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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNC HEARINGS BOARD FINAL VOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUDIENCE VOTES ON JUNE 16:

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

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

ONLINE VOTES FROM JUNE 16-30:

1.Yes 2, No 40

2.Yes 40, No 2

3.Yes 43, No 2

4.Yes 43, No 1

5.Yes 3, No 41

6.Yes 35, No 0

7.Yes 4, No 35

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

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

BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to hold TV news stations accountable – a letter from reader Bill Santagata

TV remote control and static -- post imageFrom time to time we receive correspondence from fellow news junkies outside of Washington State, and sometimes overseas as well. As the last fully operating news council, we’re starting to show up in search engines for people who need answers on accountability in the news media. A fellow named Bill Santagata wrote to us asking for advice on how to reach out to his local television stations in Rhode Island. Bill writes:

For the past couple of years I have been growing increasingly more and more irritated at the shoddy quality of our local television news stations here in Rhode Island. Their coverage is disproportionally — if not exclusively — dedicated to stories of no civic importance, namely nonsense “human interest” stories and house fires

We pointed Bill to a number of useful resources, i.e. the savethenews.org petition to the FCC on better local TV dislcosure practices (possibly not still current) and a survey to report the state of local TV coverage in your community. Noting that a Pew Research poll shows that around 70% of Americans say they rely on their local TV brands for information, the Journalism Accelerator held a series of forums on the value of local TV, featuring a number of experts, including Steve Waldman, who authored the FCC’s version of The Information Need of Communities.

We also suggested Bill write a letter to his stations. The response he got was minimal. Bill writes:

One newsreader suggested I write to the news directors, which I suppose is fair advice. I had another newsreader again say she would be more than happy to help. I gave her the questions, and like before, haven’t heard from her since. I sent a follow-up e-mail several days ago with the first newsreader who said she’d have to check with her boss, still no response for her.

While I am not at all happy with the quality of my local news, I’d also like to point out that I am by no means being mean or condescending to the newsreaders I’m contacting. I genuinely do want to hear their input, and I would be more than appreciative of the time it would take them to answer these rather in-depth questions.

Below is a full copy of the thoughtful, well researched letter that he sent:

1. In the 9 June 2011 FCC report “Information Needs of Communities,” the FCC has found that the flourishing of national and global news information on the Internet has left a “shortage of local, professional accountability reporting.” This has resulted in a “shrinking coverage of munici- pal government around the country [which] raises the risk of corruption and wasted taxpayer dollars” because “citizens [are] more dependent on government itself to provide accurate and honest information” (345, 47). [Read more...]

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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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Sam Reed Stood Up to KIRO7′s Media Malpractice

Secretary of State Sam Reed, who announced his retirement recently, is being hailed for standing up for transparency, accessibility and openness in government — and justifiably so.

Reed received the Washington Coalition for Open Government’s coveted James Madison Award last week in recognition of his work. [FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a member of WCOG’s advisory committee but had no role in the Reed award.]

The awards breakfast just happened to fall on International Media Ethics Day, sponsored by the Center for International Media Ethics .

That struck me as highly ironic, because Reed brought a complaint to the Washington News Council three years ago for some of the most unethical media behavior I have seen in more than 40 years as a journalist, media critic and news-council president.

Don’t take my word for it. Read what happened and make up your own mind.

As part of a national CBS-affiliate series of stories on voter fraud, KIRO7 ran two stories in the fall of 2008, shortly before Election Day. The first story, which ran on Oct. 15, 2008, alleged that thousands of felons had been issued ballots and many had already voted, although felons are not supposed to have voting rights. KIRO “investigative” reporter Chris Halsne interviewed a woman who supposedly was a convicted felon but said she had voted anyway. The second story, which ran on Nov. 3, 2008, alleged that more than 100 dead voters were still on Washington’s active voter rolls, with 15 of them actually casting “ghost” ballots. On her front porch, Halsne interviewed the widow of a man who supposedly had “voted” although he’d been dead since 1996. You can watch both stories below as will as read the transcripts (October 15th story, November 3rd story)

However, both stories contained egregious factual errors, including these:

  1. The “felon” was not a felon. She had been convicted only of a misdemeanor, so she never lost her right to vote. KIRO failed to doublecheck that simple fact.
  2. The “dead” voter was not dead. The deceased man’s son, who has the same name, had voted. KIRO had confused the two men and ignored the widow’s statement to that effect.

Reed and his staff had tried to make KIRO aware of these facts before the stories aired, but to no avail. After the stories aired, Reed’s office was deluged with angry phone calls and emails from citizens who had watched KIRO and believed what they saw on TV. Reed protested to KIRO, but the station “stood by its stories.”

So Reed filed a written complaint (page 1 & page 2) in December 2008 with the Washington News Council. He also signed our waiver form pledging not to sue KIRO, which we require of all complainants.

In his complaint, Reed declared that two KIRO stories were “factually incorrect, incomplete, misleading, sensationalized, inflammatory, and unfair.” He said the stories “wrongly damaged” his office and “failed to include balancing facts or information.” In a 10-page attached letter to the WNC and cc’d to KIRO, Reed wrote:

“[W]e were distressed when Chris Halsne, KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter, aired two election-related news stories that fell far short of the most basic standards of journalism for accuracy, balance and fairness. This occurred despite our repeated efforts to correct some of his assumptions and methodology and errors before he aired his reports. To have someone purposely proceed with incorrect and misleading information after all of this was just unconscionable and had the negative effect of undermining trust and confidence in our elections process.”

The News Council accepted Reed’s complaint for our process and hand-delivered it to KIRO on Dec. 31, 2008. Under our guidelines, we asked for a written response from KIRO within 10 days. KIRO did not respond and never returned repeated calls or emails.

However, in early January 2009 KIRO General Manager Eric Lerner called Reed’s office to schedule a face-to-face meeting. Lerner, News Director Todd Mokhtari, Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne, and Producer Bill Benson drove to Olympia on Jan. 21, 2009. At that meeting, Reed and his staff documented the serious inaccuracies in Halsne’s two stories.

According to Dave Ammons, Reed’s communications director and former Associated Press political writer and columnist in Olympia, the KIRO delegation listened, but then declared that they would not run corrections or clarifications, nor would they remove the stories from the KIRO website.

Reed and state Elections Director Nick Handy were stunned, according to Ammons. In an email to KIRO, Reed said: “We continue to believe that, at the least, KIRO should remove these stories from the KIRO website. Whether KIRO chooses to take other action is a matter to be determined by KIRO’s own journalistic standards.”

Incredibly, according to Reed and Ammons, the KIRO managers then offered to remove the stories if Reed would agree not to inform the News Council or the public. [Italics mine.] To his credit, Reed refused that unethical request. KIRO later removed the stories from its website without notifying Reed or the News Council. However, Reed’s office and the WNC had taped the two stories. We put them on our website, where they remain available for viewing.

The News Council then began preparing to hold a public hearing, to be broadcast statewide by TVW, at which the WNC board would publicly discuss and vote on the merits of the complaint. That’s our standard procedure when serious complaints cannot be resolved, and we’ve held several of them over the years.

However, on Feb. 17, Sam Reed asked that the hearing not go forward. He wrote:

“After much careful consideration, we at the Secretary of State’s Office have reluctantly decided not to pursue our complaint against KIRO-TV to the full hearing stage.

“We remain convinced that we presented a compelling argument, both in our written Washington News Council submission and in direct conversations with KIRO-TV management and staff, that significant errors in fact and in tone were made in two special reports by reporter Chris Halsne….

“We asked for clarification, for corrections, and for the incorrect and overblown stories to be taken down from the KIRO website, and got zero acknowledgement that anything was amiss or that the journalistic standards required more than a dismissive brush-off of the state’s chief elections officer….

“After several conversations as part of the News Council negotiating period, KIRO eventually agreed to pull down their stories from the Web site if we would muzzle ourselves and not inform the News Council of the nature of this accommodation. This we cannot agree to, since this leaves KIRO offering very little and conceding nothing.

“At the same time, we weary of this frustrating battle and the countless man-hours devoted to researching chapter and verse of this sorry episode, and we see little value in continuing to bang our head against the wall, knowing that KIRO will boycott the proceedings and will not acknowledge errors in fact and in tone, much less fix the problem. A News Council finding in our favor would not change the dynamic; properly, in a nation that so values the First Amendment, the council cannot order KIRO to do anything….

“We close by expressing our sincere thanks to the Council…for accepting our complaint and for professionalism in walking with us through the process, including the most recent negotiating period with KIRO. It is through no fault of the Council…that we have decided to suspend our complaint.”

The News Council reluctantly accepted Reed’s decision not to proceed with a hearing. However, the WNC then invited the public to participate in an unprecedented “Citizens Online News Council” to help judge KIRO’s journalistic ethics and performance. No news council in the world (and there are dozens of them, most members of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe) had ever done that before. We called it a “virtual hearing.”

The KIRO stories, Reed’s complaint and letter, and key questions for discussion were posted on our website. Members of the public were invited to view the stories, read the complaint, and “vote” on several issues regarding the KIRO stories that the full News Council would have considered had this case gone to a hearing. You can read the full list of the questions and total votes HERE.

The voting deadline was April 30, 2009, during national “Media Ethics Week” sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. (Although inexplicably, the head of the SPJ’s national ethics committee objected to the virtual hearing. You can read his reasons, and our response, HERE.)

KIRO got hammered. The votes were nearly all highly critical of KIRO and upheld Reed’s complaint (see vote results and comments). Of  all those who voted online, only a few defended KIRO. Most voters added critical comments.

As president and executive director of the Washington News Council, I still find this case one of the most shocking examples of unprofessional, irresponsible journalism that I have ever seen.  KIRO even got criticized by The Stranger and earned a “Dart” in Columbia Journalism Review.

KIRO played fast and loose with the facts, disregarding the truth. They refused to set the record straight even after being confronted with incontrovertible evidence that they were wrong. Then they tried to “bury” the stories by sneaking them off their website without telling anyone or admitting any errors. Yikes.

A recent national survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found public trust in the news media at about its lowest level ever. Stories like KIRO’s are part of the reason for that.

Kudos to Sam Reed for having the courage to stand up to KIRO. More public officials and individual citizens who are damaged by shoddy news reporting should do the same. Otherwise, bad journalists will keep committing media malpractice — which hurts journalism, the public and democracy.

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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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