Bill Gates Sr. Presents award to WNC for Organization of the Year

The Washington News Council received the honor of being named 2010 Organization of the Year by the Municipal League of King County. Here is a video of John Hamer accepting the award from Seattle based philanthropist Bill Gates Sr. at the awards gala.

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Scholarship applications due April 15th!

The WNC is offering two $2,000 WNC Scholarships!

Application deadline – April 15

Herb Robinson Scholarship – high school seniors apply;
Dick Larsen Scholarship – current college or university students apply.

CLICK HERE to download our APPLICATION FORM

and be sure to have a look at last year’s scholarship winners

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Ethics of “Sting” Journalism. Can the TAO of Journalism help?

Watch WNC President and Executive Director John Hamer on KCTS Connects with host Enrique Cerna, discussing the NPR “sting” video and subsequent resignations of Ron Schiller and Vivian Schiller. This 12-minute excerpt also features Doug Underwood, journalism professor at the University of Washington. They focus on media ethics, public accountability and the WNC’s TAO of Journalism project. As Hamer correctly notes, ethics codes are voluntary, so should journalists work to build trust by pledging to be Transparent, Accountable, and Open?

Watch the full episode. See more KCTS 9 Connects.

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American Journalism Review reviews WNC, so WNC reviews AJR

When I got a phone call from a reporter for American Journalism Review (AJR) saying he was doing a story about news councils, I was both happy and wary. Happy because we don’t get much national coverage, especially from a prestigious publication like AJR. Wary because the reporter said he was a young editorial assistant at the magazine and had never even heard of news councils before his editor asked him to write about them.

But hey, I was a young reporter once and often did stories on subjects I was clueless about, so I gladly consented to an interview. I wanted to make sure he got the story right. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with him explaining how we operated, giving him background information, and referring him to other possible sources.

The story was just posted on AJR’s website. Overall, it’s not bad. Well-written, accurate and reasonably balanced, with several different perspectives and lively quotes. To his credit, the reporter called me back twice to double-check facts and run my quotes by me to make sure that’s what I said. Not enough reporters do that, so kudos to AJR.

The story focuses on the demise of the Minnesota News Council, which closed its doors in January after a 40-year run. The MNC was the model for the Washington News Council when we started in 1998. We essentially adopted their guidelines and procedures, as AJR correctly notes.

The story — also correctly — points out that we are the only surviving news council in this country that still hears formal complaints against the news media.  It states — correctly — that the WNC and the MNC, with funding from the Knight Foundation, held a national contest to start two more news councils in 2005 and awarded start-up grants to groups in New England and California. It notes — correctly — that the New England News Council changed its name to New England News Forum, and decided not to hear public complaints against media outlets, but just to host discussions about news-coverage issues. It states — correctly — that the California effort (actually, just Southern California) “never got off the ground.” (Why? Because its director moved to another state.)

For the most part, the AJR story gets it right. However, there are some points I take issue with.

1. HEADLINE — “Fading Away” is true for the Minnesota council, but our council is as vigorous as ever. We just matched a $100,000 challenge grant from the Gates Foundation, received a $10,000 grant from Microsoft, and were named “Organization of the Year” by the Municipal League of King County. We totally redesigned our website in the past year, with an active blog, a growing online community, a fun “What I Read” series, a NewsTrust.net widget, and other innovative features. We have lots of exciting plans for 2011 and beyond. We are by no means fading away. What’s more, news and press councils are proliferating around the world. For a global list, see the AIPCE’s website.

2. OMISSIONS — The story doesn’t mention the WNC’s latest really cool projects, including our “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable, Open” Pledge and Seal, which is gaining traction nationwide, and our unprecedented new OMG (Online Media Guide) for Washington state, which is generating great interest. Granted, the reporter’s space was limited, but surely there was room for a sentence or two about these efforts — especially since the story is a “web exclusive.”

3. QUOTES — AJR quotes some folks whose comments are debatable, to say the least. Tony Carideo, the last chairman of the MNC, says that the willing participation of news organizations is “absolutely critical” to the success of any news council. Well, maybe. But in our 13 years of operations, new organizations have never actually appeared at our complaint hearings to answer questions about the stories at issue. In each case, they responded in written statements or online, but were not willing to face the complainants and the council in an open forum. Carideo told AJR that if the news outlets don’t participate, “that doesn’t work.” Oh, really? He should ask King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, whose complaint against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was upheld, or the Washington State Beef Commission and Dairy Products Commission, whose complaint against KIRO7 TV was upheld.  The process clearly worked for them, as it has for others who have come to us when they had no other recourse. The fact that the media organizations didn’t participate in person actually reflects more negatively on them than on us.

4. TECHNOLOGY — AJR quotes Carideo and Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation saying that with the Internet, online feedback to news outlets is much quicker and easier, so there is less need for a complaint-and-hearing process. However, both acknowledge that comments sections are often uncivil and unproductive, and a news council can provide more thoughtful analysis of media ethics and performance. Gary Gilson, former head of the MNC, says it is “absurd” to think that online access provides “any serious measure of accountability to the general public.” He’s absolutely right. People constantly tell me that we are needed now more than ever.

Newton is spot on when he states: “We still need to keep thinking of good ways to keep quality news and information about journalism on the table when complaints are discussed, but it looks like we need digital, real time ways to do it.” That is precisely what the Washington News Council is doing — and further evidence that we are not fading away. Instead, we are actively  reinventing ourselves in the digital media age. Want to help? Join our community. Talk back. Connect. Engage.

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Students nationwide take “TAO of Journalism” Pledge

Journalism students at Whitney High School (CA) take the TAO of Journalism Pledge.

“We want to show our readers and the larger journalism community that we stand by the ideals of being Transparent, Accountable and Open in our reporting and all of our practices as student journalists.” — The Roar, Whitney High School, CA

“Journalistic ethics are becoming even more critical to the practice of journalism as the field evolves….[We] like the simplicity of the pledge and the fact that it can apply equally and easily to citizen journalists, students, bloggers, professional journalists in all media.” — The Kerronicle, Kerr High School, Houston, TX

“Why are we doing it? Well, because we should.” — The Purple Tide, Chantilly High School, VA

Almost 1,000 student journalists from coast to coast have now taken the “TAO of Journalism” Pledge, promising to be Transparent, Accountable and Open in their practice of journalism. More than 850 of them nationwide took the Pledge during the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Journalism Week (Feb. 19-26). The quotes above are among comments emailed to the Washington News Council, which originated the TAO of Journalism concept and trademarked the TAO Seal.

The TAO Pledge and Seal allow journalists to make a public statement of ethical principles to help instill trust among their readers, viewers and listeners. The JEA endorsed the concept at the organization’s annual national convention in Kansas City last November. Kathy Schrier, executive director of the Washington Journalism Education Association and executive assistant at the WNC, attended the convention and led the endorsement effort. The TAO Pledge also may discourage school administrators from imposing prior review on student publications, JEA leaders believe.

The TAO Pledge — which is open to mainstream journalists, independent bloggers, freelancers, newsletter writers, or anyone else committing “acts of journalism,” asks journalists to publicly promise that they will be “Transparent” about who they are, “Accountable” and willing to correct any errors, and “Open” to other points of view. The idea, originally introduced at a Journalism That Matters gathering, is steadily gaining traction with media organizations and individual journalists worldwide as a way to help maintain public trust. (See Directory page on TAO website for a list of pledgers so far.)

After all, journalists want everyone they cover to be transparent, accountable and open. So why not them? It’s a two-way street. Those qualities always increase credibility and public trust in any institution or organization that adopts them. The same will be true for journalists and media organizations.

Any media group or individual journalist who takes the TAO Pledge gets listed on the TAO of Journalism website with a link to their publication and/or website. They can then post the TAO Seal in their masthead or on their website.

For some examples of how some sites are using the TAO Seal, see:

1. Spot.us

2. Common Language Project

3. De Standaard, Belgium

4. B-Town Blog

5. Fremocentrist

Student journalism organizations may take the TAO Pledge and display the Seal for free. Independent individual journalists are asked to donate $25 per year and media organizations (three or more staff) are asked to donate $50 per year to help support the TAO project’s website, maintenance and outreach. The Washington News Council is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, so donations are tax-deductible.

JEA is encouraging schools and student media to sign the Pledge  and to invite their school administrators to sign on, as well. Students receive a color poster of the TAO Pledge that can be displayed as a reminder of their commitment. In addition, student publications that took the TAO Pledge during Scholastic Journalism Week receive temporary stick-on “TAOttoos” of the TAO seal for all members of their staff. The Washington News Council ordered 3,000 of these to be mailed to TAO pledgers nationwide.

The TAO Pledge and Seal are open to anyone who is interested. Just TAO it!

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Tom Stites’ Banyan Project: Will Co-op Journalism Work?

Tom Stites explains The Banyan Project to a group at Ivar's Salmon House

Journalism, says Tom Stites, should be: 1) relevant to people’s lives, 2) respectful of everyone, and 3) worthy of their trust.

Relevant. Respectful. Trustworthy. What’s so hard about that?

Nothing, really, but too much journalism today falls short of those goals, according to Stites, founder of The Banyan Project, a nascent national pilot effort still in the development stages.

Stites was just in Seattle for a few days to talk with people here who are trying to encourage and create more relevant, trusted, ethical and abundant journalism.

The Washington News Council invited about 25 local journalists, civic activists, public-relations professionals, academics and others to meet with Stites at Ivar’s Salmon House on Monday (Feb. 21) to learn more about Stites’ project.

Stites is currently a fellow at the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard University. He also won the prestigious “Game Changer” award last year from the WeMedia organization, in a national competition decided by online votes. He was also one of the first journalists to take our TAO of Journalism pledge for Transparency, Accountability, and Openness.

Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest co-hosted the event, thanks to Anne Stadler and Mike Fancher. They (and I) are active members of the JTM Collaboratory that has been meeting regularly since a large JTM gathering in January 2010 at the University of Washington. Stites also met with several co-ops in this region to explore possibilities and exchange ideas.

His plan is to use the “consumer co-op” model to create a new kind of journalism built on a “bedrock of trust and integrity,” whose citizen members will support it and sustain it. The co-op plan would allow “no possibility of structural conflict of interest,” Stites said, which can be a problem with other forms of journalism that are funded by advertisers, subscribers, individual donors and increasingly by foundation grants. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: The word structural was inadvertently omitted from my original text.)

Stites envisions several Banyan “turnkey franchises” around the country, whose co-op members would practice “relational journalism” and observe a “covenant of behavior” online. He calls it a “civic networking space” where citizens would confront issues and possibly take action. They would be more engaged because, as co-op members, they would have a stake in the outcome, and a “deep sense of ‘stakeholderness,’” Stites said.

Questions from the group raised concerns about the need for such a new effort given the proliferation of hyperlocal neighborhood websites, the robustness of ethnic media outlets, and the explosive growth of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks that allow people to get news and information from sources they trust, including their friends.

Other questions focused on financial viability and how to “monetize” the project. Stites hopes it will be funded by coop members, advertisements, administrative fees, philanthropic donations, “crowd fueling” and ancillary sales of products or services. But he conceded that he “hasn’t yet raised a cent” to support the project. Stites acknowledged that he was formulating a “Plan C” for journalism, but stressed that we also need a “Plan D, E, F, G, and so on” until we find something that works.

So the future of The Banyan Project – as with many other new journalism efforts these days – is uncertain. Banyan is a good start, but whether it will seed, take root and grow – like its namesake tree – remains to be seen.

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Seattle’s BOLD plan for a Journalism Commons

From left to right: Karen Johnson (Seattle Magazine/Hacks & Hackers) Mike Fancher (Journalism Commons PNW) David Boardman (Seattle Times) Lisa Skube (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Last year Journalism that Matters held its monumental Pacific Northwest Unconference where several projects have since emerged. It was then that Fancher formally launched his mission to “cultivate abundant journalism” and last night marked a significant milestone in that effort.

Twenty-one of the region’s most influential news experts and enthusiasts gathered at the swanky offices of Seattle Magazine to discuss the state of news and information in our region, with the overall goal of finding ways to increase the level of quality journalism across the Pacific Northwest. As a bonus, Banyan Project founder and Harvard Berkman fellow Tom Stites came along for the ride. The “Dream Team” roster included:

Sanjay Bhatt, Seattle AAJA, Seattle Times, and Global Health Journalism Collaboratory
Anna Bloom, Seattle Code for America Fellow
David Boardman, Executive Editor The Seattle Times
Mark Briggs, Director of Digital Media KING-TV
Jacob Caggiano, Washington News Lab (part of the Washington News Council)
Carole Carmichael, Seattle Times
Joe Copeland, Crosscut
Mike Fancher, Former Seattle Times Executive Editor & 2008-2009 RJI Fellow
Brian Glanz, Open Science Federation
Jan Gray, Puget Sound Civic Communication Commons
Monica Guzman, Intersect
John Hamer, Washington News Council
Rita Hibbard, Investigate West
Peggy Holman, Journalism That Matters
Clay Holtzman, SPJ Western Washington
Hanson Hosein, UW Master of Communication in Digital Media Program, Media Space Host
Marsha Iverson, King County Library Services, KCLS Newsroom
Karen Johnson, Seattle magazine and co-organizer of new Seattle Hacks and Hackers chapter
Julie Pham, NW Vietnamese News and Sea Beez (New America Media)
Lisa Skube, Reynolds Journalism Institute
Tom Stites, The Banyan Project and Berkman Center for Internt and Society at Harvard
Luke Timmerman, National Bio-Tech editor – Xconomy

The evening was off to a good start with a few well received announcements. The first came from Investigate West founder Rita Hibbard who was just awarded their second grant from the The Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Another item of interest was Seattle Times writer and Global Health Initiative co-founder Sanjay Bhatt’s mention of a new collaborative report on Global Health Journalism. The crowd also warmly welcomed journalist Anna Bloom‘s arrival to our fair city to weave together a new open government system as part of her 2011 Code for America fellowship.

Now that the pump was primed, JTM founder and conversation steward Peggy Holman broke the room up into pairs, followed by small groups, and ending with a full circle report.

Several themes emerged, as we aimed to discuss not just what needed to be done but what was already working. Many were in agreement that Seattle’s strong network of hyperlocal neighborhood sites serve a very unique and valuable role, and Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman shared his belief that his publication’s recent “networked journalism” partnership with several hyperlocal sites not only made sense on a civic level, but from a business perspective as well. Everyone nodded their heads at the idea of collaboration, and it was refreshing to hear KING-5 Digital Media Director Mark Briggs talk about how his station and several competitors all got together with the WSDOT before the November snow storm and strategized the best way to get out breaking information over their respective networks and on social media. KING-5 and The Times are also kicking off a “be local” partnership to use their ad reps to help bring in revenue to hyperlocal blogs.  Luke Timmerman of Xconomy reminded us that it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, and his syndication partnership with the Seattle Times has driven traffic to both sites.

Of course, talk is one thing, but doing is always the challenge. How can we get more work done and bring more voices into the mix? A good part of the discussion talked about some of the events sponsored by journalism organizations and their potential for generating revenue as well as strengthening the role of journalists themselves. The Puget Sound Business Journal and the Northwest Asian Weekly were recognized for putting on successful events that engage their niche audiences face to face and bring in a little extra dough on the side. The role of journalists can also shine through, as we pondered the difference between a hypothetical event about police conduct hosted by the mayor versus the hot sparks that flew from the recent forum on police accountability put on by The Stranger. Luke Timmerman of Xconomy also had good things to report about their events, and was quick to stress the importance of being upfront with your sponsors about the separation between business relationships and editorial decisions in the newsroom. Finding a comfort zone for all parties is important, as questionable events from the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist have all received various levels of scrutiny.

Now comes the important part, the follow-through. Business cards were exchanged and the group agreed on quarterly face to face meetings, but how to we grow from there? JTM has always been successful at bringing people in the flesh, and now the time is ripe to flesh out that energy online in a way that increases involvement and productivity. I encourage journalists, students, and knowledgeable citizens of all stripes to join us in this space, start a session, or dive into an existing one like Mike Fancher’s Journalism Commons PNW. Tell us what you need to make this happen.

Some good stuff to expect are a shared calendar that streamlines journalism events across the board, as well as a “behind the curtain” collaboration that shows how journalism gets done and reveals the networks that make good stories happen.

Brian Glanz put together some awesome tools, and the fire’s just warming up.

This post is a part of the Carnival of Journalism project initiated by David Cohn at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. This month David assigned the Carnival to answer the question: “Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?”

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Student journalists “Go TAO” during National Scholastic Journalism Week

Journalism students at Whitney High School (CA) take the TAO of Journalism Pledge.

Student journalists who practice ethical journalism and want to assure readers, viewers and school administrators of their commitment to excellence, are going public by taking the “TAO of Journalism” pledge .

The TAO Pledge asks journalists to promise that they will be “Transparent” about who they are and how the story was developed; “Accountable” for, and willing to correct any errors; and “Open” to other points of view. This idea, introduced by the Washington News Council, is gaining traction with media organizations around the world. Student journalism organizations may take the TAO Pledge for free, while professional journalists are asked to donate $25 per year to help support the TAO Project website. Media organizations are asked to donate $50 per year.

The Journalism Education Association has endorsed the TAO of Journalism Pledge as one way student media can instill trust in their programs.

JEA encourages schools and student media to sign the Pledge during Scholastic Journalism Week on Wednesday, Feb. 23 and to invite their school administrators to sign on, as well. Any student media group who “takes the TAO Pledge” will be listed on the TAO of Journalism website with a link to their website.

Students can then post the TAO Seal in their masthead and they will receive a poster of the TAO Pledge that can be displayed as a public reminder of their commitment.

Once students take the pledge, they need to be sure to follow the pledge to show their schools and their communities the importance of professional standards.

• BONUS for student media groups who take the TAO Pledge during Scholastic Journalism Week: Temporary tattoos of the TAO seal for all members of the staff.

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WNC Named “Organization of the Year” by Municipal League

The Washington News Council has just been named “Organization of the Year” by the Municipal  League of King County. Here is their press release, sent out today to news media statewide.

This is a great honor for our little non-profit organization. We would like to thank all of our friends, supporters and donors who helped make our important work possible over the past 12 months — and over the past 12 years — to encourage high-quality journalism and media ethics.

Other Civic Award winners this year include King County Sheriff Sue Rahr (Public Official of the Year), BECU – Boeing Employees Credit Union (Business of the Year), and Susannah Frame of KING5 (Government News Reporting). So we’re in really good company!

The Muni League, which turned 100 years old in 2010, is a highly respected organization that supports good government and public service in our region. Past winners of the “Organization of the Year” award include Futurewise, Seattle Works, Urban League, Intiman Theater, Real Change, King County Bar Association, and Pioneer Human Services. We’re honored to join this distinguished group.

The award will be presented at the League’s 52nd Annual Civic Awards dinner on March 31. We invite you to attend to help us celebrate the occasion.

I would personally like to thank the great team that helped “reinvent” the WNC in the past year: Kathy Schrier (executive assistant), Jacob Caggiano (communications strategist), Brian Glanz (web developer) and Heidi Dietrich (blogger, now with AOL Patch). Plus my terrific WNC Board Officers: Suzie Burke, Martin Neeb, Olivia Lippens and Shannon Frew. You’re the ones who really made this award possible.

Finally, special thanks to all the generous donors who supported the WNC and helped us meet the Gates Foundation Challenge Grant by raising $100,000 by Jan. 15, 2011, which was matched by the Foundation. We are determined to keep up this vital work and expand our activities in 2011 and beyond. With your continued support, we’ll do exactly that! Please call or email me with your ideas and suggestions. One last thing: WOO-HOO!

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WOO-HOO! We met the Gates Foundation Challenge!

Photo by Kslavin on Flickr available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kslavin/1019160565/#/

The Washington News Council met the Gates Foundation’s Challenge Grant target by raising $100,000 in total donations by the deadline of Jan. 15, 2011. We received the Foundation’s matching check for $100,000 in the mail this week. We are extremely grateful to the Foundation for its continued generous support of the WNC and our important work.

This news is especially welcome because we recently learned that the Minnesota News Council, which was the model for the Washington News Council when we were founded in 1998, is closing its doors after 40 years. The MNC’s president, Tony Carideo, told the National Newspaper Association’s paper (January 2011 issue) that an inability to secure adequate funding and a decline in the number of complaints were primary factors. The council’s former executive director, Sarah Bauer, told me that she would move into the offices of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, which founded the MNC, as its program director.

Over the past 40 years, much of the MNC’s support came from that state’s newspapers and other media outlets, including local television stations. However, their funding declined severely in recent years due to the financial problems of the news industry in Minnesota.

In contrast, the Washington News Council was not founded by or significantly funded by news organizations when we began. We invited news outlets to join us and help shape our council, but nearly all declined. Instead, we sought and received funding and support from foundations, corporations, associations and many individuals — and thus did not rely on media donors (which some might consider a conflict of interest in any case).

Still, the WNC did copy the MNC’s by-laws, guidelines and procedures when we formed. We flew their then-director, Gary Gilson, to Seattle in September 1998 for our kick-off breakfast at the Washington Athletic Club. Gilson and I personally visited newspaper publishers and editors in Seattle, Tacoma, Longview, Vancouver and Spokane to tell them about the WNC and encourage them to participate. We pointed out that public accountability through an independent outside citizens’ organization such as ours could help increase their levels of credibility and trust. Most did not see that then, but many have since come to agree. Even some major media leaders who initially opposed the News Council have since written us checks, co-sponsored our events and supported our scholarship program. We thank them!

We are sorry to see the MNC go, but are glad to report that the WNC is now stronger than ever. We have just matched (for the second year) a $100,000 Gates Foundation challenge grant to sustain and expand our activities in 2011 and beyond. We have diversified our funding sources and redesigned our website. Our online community is growing steadily. Our TAO of Journalism pledge and seal is gaining adherents nationally and globally. Our new OMG (Online Media Guide) for Washington state is in the advanced beta stage. We are active participants in the Journalism That Matters organization, and I am part of JTM’s guiding “Collaboratory” group. We have now awarded 22 scholarships to students statewide. We recently held our 12th annual Gridiron West Dinner, an entertaining and successful “toast/roast” of five former Mayors of Seattle, and are planning our next event.

When I ask people if a news council is still needed, with all the new and easy ways of responding to the news media on the Internet, through comments, blogs, hyperlocal websites, Facebook, Twitter and other means, they tell me: “You’re needed now more than ever.” Why? Because if someone or their organization is damaged by inaccurate, unfair or unethical news reports, online digital response mechanisms may not be enough. The News Council is still here to help review complaints and provide recourse to those who are damaged by media malpractice. Our phone continues to ring with calls from potential complainants. In some cases, we counsel them on how to obtain corrections, clarifications and/or apologies. In some cases, we mediate compromises with the media outlet. In other cases, we may hold a formal public hearing. Increasingly, we are taking our complaint process online — such as in the “virtual hearing” we held on a complaint from Secretary of State Sam Reed against KIRO7 Television. (Citizens upheld the complaint by overwhelming margins in a series of online votes.) Our website features a “Washington NewsTrust” section where the public can nominate and rate news stories, and we’re working with Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs to make his innovative bug tracking system applicable to Washington state news media and give citizens another new feedback tool.

Moreover, while the MNC’s demise means we are one of the only remaining news councils in the United States (New England and Hawaii have smaller but similar groups), respected and robust press councils exist in many nations around the world and their number is growing. Last year we joined the Association of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE), which has several members (like us) outside of Europe. (See their website for a full list.)

The Minnesota News Council inspired us to form and their closure is a loss for Minnesota citizens and journalists. But we’re alive and well, and committed to our mission of promoting excellence and ethics in journalism. As an article in the same January issue of the NNA’s paper put it: “Washington News Council reinvents itself on the Internet.” They got that right, and we will continue to reset, reboot, recreate and reinvigorate ourselves. If you believe that high-quality, accurate, ethical news media are vital to democracy, join us!

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