two articles in advance of the hearing, “News Council to webcast hearing on Seattle Times series, sparking debate over public vote,” on May 31 and “Letter: Seattle Times objects to News Council’s ‘quasi-judicial spectacle’ and online vote,” on June 1. The hearing was also blogged by journalist and forensic psychologist Karen Franklin, PhD in “Newspaper unfairly maligned forensic psychologist, news council holds.”

Finally, Dr. Wollert sent this letter to the WNC expressing his “appreciation for the Washington News Council’s exhaustive and diligent adjudication.”

Former Judge Karen Seinfeld leads the WNC Hearings Board

The complaint concerned a series of stories, “Price of Protection,” that appeared in January, 2012.

All complainant and Seattle Times documentation and exhibits can be downloaded as one PDF file, here. The file includes a Table of Contents linking to references internal and external to the file. David Boardman, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of The Seattle Times, submitted this letter, which was also read aloud during the hearing. Please contact the Washington News Council if you have any difficulties or questions.

David Boardman issued the following correction on June 4th, 2013:

To The Washington News Council and Dr. Richard Wollert:

We at The Seattle Times apologize for any misunderstanding we may have created about Dr. Wollert’s status with Washington State University, Vancouver.  While the university’s director of communications had told us that the title “Research Professor of Psychology” was inaccurate and that WSU had “no personnel paperwork” for Dr. Wollert, the school has since located records indicating that he has an adjunct, non-teaching affiliation. WSU says a more accurate title for Dr. Wollert would include the word “Adjunct,” but they do not believe he was intentionally misleading. Nor were we. We regret the mistake, as does WSU.

Here is the list of Hearings Board members of the Washington News Council. (NOTE: Everett Billingslea, Pedro Celis, Obafemi Idowu, and Martin Neeb were unable to attend. John Hamer recused himself.)

NOTE: Members of the audience were invited to vote along with the WNC’s Hearings Board, either on paper ballots or online. They were also able to vote through June 16 with an online ballot. We requested names, email addresses, and affiliation on ballots to discourage anonymous votes.

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GiveBIG and GetBEER! GiveBIG May 15 and Stop By Our Office

SPECIAL OFFER: If you GiveBIG! on May 15 as part of The Seattle Foundation’s campaign to help ALL non-profit organizations in our community, then you can GetBEER! on May 15, 16 or 17 (noon-6 pm) at the WNC office above the Pyramid Alehouse across from Safeco Field.

Seriously! The Washington News Council is offering ONE FREE BEER to anyone over 21 who can SHOW PROOF that they donated on May 15 to ANY organization on The Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG list.

This is our way of thanking all those who donated so generously to the wonderful non-profit organizations in this area. Come toast our community’s fabulous philanthropic spirit! (ROOT BEER is available for minors and/or teetotalers. Pretzels are optional.)

Just stop by the WNC’s office above the Pyramid Alehouse at 1201 1st Avenue South to get your free beer, PLUS a $5 OFF discount card to the Pyramid Alehouse (while they last).

DIRECTIONS: Climb black metal stairs on front of Alehouse to top floor; turn left down long hallway to WNC office in Room #331.

BONUS: Anyone who donates to the WNC will also receive a cool WNC/TAO coffee travel tumbler — but only IF you come visit our office.

Call 206.262.9793 with any questions.

Hop on down! Raise a glass! GiveBIG a BigCHEER and GetBEER!

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Our Advice for Britain’s new National Press Regulator

In the wake of recent scandals, Britain’s politicians want to regulate the country’s naughty media. Our own Washington News Council might make a better model.

England may soon have its own NPR: the “National Press Regulator.” Sound scary? It is.

The Economist calls it a “rotten deal,” arguing that the British NPR would be “set up by a royal charter, underpinned by statute, and monitored by a new recognising body, whose first set of members will be appointed by yet another committee, itself partly government-appointed …[N]ewspapers that fail to sign up will be subject to harsh exemplary damages.”

Can you imagine the outrage if anyone proposed that in the United States?

Read the rest of this piece from April, 2013, at Crosscut.com.

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Washington News Council Adds New Board Members

The Washington News Council has added the following new Board members:

1. Gabe Boehmer – Communications VP, Wells Fargo
2. Anne Bremner – Trial Attorney & Legal Analyst
3. Shauna Causey – Decide.com Vice President
4. Todd Dean – Partner, Angel Market Consulting
5. Pam Guinn – Clear Channel Outdoor President
6. Obafemi Idowu – NobleVentures Founder
7. Joe Mentor – Mentor Law Group Founder/Principal
8. Sue Merry – Former National School Boards Association Co-Chair
9. Kathy Neukirchen – President, Media Plus
10. Viet Nguyen – The Frause Group Corporate Vice President
11. Tom Ranken (Treasurer) – WA Clean Technology Alliance Exec. Director
12. Blair Thompson – WA Dairy Commission Communications Director
13. Nyasha Tunduwani – President, RLI Technology Group
14. Susan West – WA Association for Justice Communications Director

They join the WNC’s current Board members, who include:

1. Suzie Burke (Chair) – Fremont Dock Company President
2. John Hamer (President) – WNC President & Executive Director
3. Martin Neeb – KPLU General Manager Emeritus
4. Shannon Myers (Secretary) – Boeing Communications Director
5. Everett Billingslea – Lynden Inc. Vice President
6. Heidi Kelly (Vice President) – Competitive Strategies President
7. Pedro Celis – Former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer
8. Karen Seinfeld (Hearings Chair) – Former WA State Court of Appeals Judge

The WNC changed its Bylaws to expand its Board to as many as 30 members. If you are interested in joining, please call our office at 206.262.9793.

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Washington News Council To Close Its Seattle Office

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 1, 2013

The Washington News Council, which just began its 15th year of operations and added 15 new members to its Board of Directors (Fact Check: True), announced that it will close its Seattle office on May 1.

The WNC will move lock, stock and beer barrel to London and “reboot” itself as the British News Council (BNC), with oversight of all newspapers, television and digital media in Great Britain.

“The British press are a total mess,” said Prime Minister David Cameron. “We’re confident the Washington News Council, having totally reformed the media in your state, can do the same for us.” Cameron said he was inspired by an April 1 article about the WNC on Crosscut.com.

The British press have faced harsh criticism after phone-hacking and police-bribery scandals involving dozens of journalists there. A government inquiry led to a proposal to create a new National Press Regulator (NPR) to oversee the British media, with power to levy fines on bad or unethical journalists. (Fact Check: True.)

“Our mission here is done,” said John Hamer, President of the WNC. “We have transformed the news media after 15 years.”

He cited several truly extraordinary changes, including:

  • Journalists are always careful to get the facts right, be fair and balanced, and leave their personal opinions out of all stories.
  • Journalists are always transparent, accountable and open, following the WNC’s “TAO of Journalism” pledge.
  • Journalists always double- or triple-check every fact before reporting, especially on Twitter and other social media.
  • News organizations always admit mistakes promptly, run corrections prominently, and humbly apologize for errors.
  • Journalists never do stories mainly aimed at winning Pulitzer Prizes, Emmy Awards or other journalism contests.
  • Citizens here completely trust major news outlets and generously support them with paid ads, subscriptions and/or donations.
  • KIRO7 TV’s “investigative” reporter Chris Halsne, who has been the subject of dozens of complaints to the WNC over the past decade, has left the station. (Fact Check: True.)

Suzie Burke of Fremont, Chair of the WNC Board, said: “We invite everyone to drop by the WNC office in Room #331 above the Pyramid Alehouse for a free beer on May Day from 6-8 pm to help us celebrate.” (Fact Check: True.) “And once our new office opens above London’s Fleet Street Pub, feel free to fly over for another beer…on us!”

CONTACT: John Hamer (jhamer@wanewscouncil.org), Soon-to-Be British News Council’s Chief Hacker-Whacker and Anchor-Spanker.

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Applications Now Closed for 2013 Dick Larsen and Herb Robinson Scholarships

Applications are now closed for the Washington News Council’s two $2,000 scholarships to be awarded in 2013 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.
  • 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.

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.

The Scholarship Committee may interview finalists and/or speak with references. Winners will be notified in May 2013.

If you have any questions, please call the WNC office at 206-262-9793. Email contact: info@wanewscouncil.org

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Washington News Council Highlights of 2012

Our phone continues to ring and our emails continue to “ping” with citizens’ questions and serious complaints about the media. 2012 was quite a year for the Washington News Council — in fact, our most active ever!

Click here to download a copy of our 2012 highlights, including:

  • Leschi Elementary Community Stands Up to KIRO TV
  • A Community Leader Thanks the WNC
  • Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW Complaint Upheld
  • TAO of Journalism Project Goes Global
  • Three WNC 2012 Scholarships Awarded
  • Outreach to Journalism Students at Major Events
  • ‘Roasting and Toasting’ Chris Gregoire and Norm Dicks

Download your copy here!

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