National Newspaper Ads: Neither ‘Smart’ nor ‘Sexy’

Image posted at: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/romenesko/140127/thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down-newspaper-slogan-smart-is-the-new-sexy/ See if you can find the newspaper in the ad

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has just unveiled a new national advertising campaign whose slogan is “Smart Is the New Sexy.”

Huh? Whose idea was this? And what was the “Old Sexy” anyway? Dumb?

If they’re hoping to attract more newspaper readers and advertisers with this marketing come-on, it’s pretty lame.

The NAA developed a cartoonish “self-promotional” advertisement that about 2,000 daily and weekly newspapers nationwide will use in print, online websites and in social networks, or so NAA is hoping.

It features a skinny (geeky?) young woman with green hair and glasses sitting at a table with a cup of coffee. Does she look smart or sexy to you? If so, you need to get out more.

What might be a newspaper is sitting on the table – although it could be a placemat. On it is a dark blob that may be a headline, a photo – or spilled coffee. A vase of orange flowers provides….what?

Out of her head spring three thought bubbles – one with a tablet, one with a laptop and one with a smart phone. However, it’s not clear that any of them are open to newspaper websites. How smart is that?

“We want to remind people that newspapers are still the greatest source of news in the country, and to equate the reading of newspapers with staying informed and being smart,” Mark Contreras, former NAA board chair, told Editor & Publisher magazine.

The NAA’s strategy is to show that newspapers, far from being dead or dying, are still a major source of news, information and advertising even though their delivery systems are increasingly digital.

“The real story is that the medium is still relevant and robust, particularly print,” Contreras told E&P. “It’s gotten an unfairly bad rap over the past five to six years.”

That may all be true, but these ads are not likely to help. Besides, the slogan is borrowed from a “Big Bang Theory” TV episode in 2009, so it’s not exactly fresh.

Here’s an alternative ad-campaign proposal, offered to NAA free of charge as a public service.

If newspapers want to be “smart” and “sexy,” well, what are some elements of both that we can all agree on? Think of your own personal relationships. How about if newspapers adopt these three sure-fire attractants:

Transparency – Be totally open about who you are. Reveal your values, your goals, your motives and your biases. Don’t hide or dissemble about where you’re coming from. Don’t be phony or disingenuous.  You’ll be totally alluring.

Accountability – Admit it when you’re wrong. Apologize. Ask for forgiveness. Don’t be defensive, arrogant or vindictive. Show a little humility and vulnerability. Promise to try harder next time. You’ll be completely endearing.

Openness – Seek others’ opinions and genuinely value them. Ask for advice from those whose love, respect and loyalty you’re trying to earn. Take their suggestions to heart. You’ll be absolutely irresistible.

If newspapers practiced all those principles, they’d be much smarter and way sexier too. And it just so happens they can. It’s easy:

They should all embrace the “TAO of Journalism,” which means “the path” or “the way.” They should take the TAO of Journalism Pledge and display the TAO seal in print or on their websites.

The seal features the ancient yin-yang symbol, which represents the primal male-female bond, among other things. We also have some temporary stick-on “TAOttoos” that people can put anywhere on their bodies. They last for a week or so before they rub off…depending on where you put them.

This is an approach that could really turn readers on: Let’s just TAO it!

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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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Last U.S. News Council Standing: Q & A with John Hamer, Washington News Council

As you may have heard, we are keeping up the fight as the last fully operating News Council standing in America. This has perked some attention from others who do the kind of work we strive for, to create a world of honest, accurate, news.

The Art Science Research Laboratory was founded by the late Stephen Jay Gould (yep, the same one), and his widow Rhonda Roland Shearer in 1996, who now manages the site StinkyJournalism.org. They’ve done some interesting work to promote scientific integrity in the news, including an extensive operation to fact check claims by popular anthropologist Jared Diamond that involved sending three researchers to tribal Papua New Guinea to uncover several mistruths about the indigenous tribe he reported on.

Rhonda gave us a call and spoke to Executive Director John Hamer to talk about our work at the News Council. Have a look at the full interview, and check out some of their media reports.

Here’s a little preview, where John talks about the challenges of running our operation:

“Keeping the doors open has been a challenge for 13 years, but we’ve managed,” Hamer said, attributing the group’s success to ”hard work and perseverance” and a solid start. ”You’ve just gotta plug away, do your best, ignore your critics, always be the bigger person, reach out to people, when you find supporters embrace them, when you find critics, be respectful, answer their concerns face to face….

I got a wide range of people and we were nonpartisan or bipartisan.  A lot of people thought we’d be a right wing media bashing organization or a left wing media bashing organization. And I said no, we’re going to be very even, very fair, bipartisan. I can tick down our founding board — 6 Democrats, 6 Republicans. They might not have agreed on a lot of things, but they agreed on the need for accurate, ethical media.”

Also, the original council members were half journalists and half business people, including Bill Gates Sr. “To have him sign on as one of our original council members, our credibility just went through the roof.”

“I think that it is a loss for American journalism that we’re the only one,” Hamer said.  “I think every state should have a news council like ours, or some kind of outside independent organization that can provide…oversight in a way. But we don’t police. We’re not a watchdog.”

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TAO of Journalism gets national press on MediaBistro.com

We were thrilled to hear from Lauren Rabaino who blogs for 10,000 Words “Where Journalism and Technology Meet.” Lauren was equally thrilled to find out about our TAO of Journalism campaign and called up Executive Director John Hamer for a nice little feature piece.

Read about it here and share the love!

“TAO Of Journalism” Project Wants to Crowdsource Ethics, Increase Transparency

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Who Do You Trust? Not the media, despite all our efforts….

SHEESH! Maybe we should throw in the towel….

The Washington News Council’s mission since 1998 has been to help maintain public trust and confidence in the news media. But today trust in the media is at record low levels. We’ve failed!

We were just named “Organization of the Year” by the Municipal League. But perhaps we should give the award back. All our work seems to have been in vain.

That was clear from a depressing Seattle CityClub conversation last Friday (April 22) in the Rainier Tower. The topic: “Who Do You Trust?” The answer: No one trusts anybody very much.

[Read more...]

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International Q&A: Are news/press councils still relevant?

Regina Bengco, senior reporter of the Philippine newspaper Malaya Business Insight

From time to time we get get interesting emails from journalists and academics overseas who are interested in the News Council process here in the USA. Since we are the last fully operating News Council standing in America, these questions are especially relevant. It’s also important to note that there is generally stronger support for News Councils in other countries (as I saw during my trip to London where I joined the global roster of News Councils that make up the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe)

Here’s an email from a reporter from the Phillipines working on a fellowship to address the status of press councils, including the one in her home country.

I am Regina Bengco, senior reporter of the Philippine newspaper Malaya Business Insight which is based in Manila. I am currently in Singapore as a participant in the Asia Journalism Fellowship jointly organized by the Nanyang Technological University and Temasek Foundation.

I would like to request for a few minutes of your time to help me in my research project for the Fellowship, which is on the readiness of the press council in the Philippines to handle future challenges on accountability, especially in the technological age.

Since the orientation of the Philippine media is patterned after that of the US, I believe your inputs would be very helpful in my research.

May I ask for your reply to the following short questions:

1. Are press councils still relevant in this age of modern technology, where reply and redress could be obtained instantly through online media?

This is an argument that comes up quite frequently from journalists and journalism organizations who are skeptical about the importance and necessity of Press/News Councils. Indeed, there are certainly more tools available for response and possible recourse, thanks to the continuing digital revolution, and we are glad to see new ways of enabling people to have a voice against inaccuracies. However, do as many people read comments on a news site as read the original stories? Probably not. If someone blogs but there is no one there to read it, does it make a difference? Is a buried email any better than an unopened letter?

No matter how advanced technology becomes, it will always take human beings to transform the message into action, and get others to listen. We still have a role to play in keeping the mission of quality journalism alive, and amplifying the voices of those who are drowned out in the digital tide.

Furthermore, we are undertaking new initiatives that do exactly what critics say should be done, which is to leverage digital technologies in order to help those who have difficulty keeping up with the constantly evolving nature of online media. We have built an online community that allows anyone to post examples of and commentary on media coverage in our region. We are creating an interactive Online Media Guide to help the public navigate the world of digital news and become better equipped to carry out our mission. We are also reaching out to journalists to adopt our TAO of Journalism seal to show their commitment to Transparency, Accountability, and Openness. We have added a NewsTrust.net widget to our site so people can review and rate news stories in our state. We will soon add a MediaBugs widget so they can report errors online and seek a response from the media outlet. We strongly believe that such tools will help engage citizens in constructively critiquing — and thus improving — news and information sources of all kinds.

2. Why is the Washington News Council the only news council left in the US that accepts complaints against the media (please pardon the ignorance)?

This is a difficult question that we get asked a lot. Since the Minnesota News Council closed its doors early this year, we are the only remaining U.S. news council that accepts and reviews complaints. We think that’s too bad: There should be similar organizations in every state. As you may know, there are press councils all around the world in many other countries. For a full list and links to all their sites, visit the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe site (http://aipce.net), which includes several (like us) that are outside Europe. In the U.S., there was a National News Council that existed from 1973-84, and did some excellent work. But it ultimately closed due to opposition from major American news organizations including The New York Times and The Washington Post, which resisted any outside oversight. Many large U.S. newspapers supported the council, but it died for lack of funding. Minnesota’s News Council was created in 1970 by the Minnesota Newspaper Association, and had media funding and support for decades. But when its major media donors began having financial problems, its funding dried up. Also, the MNC did not make the transition to the digital world as well as it might have done. And its last executive director was not an experienced journalist or fund-raiser, although she did her best to keep it alive. We and the MNC tried to start two more news councils a few years ago, with the help of a grant from the Knight Foundation. We gave $75,000 start-up grants to fledgling councils in New England and Southern California. The New England group changed its name to News Forum and decided not to hear complaints after receiving negative reactions from newspaper editors in several New England states. The Forum holds public discussions of media issues, which is fine, but that does not provide true public accountability in the same way that a complaint and hearing process does. The Southern California group did not get off the ground because its initial director left his job as a journalism-school department chair in a dispute with the administration over student press freedom, and he moved to another state. The Honolulu Media Council does not hear complaints, but works for media reform. So we now stand alone.

Another part of the problem has to do with a lack of support from American journalists. We believe that accountability is a two-way street, and those who demand transparency from all other institutions of society deserve outside scrutiny as well. While it’s not as common, some journalists do agree with what we’re doing, and you can find some prominent examples on the testimonials page of our website. As the online news environment continues to shake things up, we’re finding more people in the profession who support our cause, now that anyone can be a journalist regardless of training or experience.

3. There seems to be a problem of lack of funding in some news councils in the world, including the Philippines, how does your organization sustain its operations?

This has been a challenge for all 13 years of the WNC’s existence. We publish a complete list of our supporters on our website. We were very fortunate to win the support of Bill Gates Sr. and the Gates Foundation when we first formed in 1998. He gave us a generous start-up grant that kept us going for the first few years. He made clear that we must diversify our funding, and we did so. Our support comes from a great mix of foundations, individuals, corporations, associations and a few media companies. We believe that a diverse range of funding is important, to show that we are not controlled by any single funder or small group of funders. In our entire history, none of our funders has ever tried to direct or influence our work. If they did, we would decline their funding. We also do not accept any government funds, believing that giving taxpayer dollars to an organization like ours would create the appearance of government oversight of the press. That is a First Amendment violation which we would strongly oppose. We are a 501c3 non-profit organization, so donations to us are tax-deductible. We qualify as a research and education organization that operates in the public interest, like many other U.S. non-profits.

4. How do you remedy the problems of lack of funding and resources, lack of public awareness of the existence of a news council, and lack of commitment from the news organizations, themselves?

We keep our chins up and do the best we can! There is no final “remedy” other than hard work and dogged  persistence. We’ve found through our interactions with the public that many people have issues with the press, and they generally support our mission regardless of their background or political persuasion. The challenge is not so much convincing people to believe in what we do, but rather to understand that our services are just as valuable as any other public-interest organization. We think they may be more valuable, because the news media affect every other segment of society. One of our most generous funders, Bill Gates Sr. gave a recent speech to the Municipal League of King County, who honored us with an award for the 2010 Organization of the Year. Bill’s said it best:

Unlike other nonprofit organizations that help children, or the homeless, or the sick, or the hungry, the News Council’s mission is to ensure that we get fair, accurate and balanced information about everything that goes on in our community and our society. And that’s really important, because the news media are so vital to our democracy. When the media get it right, we all benefit. When they get it wrong, we all suffer.

5. In the absence of a news council, what is the alternative?

Where do people go to get their reputations back if they have been damaged by inaccurate, unfair, incomplete, unprofessional or unethical stories about them? Good question. They have limited options. People can call, write and email news organizations to lodge complaints and seek corrections, clarifications or follow-up stories – but they may not get any real  satisfaction. They can now go online and use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social-networking sites to make their complaints more widely known – but many others may not see those posts. They can use some of the new tools such as NewsTrust and MediaBugs to critique stories and seek redress – but those also have far less readership than the original stories. If people are severely damaged, they can file a lawsuit for libel or defamation – but that will cost a lot of money, take several years, and they will likely lose. It’s extremely difficult to win such suits against the news media, which historically have great protections through our legal system. Successful libel suits are rare. News councils provide an alternative to litigation, which in theory both sides should welcome. But again, most media organizations resist this level of public accountability. We believe that when individuals or institutions admit errors, correct them, apologize and show a little humility, they are invariably more respected, trusted and even admired. News councils are no panacea, but they can help bridge the lack of trust between the news media and ordinary people.

We hope this is helpful. Thanks again for writing and please keep in touch. If it’s okay with you, we would really like to publish this exchange on our website to show our readers the kind of questions we get. Please let us know if it’s okay to publish your email and link to your project when it’s complete. It’s great to see activity internationally, especially given the difficulty of the situation here in the US, with the news media struggling in chaotic transition and public accountability systems like ours trying to survive and play a constructive role.

Best,

John Hamer
President and Executive Director

And Jacob Caggiano
Communications Strategist
Washington News Council

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