13th Annual Gridiron Dinner a smashing success!

Patti Payne gives Dale a personal serenade in front of the crowd. (Click the image to view the Team Photogenic photo album)

Watch it on the Seattle Channel

Visit the photo album from Team Photogenic

The Washington News Council’s “Toast and Roast” of Dale Chihuly at our 13th Annual Gridiron West Dinner on December 15 at Fremont Studios was a smashing success.

About 400 people enjoyed a raucous and rollicking evening of comedy, songs, videos, slideshows and affectionate “toasts” of Dale by a distinguished array of “toasters.”

Guests gathered at a reception in Studio B, where a special “Chihulyni” cocktail was served, along with other adult beverages and tasty hors-d’oeuvres. Then they moved into Studio A where the Cyclorama wall displayed scenes of Chihuly’s many outdoor exhibits around the world.

The Nowhere Men, Seattle’s favorite Beatles cover band, played tunes by the Fab Four as people found their tables. The band also played throughout the evening, singing several parody versions of Beatles songs written for the occasion.

Dinner, catered by Kaspar’s Special Events & Catering began with a stacked vegetable salad followed by an entrée of roasted turkey with apple dressing. Dessert was a gingerbread spice cake. “Chihuly Label” wines from Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla were served at every table, thanks to Mike Dunham and Ron Sevart of the Space Needle Corporation.

Every guest also received a coffee tumbler with the Washington News Council logo on one side and the “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable, Open” logo on the other side. The tumblers were provided by the WNC Board.

Mike Egan, who has Emceed the Gridiron Dinners for more than 10 years, welcomed the crowd and introduced Father Stephen Sundborg, president of Seattle University, to deliver the invocation.

Sue Nixon, talented jazz singer and Seattle Rotarian, opened the evening with a moving rendition of “America the Beautiful,” followed by a parody version of “Yesterday” that ended with “We believe in Chihuly.”

Glass centerpieces on each table were made by students at Tacoma’s Hilltop Artists program, which Dale started in 1994. The centerpieces were underwritten by a generous donation from Jeff and Susan Brotman. A video was shown explaining how the program helps at-risk kids in Tacoma. Greg Piercy and Travis Johnson of Hilltop then talked about what the program has meant to them.

Suzie Burke, WNC Chair, and I, WNC President and Executive Director, also welcomed the crowd and thanked table sponsors. “Mille Fiori” sponsors (at the $10,000 level) included Boeing, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Premera, and Susan Hutchison/Charles Simonyi Fund. Sponsors at the “Macchia” ($7,500) level included Chihuly Studio and the Space Needle Corporation. At the “Venetian” ($5,000) level: Fremont Dock Company, Lynden Inc., Pemco and U-Park Systems. Plus more than a dozen table sponsors at the “Seaform” ($3,000) level.

Suzie and I also thanked a wide range of people who helped make the event possible with generous in-kind or other donations. I noted the event would not have been possible without the help of Kathy Schrier, my executive assistant, and Monica Tracey, our event planner. I also thanked Christine Kehoe, Janet Makela, Billy O’Neill and Michael Tobiason of Chihuly Studio for all their help arranging the event, along with Dale and Leslie.

Mike Egan did his traditional Gridiron Slideshow, starting with shots of his own two children followed by Chihuly baby pictures. He went through a series of early Chihuly photos with gonzo verbal captions, followed by a “Chihuly…or Not Chihuly?” segment that showed real Chihuly works and then photos of a giant lava lamp and a portrait of dogs playing poker.

An informative video of Dale’s history was shown, done by Mark McDonnell and Peter West of Chihuly Studio.

“Toasters” took the stage in pairs, led by Jeff & Susan Brotman, who were dressed in bright “Chihuly Colors.” Jeff went to high-school and college with Dale, and told stories of wild times in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house, which he said sometimes resembled “Animal House.” He gave Dale a multi-colored neon scarf that Dale wore the rest of the night.

Sally Bagshaw and Tom Skerritt presented contrasting stories. Bagshaw described how the “Seattle Process” had handled Chihuly’s proposal to build a “Garden and Glass” exhibit at Seattle Center. Skerritt described how he and Dale went to the movies together and ended up with melting handfuls of Milk Duds, which Dale blew like glass. (Dale said later that Skerritt made it all up.)

Allen Shoup, founder of Chateau Ste. Michelle, wore a “Team Chihuly” hat during his remarks. Jim Bianco, president of Cell Therapeutics, wore a vibrantly colored T-shirt under his jacket.

Mimi Gates, former director of the Seattle Art Museum, said: “People throng to museums to see Dale Chihuly glass, filled with joy and awe.” She added: “Your artistic creativity is marvelous and adds immensely to the prestige of the Pacific Northwest.”

Patti Payne, a longtime friend of Dale and Leslie’s, paid tribute to them in a song: “The Way You Look Tonight.” Using a handheld microphone, she walked down to their front-row table and sang directly to Dale, who stood up for a kiss on the forehead. The crowd loved it.

Door prizes included five fabulous items. Winners’ names were drawn by Travis Johnson of Hilltop Artists. Lucky winners were Tara Ashton, Jane & David Davis, Robert Simon, Scott Shapiro and Virginia Larsen. They won, respectively, a “Bonfire Baskets” piece made by Chihuly; a Fremont Studios movie night for 30 people; two Alaska Airlines unrestricted round-trip tickets; dinner for eight at Kaspar’s with wines, and an overnight “Hot Glass” package at Hotel Murano in Tacoma, which includes a glass-blowing lesson.

The evening concluded with a tribute to Dale from Leslie, which featured a series of slides showing them together, often with their son Jackson. Leslie also brought their dog, Kobe, onstage along with a statue of a bulldog, Dale’s favorite breed.

Dale stood for some gracious closing remarks, inviting all dinner attendees to the opening of the new Garden and Glass exhibit in April. Slides of the current site were shown along with an artist’s rendition of the final exhibit.

When the program was over, VIP guests gathered for an After Party back in Studio B with sparkling champagne from Chateau Ste. Michelle and delicious chocolates donated by Theo Chocolate. Many people, including the Chihulys, lingered until almost midnight. A good time was had by all!

Visit the photo album from Team Photogenic

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Big Questions from #SIC2011 – The Seattle Interactive Conference

In my first post on the Seattle Interactive Conference, I went over some locally developed tools designed to make information more relevant and insightful. Mobile apps like Trover, which allows geo-discovery through photos, and Evri, which organizes ~15,000 news feeds into a friendly iPad interface, are useful on an individual level. But my concern is:

How can they scale to community heights when it comes to breaking, spreading, and contextualizing important public information?

This is not an easy question. To help answer it, I needed to figure out how the mobile sausage is made. So at SIC, I tracked down John SanGiovanni, co-founder of and product design VP for the Zumobi mobile network. It would be wrong to call Zumobi an “ad network,” because while they do serve ads to mobile devices, they also design and build the apps on which the ads run. Right now its “co-publishing network” is being used by some of the biggest heavy hitters in the content world, with clients that range from MSNBC and The Week magazine, to Popular Science, Good Housekeeping, Parenting Magazine, and Motor Trend.

The good news is that SanGiovanni happily reported financial success on the journalism side of their business. He said their MSNBC app is “a whale” (very profitable) and both the advertisers and the publisher (MSNBC) are happy with the model they’ve set up. It’d be hard not to be, because Zumobi designs and builds the app absolutely free of charge to publishers whom they choose to work with. The company also helps with some of the ad sales, but as a co-publishing network, they expect the publisher to already have a drawer full of dedicated advertisers.

The not-so-good news is that Zumobi only works with top tier clients and doesn’t have plans to scale down their model to independent and hyperlocal publishers. SanGiovanni assured me he’s a big fan of Maple Leaf Life and cares about supporting grassroots journalism, but it’s just not in the cards for Zumobi right now. The company prefers to swim with bigger fish.

The reason why this is not-so-good news, rather than bad news completely, is that it means there are still entrepreneurial possibilities for co-publishing networks within the mobile hyperlocal space.

[Read More on the Journalism Accelerator]

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Report back from the #SIC2011 – The Seattle Interactive Conference

Journalists have always covered the tech industry as a section of the newspaper, but now, due to the personal media explosion, the very existence of the trade is dependent on conversations and decisions that happen at events like this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference.

#SIC2011 had many of the same trimmings as the now messianic #SXSWi (South By Southwest Interactive). The obligatory cute cartoon logos, fancy afterparties, overt corporate sponsorship, installation exhibits, free marketing schwag, and custom smartphone app were all part of the $300+ ticket, a tad steep for your average journalist trying to get a bite on how to stay alive.

So how does this deliver in terms of fulfilling the “information needs of a community?”

First let’s talk mobile. “Social/Local/Mobile” #SoLoMo was the expression I picked up from Jason Karas of Seattle startup Trover, who put up some interesting stats on rapid mobile adoption:

  • 350 million people are using Facebook through their phones
  • 4 billionTwitter posts come from phones each month (maybe not all through smartphones)
  • 1 billion photos are shared through phones each month (not clear if this is the entire web, or just social media)
  • 1 billion Foursquare checkins have been logged to date

What’s more interesting is the motivation behind the SoLoMo phenomenon. The Location Based Marketing Association has research that breaks down the motivations of early adopters:

  • 54% want Discounts/Coupons
  • 33% want to meet friends
  • 32% want to learn about the location
  • 30% want to promote the location
  • 38% want to participate in games/contests/receive badges, e.g. become a “Mayor”

The premise behind Trover is to tap into the human desire to discover and share discoveries, not by means of text reviews and pins on a map (Yelp and Foursquare), but through a rich photographic experience.

My question to Jason was, how can Trover enable journalists and citizens alike to break stories and receive critical information in their communities?

[Read More on the Journalism Accelerator]

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#HackingNews with KING 5 TV

Hackathons are getting trendy. Not just in journalism, but health care, education, entrepreneurism, crisis management, mobile tech, government, and other arenas. Yes, it’s another technology buzz word, but one that hopefully sticks around and evolves into a combustible formula. Bringing together software experts and social leaders who sprint together to solve big challenges is a remarkable thing, especially when there’s a $10,000 prize attached to it.

That’s the ante that KING 5 TV put up over the weekend, in the first ever hackathon run by the broadcast industry. The NBC affiliate’s digital media director, Mark Briggs, laid out his vision of unearthing quality news in the same way that one would find the right place to eat brunch in New York City. Describing his recent trip to the Big Apple, Briggs pointed out that finding a delicious spot could take hours, or it could take five minutes; the difference being whether you know someone who already lives there.

Other information challenges were presented by co-organizer Shauna Causey and local meme expert Ben Huh, who both had different ways of expressing a similar need for relevant information served up in a dynamic, user friendly environment. Mr. Huh shared a mockup of his recently announced Moby Dick Project, which generated a warm current of ideas through the room, leading 12 people to step forward and pitch their solution in under two minutes.

After punching away through the 48 hour weekend, “Dimensions” came out on top. Cooked up by Leon Wong and a team of four others (Mohammad Almalkawi, Lewis Lin, Adam Loving, Becker IV), Dimensions takes its own spin on on news filtration/curation. Based on the premise that even personalized RSS tools like Google Reader are still a dumping ground of too much information, Dimensions allows users to filter through their news feeds based on location, timeline, and friends’ interest. It has both a personalized element of delivering custom news that can be drilled down into various “dimensions,” as well as a social element, where you can view the different news feeds of your friends and other prominent users. The team managed to put up a live demo what was pretty impressive considering it manifested in 48 hours from start to finish.

You can also check out the nine other projects that were demoed over the weekend by looking at the notes I jotted here (and feel free to fill in any details I may have missed).

The other contenders also had some pretty nifty hacks to share. There were projects designed to break stories and publish audio through your phone, serve up personalized news based on similarities to others, and collaboratively curate tweets based on importance as well as chronology.

The Crowd

Grinding around the clock is not for the faint of heart. Roughly one half of the 65 people who signed up actually made it out to the Friday night kickoff, followed by a 30% evaporation of people by the start of the first working day. Part of the dissipation was due to another mobile hackathon hosted by AT&T the same weekend.

Participants could sign up as a designer (8), news geek (30), technologist (21), or developer (11).

As is typical in tech situations, the demographic was skewed heavily male. In fact, you could count the number female competitors on your nose (two). However, some have worked to change that with a ladies-only hackathon.

Based on a show of hands, half the crowd reported that they had already been to a hackathon before. Some were graduates of Startup Weekend (which began in Seattle), others had helped with Random Hacks of Kindness and Crisis Commons.

As expected, there was clear presence of Seattle’s tech industry amongst the room. The event took place on Adobe’s Fremont campus, who donated their shiny space and helped purchase some of the food. Amazon gave away a $50 of free AWS Cloud hosting to all participants who showed up and also footed the pizza bill. The winning team had a current Microsoft employee on board, as well as a former one who had recently walked away from his job a few weeks earlier to start up his own company. Most people were locals, though one pair came up from Portland, and one fellow even flew in from San Francisco to bust his chops for both the KING5 and AT&T hackathons. There were at least a few startups that were represented amongst the crowd as well, the ones I met with were from Timber Software and DocuSign..

Also interesting were two Microsoft employees hovering the room who were evangelizing the Open Data Protocol (Odata), which they happily develop during their day jobs. They were very helpful in providing general information not just about their product, but all things big data, and even let me pick their brains about various pet peeves and challenges across tech in general. Although they were very candid and unbiased in their opinions, it’s worth mentioning that employees of big companies like Microsoft sign a contract that they cannot participate in certain activities outside of the job (i.e. hackathons) that may conflict with the business interests of their employer. They chose to forfeit their odds of competing for the $10,000 in order to avoid brushing up against any sort of dispute, but were pleasantly willing to donate their time to help others succeed.

So what’s next…

Even a $10,000 prize will have a tough time answering a few million dollar questions.

If you build it, will they come?

As evidenced by the lackluster adoption and later abandonment of Google Wave, even really cool tools have to be picked up by a fair amount of people in order to stay healthy and remain useful. It’s easy to forget how wide the digital divide really is, and difficult to predict what kind of new habits people are willing to adopt. Are there enough news junkies out there who will want to add yet another tool into their consumption diet?

If you build it, will it stand?

Similar to other high energy gatherings, hackathons still have a “post-conference blues” effect. Many projects with good intentions undergo silent decay once the creators step back into the vortex of life’s routines. It was good to hear that local disaster expert Pascal Schuback is still working tirelessly to get the MadPub framework deployed on a national scale (built in Seattle during Random Hacks of Kindness 2.0), and he reported feeling optimistic about its eventual adoption by FEMA and other government agencies. However he told me that it’s rare to see hackathon projects evolve into live deployable applications.

It is undetermined if KING 5 will find a way to integrate Dimensions into their news product, but Briggs spoke of his intention to be a liaison for the project and see what happens. It would be interesting to see KING 5 reporters themselves using the app to share the “dimensions” of stories that they both report, as well as consume.

Regardless of the tangible outcomes, there is still a feeling of accomplishment that pervades the hackathon spirit. Professional networking is inevitable when working under a time crunch with a room full of strangers, and everyone walks away having learned a little bit more about what it takes to make technology work for the rest of us.

Image credit by Lucas Anderson

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Critics are wrong about Dale Chihuly’s fabulous glass art

David Brewster’s recent little blog on Crosscut.com, “Chihuly Conquers Boston” (Aug. 8) caught my eye because I saw the Chihuly exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in May. My wife and I spent several hours there. We both thought it was fabulous.

Brewster said the exhibit “drew large numbers…and mixed critical reviews.” He cited two such reviews, one from The Wall Street Journal and one from The Boston Globe. Both were snarky and supercilious. The Globe’s Sebastian Smee, Brewster rightly noted, was “condescending.” Smee called Chihuly’s works “tasteless.” Well, critics must be critical. That’s what they get paid to do.

However, the huge crowds (360,000 plus) that the exhibit attracted in Boston tend to prove the critics wrong. So do the big attendance numbers at the current “Dale Chihuly’s Northwest” exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum, which runs through Sept. 25. I’ve seen that too, and it’s terrific.

The self-anointed cognoscenti may pooh-pooh Chihuly, perhaps to reassure themselves of their own elite sensibilities. But most people genuinely like Chihuly’s extraordinary creations – and have for decades now. The man has quite simply revolutionized the glass art medium and is, justifiably, renowned worldwide.

By the way, Brewster should have disclosed the fact that he opposed the new Chihuly exhibit at Seattle Center, which will open in April 2012, and even testified against it last year.

Full disclosure: My organization, the Washington News Council, will “roast and toast” Chihuly at our 13th annual Gridiron West Dinner on December 15 at Fremont Studios. We have been working closely with the Chihuly team on plans for the event. It’s going to be lots of fun. We’ll do songs, comedy, videos, a slideshow and affectionate “toasts” of Dale.

Our confirmed “toasters” so far include Sally Bagshaw, John Buchanan (who heads the San Francisco Art Museum), Leslie Chihuly, Mimi Gardner Gates and Tom Skerritt. We have invited Jeff Bridges, Jeff Brotman and Quincy Jones, who are friends of Dale’s and collectors of his work. Pretty “tasteless” bunch, huh?

Tickets and tables for the event are going fast, and we’re certain to sell out.

Between now and then, several other events are also scheduled to honor Chihuly and his legacy in this region. Here’s a partial list:

Aug. 14 – Pilchuck Glass School 40th Anniversary Reunion, 12-5 pm, Stanwood (Chihuly was one of Pilchuck’s co-founders. Reservations required.)

Sept. 15 – Tacoma Art Museum “Inspired by Chihuly,” 5-8 pm, Tacoma Art Museum (Chihuly was born in Tacoma and has maintained close ties to TAM.)

Sept. 18 – “Tacoma Celebrates Dale Chihuly,” 3 pm, UW Tacoma’s Philip Hall (Chihuly will turn 70 on Sept. 20.)

Sept. 25 – “Chihuly’s Colleagues & Collaborators,” 1 pm, Tacoma Art Museum (Tributes from glass artists who worked with him.)

Oct. 12-15 – Pilchuck Glass School Auction Tour, Stanwood (Four days of events to showcase Pilchuck artists and their work.)

Oct. 14 – Pilchuck Glass School Annual Auction, 5 pm, The Westin Hotel, Seattle (The 33rd auction to support Pilchuck’s educational programs. Reservations required.)

Oct. 15 – Tacoma Art Museum’s “GALA Deconstructed” Dinner, 6 pm, TAM (Limited seating; reservations required.)

For the vast majority who are delighted and inspired by Chihuly’s work, these all might be of interest. Ignore the critics. They’ve got lousy taste.

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The 2011 Gridiron West Dinner is coming!

We’re pleased to announce the details of our 13th Annual Gridiron West Dinner

A “roast/toast” to the one and only DALE CHIHULY

The Gridiron Dinner is our signature fundraising event, which allows all our vital programs to continue, and is seriously a romping good time.

Last year we had the mayors in stitches, and this year we’ll be shattering a little glass, so come join us!

THURSDAY, DEC. 15, 2011
FREMONT STUDIOS, 155 North 35th Street, Seattle

RECEPTION: 5:30 p.m.
DINNER & ENTERTAINMENT: 6:30-9:30 p.m.
VIP CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATE AFTER PARTY: 9:30 to ???

In the Gridiron West Dinner tradition, the evening will feature songs, comedy, video, photos and “toasts/roasts” of our honoree, Dale Chihuly.

Master of Ceremonies: Mike Egan
Musical Tribute: The Nowhere Men
Plus a Host of Celebrity Toasters/Roasters including Sally Bagshaw, Jim Bianco, Jeff & Susan Brotman, John Buchanan, Leslie Chihuly, Mimi Gardner Gates, Allen Shoup, & Tom Skerritt

Festive Attire: Chihuly Colors Encouraged!

This event will sell out, so reserve your tickets and tables now!

PAST GRIDIRON WEST DINNER HONOREES:

2010 – Greg Nickels, Norm Rice, Charles Royer, Paul Schell, Wes Uhlman (see the review from Seattle Met)
2009 – Suzie Burke
2008 – Kemper Freeman Jr.
2007 – Bill & Jill Ruckelshaus
2006 – Tom Foley & Slade Gorton
2005 – Bill Gates Sr. & Mimi Gardner Gates
2004 – Jennifer Dunn & Gary Locke
2003 – Jim Ellis & John Ellis
2002 – Dan Evans, Booth Gardner, Mike Lowry, Al Rosellini, John Spellman
2001 – Jean Enersen, Kathi Goertzen, Susan Hutchison
2000 – Emmett Watson
1999 – Adele Ferguson, Dick Larsen, Mike Layton, Shelby Scates

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Amy Meyer of EWU Awarded 2011 Dick Larsen Scholarship

Amy Meyer receives Dick Larsen Scholarship from Grant Larsen (left) and John Hamer (right).

Amy Meyer, who is studying journalism and visual communication design at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, was awarded the Washington News Council’s $2,000 Dick Larsen Scholarship at a reception June 10 in the WNC office in Seattle.

In an essay submitted as part of the scholarship application, Meyer wrote: “Journalists are agents of accountability to government, corporations and other large institutions. To maintain the profession’s credibility, journalists must be transparent, accountable and faithful to examine many points of view. The watchdog philosophy to treat persons in power with equal suspicion and skepticism is one of the main purposes of journalism. But those standing on soapboxes should prepare themselves for scrutiny. A journalist cannot be above the standards that he or she holds someone else to.”

Meyer, who has maintained a 4.0 GPA at EWU, is on the staff of the student newspaper, The Easterner. She also started an online community blog using her design, photography and reporting skills to cover Cheney and the surrounding communities. She is married and the mother of four children. She is a band parent booster for the Cheney High School Band, and a former board member of Habitat for Humanity in Spokane.

“Amy is one of the best writers I have seen in 20 years of journalism classes,” wrote William Stimson, director of the EWU journalism program, in a letter of recommendation. “Amy is the rare journalism student who is cultivating all of the abilities needed for multimedia journalism.”

Grant Larsen, Dick Larsen’s son; Suzie Burke, WNC Board Chair; and John Hamer, WNC President, presented the scholarship award certificate to Amy. Pete Sessum, last year’s Larsen Scholarship winner and a recent graduate of the University of Washington, also attended the reception.

The Washington News Council began its scholarship program in 2000, and has now awarded two dozen scholarships to students of communications at public or private colleges or universities in Washington state.

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Journalism Needs More Ombudsmen AND News Councils

Craig Silverman gives keynote speech to #ONO2011 meeting in Montreal. John Hamer of WNC (bald spot on left) listens along with Michael Getler, ombudsman of PBS (bald head on right).

“It’s really important that we have accountability mechanisms in journalism. When it comes to our own accountability, most news organizations are doing a pretty poor job, to be blunt.”

Craig Silverman, in keynote speech to Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO) annual convention, Montreal

Craig Silverman, a regular columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and The Toronto Star, is also author of “Regret the Error – How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech.” 

In his talk to the world’s ombudsmen last week, Silverman cited several studies which found that 40 to 60 percent of news stories contained some kind of error! A comprehensive survey of U.S. newspapers found the highest error rate on record.
“We’ve been telling people for literally hundreds of years that when we make a mistake we correct it,” Silverman said. But the U.S. study found a correction rate of only about 2 percent.

“That is pretty outrageous,” Silverman said. “If we’re only correcting 2 percent of errors, we’re not meeting our own standards. It represents a serious failure on the part of news organizations.”

“Reporters will be inclined to not want to run a correction, because they’ve been trained that that’s a bad thing,” Silverman said. “They need to change that attitude.” He’s right on both counts.

What’s more, errors are “now forever,” because they are cached online, and spread worldwide by Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., Silverman noted. Dealing with complaints about errors is one of the jobs of news ombudsmen – and also of news or press councils.

I joined the Organization of News Ombudsmen as an associate member last year, partly because I love the acronym – ONO! – but also because the Washington News Council is a kind of “outside ombudsman” for news media in this state.

Unfortunately, there are no full-time ombudsmen at any news organizations in our state anymore. That’s too bad. Over the years when I was at The Seattle Times, they had four different ombudsmen. A couple of them were pretty good. I edited their columns, which ran on the editorial pages.

Ombudsmen hear and respond to complaints from readers, viewers or listeners about news stories that are arguably inaccurate, unfair, imbalanced and/or unethical. That’s also what news or press councils do – and what we have done for the past 13 years.

Some say ombudsmen – since they are employed by the news outlets, have offices in or near the newsrooms, and generally know the editors, reporters, and producers – can deal with complaints more effectively. Of course, since their salaries are paid by those they are hired to critique, some also may question their level of independence. But most try to be fair, thorough and constructively critical. Many do criticize their own newspapers, broadcast stations, and/or websites strongly – and they’re often not too popular in newsrooms.

Also, the number of ombudsmen around the world has declined over the years – especially in the United States. ONO now has about 60 members worldwide, with only 20 in the U.S. Many media organizations say they simply can’t afford the position anymore, when they don’t even have enough reporters to cover their local communities.

Ombudsmen’s jobs have been eliminated at many American newspapers in recent decades – including at The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At the same time, some of the best American newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today – have created or enhanced the position, although some are called “public editors” or “reader representatives.” There are also experienced ombudsmen at most major broadcast news outlets worldwide. In this country, only PBS, NPR and now ESPN have ombudsmen.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, former NPR ombudsman who now is executive director of ONO, told his colleagues in Montreal: “The ombudsman’s job is like being on the front lines of the First Amendment…We’re in between the public and the editors. We point out the warts and flaws. The [news] organization doesn’t want to hear it. We’re speaking truth to power.”

Jacob Mollerup, the current president of ONO whose title is “Listeners and Viewers Editor” at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation in Copenhagen, wryly described the job as “a lonely hell.”

He was only half joking. ONO members often say they have “the loneliest job in the newsroom.” Most journalists don’t like to hear complaints about their work and are reluctant to make corrections or explain their performance in public – which is what they always demand of those they cover. Double standard? Unquestionably.

The annual ONO conference is an opportunity for attendees to come together, swap stories, compare tactics, and commiserate with others who are in the same boat. Three days of panels, speakers and “shop talk” – with a few dinners and receptions thrown in – clearly have a therapeutic effect.

A draft business plan, sent out in advance and discussed on the final day of the gathering, notes that ONO’s first goal should be as a “meeting place and discussion forum.” The Montreal conference, for the first time, was simultaneously translated into English, French and Spanish, which was a great help to all.

Another goal is outreach – promoting ombudsmanship in cooperation with partners around the world. That includes to “be a serious partner in media projects where different organizations join forces in order to promote media accountability.”

A third is to expand the organization: “ONO should welcome members of independent press councils as associates.” I was invited to speak on a panel at their convention last year at Oxford University on how ombudsmen and press councils can work more closely together. And Mollerup recently attended the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE) conference.

A final goal is to keep an open mind for new projects and ways of promoting media accountability – including in cyberspace. That’s precisely what the WNC has been doing for the last few years, and I shared some of our ideas with ONO members:

  1. Report an Error. Silverman and Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs have developed a new online “Report an Error” system now being used by about 100 news sites and blogs. The WNC has been working with them and we now have the “Report an Error” widget on this site. We invite readers to report errors in Pacific Northwest media as we test this intriguing new system.
  2. NewsTrust.net. We also invite them to nominate and review state and regional stories on our NewsTrust.net widget. You must register to become a reviewer and it’s a great tool, especially to praise high-quality stories.
  3. Online community.  People may join our online community and begin participating in discussions of various topics. Our groups have grown steadily.
  4. Online Media Guide. We’re also developing a new Online Media Guide (OMG) for Washington news and information sources, which will be a valuable resource for journalists, public-affairs professionals, politicians, academics, etc.

One of the most interesting speakers in Montreal was Guy Amyot, executive secretary of the Press Council of Quebec. His council, unlike some others in Canada and elsewhere, hears complaints about print, broadcast and online news media, not just newspapers.

“It is the liberty of the press to be independent from any power structure, but because of this freedom they have to be accountable,” Amyot said. “The media are not obliged to name ombudsmen and are also not obliged to join press councils.” But, he strongly suggested, they should do both. He’s absolutely right.

In order to maintain public trust and credibility, all those practicing journalism need to be more transparent, accountable and open. Ombudsmen and news councils can clearly help – if more journalists would only listen.

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Reportback – Hacks/Hackers Seattle & Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge

Mozilla is best known for Firefox, the open source darling loved by millions which showed us that a browser is more than just a way to load websites, it’s a way to customize your experience of the web itself. Under new direction from Mark Surman, Mozilla is growing new legs to go beyond Firefox. They recently launched #Drumbeat as an effort to do more than just build portals, they are now seeking to change the flesh and bones of the internet itself to make it more open, accessible, and free (see project examples from drumbeat.org).

It was recently announced that Mozilla received a hefty sum of money from the Knight Foundation to bring journalism along for the ride.

The three year Knight-Mozilla News Challenge dubbed #MoJo (for Mozilla + Journalism) is now in full throttle with five news partners on board (BBC, Al-Jazeera, Boston Globe, Zeit Online, and The Guardian) who will host five fellows with full salary to innovate from inside the newsroom. 10 more fellows will come along the way in the next coming years, but until then, the heat is on and challenge submissions are underway.

Mozilla asked me to link up with the Seattle chapter of Hacks/Hackers, an organization that shares a similar MoJo hybrid theory of bringing together journalists (hacks) + technologists (hackers) with the goal of changing news for the better. One week later we threw together a sold out Brainstorm 2011 that brought in journalists and technologists throughout the city who came to mash up ideas and enter the challenge. [Read more...]

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The future of #Journalism will be run by cats?

(cross posted form the Seattle Journalism Commons)

Part two of the #NewsNext series brought to us by the Online News Association/Society of Professional Journalists collaboration featured a lively discussion with Cory Bergman (msnbc.com, breakingnews.com, Next Door Media) and Ben Huh (Cheezburger Networks).

As the owner of the largest humor network in the world, you’ve probably stumbled upon one of his many sites FAIL Blog, Babies Making Faces, There I Fixed It, Engrish Funny The Daily Wh.at, Totally Looks Like either on purpose or by accident through a social network.

Many people in the online news circuit cover Huh for his ability to turn internet memes into a profitable enterprise (his company employs 50 staff and they’re looking for more) and has been consistently topping the Seattle 2.0 startup index for the last year.

Instead of his typical appearance to discuss the secrets behind making something go viral (he says consistency is much more important), this particular room full of people wanted to hear his ideas on keeping journalism strong. Coming out of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in 1999, he never became a reporter, but has been thinking of ways to fix what he sees as a lingering problem in online news.

“The story structure hasn’t changed for hundreds of years…how many times have you read a story and think by the third paragraph didn’t I already read this before?”

Huh believes that we have lost touch with the golden days of journalism where everything was partisan and there were multiple diverse points of views fighting for what they think is right.

But isn’t that what we have now? [Read more...]

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