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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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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