Washington News Council to Close on May 31

The Washington News Council’s Board of Directors has announced that the organization will close its doors on May 31, 2014, after 15 years of holding this state’s news media publicly accountable for accuracy, fairness and ethics.

The WNC, founded in 1998, is the only news council left in the United States that reviews citizen complaints against media organizations and holds public hearings to review and vote on the quality of print, broadcast or online stories.

"We had a great 15-year run" – John Hamer

“We had a great 15-year run, and we helped a lot of people who were damaged by media malpractice,” said John Hamer, who co-founded the WNC and serves as its Executive Director and Board President. “But the news media have changed tectonically since we began. The eruption of online digital news and information made our mission of promoting high standards in journalism much more difficult, if not impossible. How can anyone oversee a cyber-tsunami?”

Hamer will retire this spring at age 68, as he announced in January to his Board of Directors, Founding Board and Board Members Emeritus. The WNC conducted a three-month national search for a new Executive Director. But after interviews and conversations with several applicants, the Board decided that a complete reinvention was needed, not just a new Executive Director.

“The News Council did a lot of fabulous work but it’s time for a restart,” said Suzie Burke, chair of the WNC’s Board of Directors and President of Fremont Dock Company. WNC Vice President Heidi Kelly and Treasurer Tom Ranken, who make up the Board’s Executive Committee along with Hamer, agreed.

Coverage of this announcement includes:

Hamer noted that the News Council’s public complaint and hearing process may be less effective in this new digital media age, when everyone is a “journalist” – or at least they think they are. “Who can oversee ethics on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the other social media platforms? We’re all deluged daily with factoids, sound bites, rumors, opinion and commentary. Citizens just have to make up their own minds about who can be trusted in the media today.”

The WNC process could be updated for the new digital media age, Hamer said. “Our model was fine when we had only newspapers, TV and radio stations, and a few magazines. But now we get news and information online 24/7 in the palm of our hands. The public needs to find new ways to engage in media oversight and maybe take the news council concept to the next level,” Hamer said.

The WNC can point to a long list of accomplishments over the past 15 years:

Judge Karen G. Seinfeld leads the Hearings Board

Complaint Hearings. The WNC held 10 public hearings on citizen complaints against media organizations. All but one complaint (“Hubert Locke vs. The Seattle Times”) were upheld by open votes of the Council members after lengthy hearings. The WNC’s votes carry no legal weight, but are in-depth discussions of media accuracy and fairness, based on the media’s own journalism ethics codes. Several other complaints were informally mediated by the WNC to compromises that satisfied both sides.

The WNC’s last hearing, in the case of “Dr. Richard Wollert vs. The Seattle Times” was broadcast and webcast by TVW. Citizens around the globe voted and commented along with Council members, which was unprecedented in the history of news/press councils worldwide. The complaint was largely upheld.

Earlier efforts to engage the public in media oversight also broke new ground. At hearings on “Leschi School Community vs. KIRO7 Eyewitness News” and “Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW 94.9” the audience was invited to review the complaints and vote along with Council members. In “Sam Reed vs. KIRO7” there was no public hearing but citizens voted and commented online. In every case, voters upheld the complaints against the media outlets. “Sue Rahr vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer” was also upheld by the Council. The P-I did not attend but submitted a lengthy written response that was read aloud at the hearing. It did not answer Sheriff Rahr’s concerns about the stories, however.

Hamer said: “We gave people a place to make their cases in public and a chance to get their reputations back. They were all extremely grateful for that, when they had nowhere else to turn short of costly and time-consuming libel suits, which are almost impossible to win. The Testimonials video on our website shows how much we helped people who came to us for assistance.” He added that a review process may be especially needed in now that inaccurate stories are perpetually accessible through search engines. “A smear lasts forever,” Hamer said. “A lie goes viral online before the truth gets rebooted.”

Anat Balint, Gal Uchovsky and John Hamer in a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency" in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Risto Uimonen

John Hamer on a panel in Tel Aviv

Public Forums. WNC sponsored or co-sponsored more than 20 panels or forums on media issues statewide, including events in Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma. It collaborated with the Society of Professional Journalists, Journalism That Matters, The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the University of Washington, Washington State University, Pacific Lutheran University, and others. Hamer spoke to Rotary clubs and other civic organizations all over the state about media ethics. WNC sponsored a media-ethics breakfast series with notable guest speakers. In addition, Hamer was a member of the global Organization of News Ombudsmen and attended three of their annual conferences. He was on panels at the ONO meeting at Oxford University in 2010, and at the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe conference in Tel Aviv in 2013.

Washington News Council 2013 Scholars and John Hamer

Washington News Council 2013 Scholars and John Hamer

Independent Audit. In 2007, the WNC published “Reporting on Yourself,” an independent outside critique of The Spokane Spokesman-Review’s coverage of the River Park Square project in downtown Spokane, whose developers also owned the newspaper. Editor Steve Smith requested the audit, which was unprecedented in the history of American journalism. The WNC spent months reviewing 10 years of S-R coverage and issued a critical report with specific recommendations. Under the terms of the WNC’s agreement to conduct the audit, the entire text was printed, unedited, in a Sunday issue of the newspaper. The project won the Ancil Payne Award for Media Ethics from the University of Oregon’s School of Communications and Journalism. Copies are available on request, and it is being used as a case study in journalism classes nationwide.

Student Education. Hamer visited dozens of high-school and college journalism classes statewide, often conducting “mock hearings” where students would review actual complaints and play the role of the News Council, voting on the merits of the cases. The WNC awarded 30 scholarships to Washington state students planning careers in communications. The $2,000 scholarships were named after former Seattle Times Editors Dick Larsen and Herb Robinson. Receptions for the winners and their families were held every year since 2000. The WNC also hired student interns every year since 1998, and paid them minimum wage to assist in the office and help at WNC events.

Visit TAOofJournalism.org

TAO of Journalism. WNC originated this concept several years ago. It allows anyone practicing any form of journalism worldwide to take the “TAO Pledge” to be Transparent, Accountable and Open and post the TAO Seal in print or online. The TAO Pledge is totally voluntary and is not overseen by the News Council, but by the pledger’s audience of readers, viewers or listeners. The TAO of Journalism idea is spreading globally and is especially popular among student journalists. The national Journalism Education Association endorsed it and held three national “TAO Pledge Days” for American high-school journalists. Kathy Schrier, WNC Executive Assistant and Executive Director of the Washington JEA, continues to promote the TAO concept at twice-annual student journalism conventions nationwide. TAO Pledgers include bloggers and websites as far away as Asia, the Caribbean and Australia. Pledgers receive a TAO poster, stick-on “TAOttoos” and TAO nylon flyers, as well as a digital TAO Seal that they may print or post. “It’s so important to instill these ethical values in young student journalists,” Schrier said. “If all journalists were as transparent, accountable and open as they demand of everyone they cover, they would be more trusted.”

from a 2010 Gridiron West advert in the PSBJ

Gridiron West Dinner. The WNC held 15 consecutive Gridiron West Dinners, an annual  “roast and toast” of media, political, business and community leaders. The first event, in 1999, honored four veteran journalists (Dick Larsen, Shelby Scates, Mike Layton and Adele Ferguson). Subsequent dinners honored local columnist Emmett Watson, TV Anchorwomen (Jean Enersen, Kathi Goertzen, Susan Hutchison), former Governors (Al Rosellini, Dan Evans, John Spellman, Booth Gardner, Mike Lowry); Jennifer Dunn & Gary Locke, John & Jim Ellis, Bill Gates Sr. & Mimi Gardner Gates, Tom Foley & Slade Gorton, Bill & Jill Ruckelshaus, Kemper Freeman Jr., former Seattle Mayors (Wes Uhlman, Charley Royer, Norm Rice, Paul Schell & Greg Nickels), Suzie Burke, Dale Chihuly, and Norm Dicks & Christine Gregoire. The last Gridiron “roasted and toasted” David Horsey and Patti Payne on Nov. 8, 2013. All are available on TVW’s Archives.

The WNC office above the Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle will close on May 31. The Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA), which has shared office space with the WNC, will relocate. Hamer and Schrier will continue to promote the TAO of Journalism among students and other journalists worldwide. Hamer plans to consult, speak, write, blog and possibly teach to promote media ethics.

The WNC’s “archives,” including records of 10 public complaint hearings since 1999, 20-plus public forums on media performance, and albums/videos of 15 Gridiron West Dinners, will be preserved for posterity. Board Chair Suzie Burke has offered space for a WNC exhibit at History House in Fremont.

Hamer added: “Thanks to ALL who have supported the WNC so loyally and generously over the past 15 years. I deeply appreciated and greatly valued your advice, counsel, feedback, suggestions — and donations! Each of you has contributed tremendously, as your time and resources allowed. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for your service and friendship.”

Bill Gates Sr., John Hamer, and Kathy Schrier

Hamer said he would especially like to thank Bill Gates Sr., who was one of the original members of the News Council Board and donated more than $500,000 since 1998: “I can’t thank Bill Sr. enough. We wouldn’t be here without him – and he never missed a meeting when he was on the Board.” Hamer also thanked Jim Ellis of the WNC’s Founding Board, who was among the first to endorse the group’s formation. Other founders were Patsy Collins, Bill Gerberding, Ken Hatch, Jeannette Hayner, Dennis Heck, Pat Herbold, Ron Judd, Mike Lowry, Stan McNaughton, Charles Royer and Bill Ruckelshaus. An organizing committee included Mariana Parks, Bill Baldwin, Sandy Schoolfield, Chuck Nordhoff, Heidi Kelly, and Joel Horn. “All of their support was invaluable.” He also saluted his WNC Board Members Emeritus, past officers, and Hearings Board Chairs Bob Utter, Karen Seinfeld and Gerry Alexander, who presided at the public hearings. “And my very special thanks to Brian Glanz and Jacob Caggiano, who did such fabulous work on our websites and with social media,” Hamer said.

Brian Glanz, John Hamer, and Jacob Caggiano of the WNC

Hamer also thanked members of “100 Friends of the WNC,” who each donated $1,000 annually, plus foundations and corporations that sponsored tables at the Gridiron West Dinner, including the Gates Foundation, Horvitz Foundation, Kemper Development, Chihuly Studio, Boeing, Microsoft, Premera, Wells Fargo, PEMCO, Lynden, Wells Fargo, Fremont Dock, Clear Channel Outdoor and Puget Sound Business Journal, plus many other individuals and companies.

Finally, Hamer said: “I’ll be in the office above the Pyramid Alehouse much of April and May, packing up 15 years of records and memorabilia. Call if you’d like to come by for lunch or a beer. A ‘refirement’ party will be held on Monday, May 19, from 5-8 pm at the Pyramid Alehouse. We’ll have good food, free beer and an ‘open mic roast’ of me. Hope to see you there.”

CONTACT: John Hamer, WNC President and Executive Director
Phone: 206.262.9793 office OR 206.910.5270 cell
Email: jhamer@wanewscouncil.org

Share

If YOU Ran the News Council, What Would YOU Do?

The Washington News Council is at a critical turning point. After 15 years of widely praised but sometimes controversial work, the WNC is seeking new leadership to “reboot” the organization for the new digital media age.

John Hamer, founding Executive Director and now President of the WNC Board, is retiring on April 15, 2014 (his 68th birthday). “It’s time to pass the torch,” Hamer said. “My successor can either fan the flames and keep the fire burning — or set fire to the place, burn it to the ground and start over!”

The WNC, founded in 1998, is the last news council in the United States that reviews citizens’ complaints against media organizations and holds public hearings to discuss and vote on their merits. Its most recent public hearing, in June, 2013 on a complaint against The Seattle Times, was webcast worldwide so interested observers could vote and comment online along with WNC Board members and the live audience.

“We really need to reinvent, restart, rethink, revitalize, reinvigorate, refresh, reform and re-whatever the WNC,” Hamer said. “We’ve been doing things pretty much the same way for a decade and a half. We’re willing to be flexible, creative and open to new ideas.”

What would YOU do if YOU were running the Washington News Council? Comments and feedback are welcome. Or apply for the job opening!

1. Scrap the public hearings (which journalists almost universally hate, because they are held publicly accountable) and just review and judge complaints online?
2. Invite the general public to weigh in on complaints and vote on media accuracy, ethics and fairness – but only if they identify themselves (no anonymous comments)?
3. Give Communications/Journalism schools regionwide a more active role in shaping the News Council’s programs and direction?
4. Involve journalism students statewide or regionwide in the News Council’s complaint-review process, as an educational benefit?
5. Expand the WNC to also cover Oregon, as did our predecessor organization, the Northwest News Council?
6. Expand the WNC to cover Idaho, Montana and possibly British Columbia, as a Cascadia News Council, working with the B.C. Press Council that already exists (as with other provincial councils)?
7. Use social media more actively to engage the public in open online discussions of media accuracy, fairness and ethics, such as a regular Google chat group on media issues?
8. Continue the WNC’s innovative “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” Pledge and Seal project, which has spread slowly but steadily worldwide, especially among student journalists?
9. Continue the WNC’s Media Ethics Breakfast/Speaker Series, which brings prominent journalists to Seattle for in-depth discussions of media standards and performance?
10. Keep giving two WNC Scholarships annually to Washington students planning careers in communications?
11. Update, publicize and market the WNC’s Online Media Guide (OMG), an innovative digital database of about 1,000 news and information sources statewide?
12. Continue the WNC’s annual Gridiron West Dinner to “roast and toast” prominent media, political, business and community leaders in a fun-filled evening of song, comedy, video and affectionate tributes?

OR, what other ideas do YOU have to take the News Council to the next level of effectiveness and service to citizens? Suggestions invited, no matter how crazy they may seem.

Journalism is undergoing a total tectonic transformation today – and the Washington News Council is ready and willing to do the same. Onward! Or upward! Or outward! Or downward! YOU can help us decide. Engage!

Email info@wanewscouncil.org or call 206.262.9793 with your ideas.

Share

CHALLENGING JOURNALISM JOB OPPORTUNITY!


GOT GUTS? SEEKING ENERGETIC, ENTREPRENEURIAL MEDIA-SAVVY
INDIVIDUAL TO HEAD ONLY NEWS COUNCIL IN THE UNITED STATES.

Applications are now being accepted for the position of Executive Director of the Washington News Council in Seattle, Washington. Deadline: March 15, 2014. Email cover letter (not to exceed 750 words) and resume to info@wanewscouncil.org or mail to WNC, P.O. Box 3672, Seattle WA 98124. Call 206.262.9793 with any questions.

“New executive director sought for last U.S. news council; only gutsy need apply” — Sandra Oshiro, Poynter
“Washington News Council head John Hamer to retire” — Patti Payne, Puget Sound Business Journal

WARNING! THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT A JOB FOR THE FAINT-OF-HEART.

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS WILL INCLUDE:

  • IMAGINATION & DRIVE TO “REBOOT” WNC IN DIGITAL AGE.
  • STRONG COMMITMENT TO FIRST AMENDMENT/FREE PRESS.
  • BELIEF IN HOLDING NEWS MEDIA PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE.
  • EQUANIMITY IN FACE OF SKEPTICISM FROM JOURNALISTS.
  • ABILITY TO RAISE OWN SALARY AND OPERATING EXPENSES.

The WNC is an independent forum for media ethics founded in 1998. It is the last such organization of its kind in the United States, although dozens of press councils exist all over the world. (SEE AIPCE.NET) The WNC’s stated mission is: “To help maintain public trust and confidence in the news media by promoting fairness, accuracy and balance and by creating a forum where the public and the news media can engage each other in examining standards of journalistic ethics and accountability.”

The WNC’s founding Executive Director and now Board President, John Hamer, has announced that he will retire on April 15, 2014 (his 68th birthday). He may remain as President Emeritus at the discretion of the WNC Board on a advisory/consulting basis, but the new Executive Director will report directly to the Board.

PLEASE NOTE: The WNC is at a turning point after 15 years of solid and successful operations. Financial sustainability is a challenge. The new Executive Director will need to raise sufficient funds to sustain the Council’s work — including his/her salary. He/she will have the opportunity to “reinvent” the WNC and take it in new directions, and/or maintain some current programs and activities. He/she may need to recruit new Board members, several of whom are retiring as their terms end. He/she may also need to hire a new part-time executive assistant, as the current person in that position has a full-time teaching commitment at least through June 2014. He/she may need to work from home, depending on whether funds are adequate to pay current rent of office above Pyramid Alehouse near Safeco Field (free parking; beer downstairs; baseball across street).

GENERAL RESPONSIBILITIES
“Reinvent/reboot” WNC to be relevant and effective in new digital media age. Work with Board of Directors to review/redefine/revitalize mission and goals.

FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
Take responsibility for fund-raising and developing resources to support WNC.
Prepare annual budget in partnership with Board Executive Committee.
Submit regular financial statements to Executive Committee and full Board.

MISSION AND PROGRAMS
Lead review of WNC’s current mission, goals, programs and activities.
Reevaluate existing Board structure and implement any needed changes.
Suggest new directions and activities to fulfill mission as appropriate.

ORGANIZATIONAL OPERATIONS
Oversee effective administration of WNC office and activities.
Hire and manage staff, consultants and interns as appropriate.
Hold quarterly Board meetings and monthly Exec Comm meetings.

PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
Degree in journalism, communications, management or related field.
Experience dealing with news media and working journalists.
Strong expertise in fund-raising and nonprofit development.
Solid financial oversight and budget-management skills.
Organizational abilities including strategic planning and tactics.
Management abilities to oversee staff/interns/consultants.
Experience working with nonprofit Board of Directors members.
Transparent and high-integrity leadership standards and practices.
Strong written, verbal, and digital communication skills.

ACTUAL JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

1. Work with Board of Directors to update and fulfill WNC’s mission.
2. Raise sufficient funds to keep WNC sustainable, including own salary.
3. Oversee day-to-day operations of organization, staff, and volunteers.
4. Serve as primary spokesperson to news media and general public.
5. Help change complaint hearings into online digital review process.
6. Decide on future of “TAO of Journalism” Pledge & Seal project.
7. Determine evolution of Online Media Guide (OMG) project.
8. Decide whether to continue awarding annual WNC scholarships.
9. Determine whether to continue Media Ethics breakfast series.
10. Provide creative leadership in 24/7 online digital media world.

Share

Washington News Council President on Ethics Panel at International Press Councils Meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Israeli President Shimon Peres, who just turned 90, had a powerful message for members of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (http://aipce.net) gathered here for their 15th annual meeting this month:

“Continue to fight. I know it’s not easy, but you have a mission, not just a profession.”

As head of the only remaining news council in the United States, I know just what he means. So do all the other press council representatives from all over the world who attended the conference, hosted by the Israel Press Council in its 50th anniversary year. http://www.moaza.co.il/BRPortal/br/P102.jsp?arc=27521

Anat Balint, Gal Uchovsky and John Hamer in a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency" in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Risto Uimonen

Anat Balint, Gal Uchovsky and John Hamer in a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency" in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Risto Uimonen

“It would appear that the issue of journalistic ethics is not as fashionable, and certainly not as glamorous, as it was 50 years ago,” said Arik Bachar, Secretary-General of the Israel Press Council, in welcoming AIPCE members at the Tel Aviv Hilton.

With the news media in chaotic transformation worldwide, press councils are trying to determine their most effective role in upholding high standards of journalistic ethics, accuracy and professionalism. It’s a tough challenge.

AIPCE is a loose network of independent content regulators for both print and broadcast media. There is no formal membership and no central secretariat. AIPCE members are mostly in Europe, with about a dozen from other nations.

Represented in Israel were press councils or similar organizations from Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Ukraine.

The Washington News Council is the only such organization in the U.S., since the Minnesota News Council closed its doors three years ago. A National News Council existed for more than a decade from 1973-84, but dissolved due to lack of support from The New York Times and The Washington Post, although Richard Salant and Mike Wallace of CBS News, plus many other respected journalists nationwide, were strong supporters.

My goal in attending was to discuss common problems, exchange ideas and to offer and receive advice. Over three days of meetings, meals and tours, there was ample opportunity to do exactly that. These people all care deeply about high-quality, accurate, ethical news media.

In an opening keynote address, Lord David Hunt, current chairman of the United Kingdom’s Press Complaints Commission in London, said: “In the UK, we have a crisis confronting the media. I have spent most of my life fighting Parliamentary efforts to regulate or control freedom of expression.” The British press scandals of recent years – phone hacking, bribing sources, invasions of privacy, sensationalism, etc. – led to the recommendation this month to form a new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), Hunt said.

“It will take over handling complaints from the PCC, but this new body will also have a standards arm with teeth and the ability to fine,” Hunt added. “This new independent board will monitor and enforce the Editors’ Code. In this way, we will be able to avoid Parliamentary control and go for a satisfactory independent regulatory body established by the industry that is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry, and thus able to command the support of the public,” Hunt said. “So please wish us luck.”

Can Press Councils Actually Help?

In an opening panel on “Press Councils in a World of Changing Journalism,” moderator Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute noted: “All media are becoming impossible to differentiate. The current regulatory framework has run its course. Without a coherent and cross-platform approach, citizens cannot base their judgments in any consistent way. Where in this bigger picture are press councils?”

Panelist Ola Sigvardsson, the Press Ombudsman of Sweden (http://www.po.se/) , noted: “There is at least one borderline we cannot cross. It is the ‘red line’, so to speak. And that is the word ‘self’ in self-regulation. We can only oversee those media outlets who want to be overseen.”

He acknowledged that many new media outlets may not want to be part of press council systems, but some will: “It’s a good thing that a new media organization wants to be part of self-regulation. That is using ethics as a mark of quality, and differentiating them from those media outlets that choose to stay outside.”

John Horgan, who is both the Press Ombudsman of Ireland and a member of the Irish Press Council, (http://www.presscouncil.ie/ )cited the “two poles” — voluntary regulation vs. statutory regulation of the media. “The plus of a voluntary system is that you don’t have issues with enforcement. The negative is that you can’t enforce an ethics code if the press doesn’t agree.” He said the keys are “accountability” for media outlets and “redress” for those damaged by inaccurate stories.

Who Is a Journalist, Anyway?

Many attendees raised the perplexing question of “Who is a journalist today?” The rise of individual bloggers and independent websites has greatly complicated the concept of media ethics oversight. “People look to established media institutions for credibility and authority,” Horgan said. “But how can the credibility of all be enhanced?”

Hanoch Marmari, editor of an Israeli online publication called “7th Eye,” commented: “All press councils must adapt to the cranky and creative media that we have today. For the first time in history, every person can directly influence the world around him.”

Marmari continued: “The oldest institutions of journalism are losing their influence. It is no longer possible to rely on a uniform code of ethics….We need a new definition of who is a journalist.”

He noted that a journalist is not just someone who holds a press card, because many journalists operate outside of any regulatory framework. “We should be defining journalism as a civic art, not as a profession. Thus, we can define the person who engages in this action. Their principles should be transparency, fairness, honesty and an aspiration to uncover the truth.”

Marmari concluded: “The public will be able to enjoy arbitration and complaint-handling services through press councils. If there are physicians without borders, then let us form a coalition of press councils without borders.”

What About Independent Bloggers?

Tal Schneider, an Israeli independent journalist and political blogger who formerly worked for the newspaper Maariv, said she sees little difference in her new role in terms of accuracy and ethics: “It’s always me responsible for every word and every character. The same ethics and the same rules apply to me as if I was a reporter in a paper….Every tweet or Facebook post that I do is a story. It must be well-written, factual, checked in advance and commented on before I put it up. If it’s wrong or it’s violating someone’s rights, it has to be corrected or apologized for.”

She noted that no editors oversee her work or correct her errors: “If I have any problems, it’s only on my shoulders. That gives me some extra precautions. I think a little bit further because it’s only on me.”

Should There Be a Voluntary Seal?

Altshuler noted that press councils could help set standards for all journalistic content, no matter who was producing it. She suggested a voluntary seal to mark guidelines.

Bachar asked if anyone required media organizations to publicize the fact that they cooperate with the councils. “Have you allowed your members to publish a watermark or emblem? I can’t imagine why people don’t want to flaunt it.”

Horgan responded: “Editors are afraid that if they publicize the press council, they will get more complaints! We are urging them to include [an emblem] not on a daily basis, but as part of a template. Most do, but some don’t. We have no way of enforcing that.”

Marmari added: “I can see a universe of multiple kinds of press councils that each individual or organization can accept their terms and work within it.”

Daphne Koene of The Netherlands Press Council http://www.rvdj.nl/english noted that the Dutch Union of Journalists had voted against expanding the council’s jurisdiction to online articles that consumers consider journalistic, “because they see it as a detriment to the purpose of the press council – being an instrument of self regulation for professional journalists – to expand the press council to this new content.”

Lord Hunt of the U.K. said that the new IPSO organization could be a “badge of respectability” for media organizations. He noted that The Huffington Post and other independent bloggers are “seriously discussing signing up for the new body.”

How Much Power Should Press Councils Have?

Press councils vary widely in their oversight and enforcement powers. Some have statutory authority, while others are purely voluntary.

Martin Lavesen of the Danish Press Council http://www.pressenaevnet.dk/Information-in-English.aspx said a big discussion is now underway in Denmark about increasing the power of the council. “Let it assess fines, suspend a newspaper, increase the time allowed for complaints,” he said.

Kjersti Loken Stavrum of the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission http://www.presse.no/ said: “Our profession should put out a promise of which way we should do our process….It must be some kind of promise that we can tell both the public and those who are our sources.”

What About Readers’ Comments Online?

In a panel on readers’ comments, Flip Voets of the Flemish Press Council in Belgium http://www.rvdj.be/node/210 said they issued guidelines for moderating online posts. If media outlets don’t moderate comments, they should “at least have tools to remove inappropriate comments as soon as possible.” The guidelines also recommended no anonymous comments, disallowing comments on controversial stories, and filters to block certain words. But the whole system is voluntary.

Risto Uimonen, of Finland’s Council for Mass Media, http://www.jsn.fi/en/ said his organization set rules for online comments on media sites and required editors to monitor the content and remove inappropriate comments. This guideline change has been in effect for two years and has “succeeded in cleaning discussions,” he said.

Doninique von Burg of Switzerland’s Press Council http://www.presserat.ch/ said they made recommendations two years ago to discourage anonymous comments. “The rules are the same as for letters to the editor,” he said.

The issue is still mostly unresolved, Horgan said: “If the newspaper pre-moderates the comments, then the paper is responsible. If papers do not pre-moderate, they are not liable. These are big legal, ethical and jurisdictional issues.”

Is a Universal Ethics Code a Good Idea?

In the closing session on “Journalistic Autonomy,” the keynote address was from Lorena Boix-Alonso, head of the Unit for Converging Media and Content with the European Commission. The EC recently floated the idea of a universal media ethics code to cover all of Europe, and mandatory press councils with enforcement powers in every nation. But it met with fierce opposition.

“At that you exploded,” Boix-Alonso remarked. “This was a big surprise to us. The intention was good, but we got a completely negative reaction from the people we wanted to protect.”

The EC asked for public input, and so far has received more than 450 comments online. “We will see whether we will do something, do nothing, or wait until the next European Parliament,” she said. “It’s a very good solution to have press councils, but we don’t have any intention of setting standards for them.”

She continued: “The key is to find the right balance between protecting the interest of the media and protecting the public interest.” There are many questions about press councils, she noted, including who should be members, who should fund them, and who can complain. “You may think that all is well and that you have wonderful press councils, but there are countries where it is not happening,” she said.

Adeline Hulin of UNESCO, who is doing her Ph.D. thesis on press councils, said: “Is there an ideal form of media regulation? No, there is no ideal form. Government regulation carries the risk of too much control. Self-regulation carries the risk of overly protecting journalists. Is a co-regulation system good?” Maybe, but she noted that in less democratic countries, any regulation can be misused by government authorities.

My conversations with Tamar Rukhadze, Executive Director of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, confirmed that. She told me that “journalists don’t have to ‘wait for the call’ [from authorities]” because they know where the lines are drawn.

Arik Bachar lamented that “Those who most should enjoy the benefits [of press councils] are not sufficiently committed anymore. Only a few mainstream outlets remain members, while this huge jungle out there is doing whatever they want.”

At the final session of the conference, Bachar concluded: “We should keep searching for the best solution that will keep the press honest, accurate, and – most important – free.”

What Lessons Can the WNC Offer?

In my panel at the AIPCE conference, “Ethical Dilemmas in the Age of Transparency,” I urged press council members to consider doing what the Washington News Council has done, including:

  • Webcast hearings on complaints and invite the public to vote and comment along with council members, to help “democratize” the process and “crowdsource” ethics.
  • Help educate students and citizens to encourage more media literacy and outside oversight of journalistic ethics and accuracy.
  • Urge media outlets to take the “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” pledge and display the TAO seal as a way to increase credibility and public trust. (http://taoofjournalism.org)

Will any of these efforts work? Who knows? As Israeli President Shimon Peres said on the opening night, it’s not easy. But what else is working? Not much.

Share

On the Organization of News Ombudsmen 2013 Annual Meeting

“You hold journalists accountable in much the same way that the media holds the public accountable.”

That’s what Marc Duvoisin, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times, told about 40 ombudsmen gathered in L.A. for the annual meeting of the Organization of News Ombudsmen last week.

However, he warned: “It’s conceivable that ombudsmen can be captured by their newsrooms” and fail to provide the tough, independent oversight that the job entails.

That’s not conceivable in Washington State. Why? Because there are no active, full-time ombudsmen at any news organization in this state anymore. The few news outlets that ever had ombudsmen – to hear complaints, resolve disputes and hold journalists accountable for inaccurate, unfair, or unethical reporting – all have eliminated the position.

The Washington News Council acts as an “outside ombudsman” for print, broadcast and online news media in Washington State. We review complaints from individuals or organizations who believe they have been damaged by flawed stories about them. We are independent and autonomous, funded by private donations. We accept no government support and are not subsidized by any media organizations. We’re also now the only news council left in the United States, since Minnesota’s closed its doors two years ago.

The number of ombudsmen at U.S. news organizations has also declined in the last few years, due mainly to financial problems in the industry. However, ONO membership has grown by 38 percent overall because new ombudsmen are being named in other countries around the world.

The concept of news ombudsmanship is actually 100 years old this year, according to Al Stavitsky, Dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was keynote speaker at the ONO convention.

In 1913, Ralph Pulitzer, owner of The New York World, established a Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play at his newspaper. His goal was to improve standards in the age of “yellow journalism,” Stavitsky said. The Bureau’s director reviewed citizen complaints, solicited responses from reporters and editors, and wrote back to complainants addressing their concerns.

Decades later, Norman Isaacs, Editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, created an ombudsman position at his newspaper in Kentucky, which inspired others nationwide. But many newspapers – including most recently The Washington Post — have eliminated the position as a full-time job.

Stavitsky titled his talk, “Pundits in Pajamas,” and noted: “Lots of media criticism is now available online.” But he asked: “Does all that online commentary accomplish what an ombudsman would accomplish? Can independent media critics, tweeters, bloggers or in-house media writers accomplish much the same thing as ombudsmen formerly did? Some say, ‘We can live without ombudsmen because there’s so much media criticism out there.’ But is that enough? My answer is no. Independent media commentary can amplify and supplement the work that ombudsmen do, but it can’t replace them.”

Stavitsky advised: “Leverage your core mission by engaging the crowd, but not at the expense of your own analysis. Use new tools to assess the state of journalism. Step up your game. Keep fighting the good fight. Your work has never been more important.”

Kirk LaPointe, former ombudsman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the new executive director of ONO, said today’s challenge is “information literacy.” He teaches media ethics at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and observed: “There’s lots of news advocacy. We should help people understand and make sense of all the noise out there. Help everyone be more media literate, not just students.”

[NOTE: LaPointe will be the speaker at a Washington News Council breakfast on June 12 at The Rainier Club. Call 206.262.9793 for more details.]

But many ombudsmen, who work for media outlets that are struggling financially, may be hesitant to alienate their bosses or to offend colleagues they see every day. The position is sometimes called “the loneliest job in the newsroom” – even by ombudsmen themselves.

Margreet Vermeulen, ombudsman at De Volkskraant newspaper in Amsterdam, told the group that there are now only two ombudsmen left in The Netherlands, down from 12 not long ago. “Yes, newspapers are an endangered species and so are news ombudsmen in my country,” she said. “Ombudsmen are not seen as part of the solution.”

Stephen Pritchard, ombudsman of The Observer in London and president of ONO’s board, said: We’ve got to get more ballsy about what we do. How can we redefine ourselves? Traditional media, if it’s going to survive, must be credible. Credibility is an incredibly serious issue for news organizations.” Pritchard advised his fellow ombudsmen to: survey their audience’s views of their role; write about all the cases they handle in a year; go out and talk to the public at schools, colleges, town halls and community centers; use social media, especially Twitter, to publicize what they do; and write better, more entertaining columns. “Don’t be dull!”

Rhonda Shearer, founder of iMediaEthics.org, a national media-critique site, called on ombudsmen to be tougher on their own profession: “Take off the boxing gloves and use bare fists. Start reporting on what goes on inside the newsroom. Name names. This is a messy business. There’s a lot of arm-wrestling that goes on in newsrooms. When we’re writing, there should be more of a window into behind-the-scenes emails, conversations between reporters and editors. Show more of the messiness of the business.”  She added: “Think like a reporter. What would be of interest to the larger public? Do more inside baseball.”

Michael Getler, ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and former ombudsman at The Washington Post, had this advice: “It’s a matter of doing our job more conscientiously, writing fair but tougher columns and not shying away from anything. If you don’t challenge journalists, their standards begin to slip. Reporters may not like it, but they know deep down when they were wrong.” Getler added: “The ombudsman’s role is to remain independent. You need to have somebody in-house who can be critical. Show you can take a punch, and not just give a punch.”

Edward Schumacher-Matos, ombudsman for National Public Radio (NPR), agreed:

“I do think we need to step up our game. It means much more than just being a judge, but engaging the audience more in the new trends that are happening in the newsrooms.” He responds to all complaints online, he said. “And sometimes I don’t even rule. I just toss out questions. I may say, ‘I don’t know; what do you think?’ I’ve tried to get our reporters to engage online with me. We talk about these things in the newsroom. Why don’t we have that discussion online, moderated by the ombudsman?”

Ed Wasserman, dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has proposed “credentialing” by ONO of interested citizens who would be trained in media ethics, and then act as “public ombudsmen” in their communities. Wasserman conceded it would take a lot of work, significant funding, and entrepreneurial leadership. But in the new digital media age, a broader view of ombudsmanship may be needed.

“We’re protecting a practice, not a practitioner,” Wasserman said. “We should come up with a set of principles of ombudsmanship if we’re going to take this on the road.” He noted: “Mistakes stay forever. Errors hurt. Corrections seldom catch up with them. And people don’t believe corrections.” However, he added: “The courts aren’t the best place to resolve complaints….Don’t give up on rigorous standards of verification and fact-checking. There’s no substitute for good journalism that gets it right in the first place.”

David Jordan, editorial policy and standards editor of the BBC in London, added: “We’re all in the business of trust in our institutions, and we’re all in the business of accountability….The links between the expectations of your readership, and the link to accuracy, are strong. An ombudsman contributes to the bottom line by contributing to the trust of readers in the newspaper. If you can’t establish that, you’re in trouble.”

In other parts of the world, some innovative efforts are under way. Among the most interesting is in Argentina, where Cynthia Ottaviano is the new ombudsman for the Argentinian Public Broadcast Authority’s Defensoria del Publico. It was created by the Argentinian Parliament but has no sanctioning capacity. It holds public hearings, hears complaints, does educational forums and reaches out to the unions, schools and others nationwide. Ottaviano told the ONO group:

“Our role is that of servers, as a mediator, as a bridge. Our advocacy is for the public, the readers, the viewers, the listeners. Why do we not incorporate ways to allow the audience to generate a debate on the standards that we defend? Why can’t we have them participate and get involved? Be proactive. Hand out media codes of ethics. Invite the participation of everybody. Then the audience can be the ones to judge the complaints. Without participation, there is no democracy.”

Yavuz Baydar, ombudsman at Sabah in Istanbul, Turkey, was part of a group that visited Egypt recently to discuss media reform in the Middle East. People from Libya and Jordan also attended, and most of the participants were women, Baydar said. In a workshop on media self-regulation, journalists were encouraged to set up media councils, hear complaints from readers, viewers, and listeners, and take criticism from other journalists.

“The pressure for media accountability is high,” in the Middle East, Baydar said. “Only 10% of the stories are accurate. Some form of media self-regulation is needed.”

After three days of meetings and informal discussions, a universal consensus on the role of news ombudsmen was elusive, at best. ONO members all know that the media-accountability game has changed, and are trying to find their most effective role in the new online digital age.

As Kirk LaPointe, the new ONO executive director, put it: “In the past, the public connected through letters and phone calls. Today, there’s a whole lot of connecting going on through comments, media criticism, blogs, and other organizations. If ombudsmen don’t address it, you run the risk of being irrelevant. You should pay attention to other things that play a role in the reputation of your organization. There needs to be new consideration given to what’s being said about the journalistic conduct of every media organization.”

Jeffrey Dvorkin, the outgoing ONO executive director and former ombudsman at NPR, asked: “Are we doing an old job in a new media environment? ONO is really about a discourse. There are more people engaged in that discourse than at any time in the history of the world. There’s lots more media criticism now, but they’re not doing it very well. Ombudsmen have to be more evangelical. We’re doing the right job at the right time. And we’re needed now more than ever.”

In the closing session, Stephen Pritchard added: I can’t remember an ONO conference where we talked so intensely about the job!” Then the meeting was adjourned – with the future of news ombudsmanship still unclear. Needed now more than ever? Perhaps. But to do what, exactly?

NOTE: The Washington News Council will hear a formal complaint against The Seattle Times at a public hearing on June 1 at Town Hall (9 am to noon). Audience members will be invited to vote along with the WNC’s Hearings Board. The hearing will be videotaped and webcast by TVW, and online viewers will be able to vote as well. No news council in the world has ever done this, as far as we know. It’s an experiment in expanding the concept of “outside ombudsmanship” to the public. Join us! Weigh in!

Share

Results of Complaint Hearing, Dr. Richard Wollert v. The Seattle Times

Updated June 4, 2013 with a correction from The Seattle Times and June 16 after public, online voting ended.

The Washington News Council held a public hearing on a formal complaint against The Seattle Times from Dr. Richard Wollert, a Vancouver psychologist on June 1, 2013 at Town Hall Seattle.

The Council’s 10-member Hearings Board, chaired by Karen Seinfeld, former Chief Judge of the Washington State Court of Appeals, split their votes on the questions that were considered at the hearing. One question was not voted on, at Dr. Wollert’s request. Read the press release with vote results, and here are the audience vote results from the day of the hearing.

Remote viewers were invited to watch the recorded coverage from TVW, with this link and to participate by voting online, through June 16.

Here are the summary public vote results from the online ballot, in which 51 people participated, and please also see the public comments submitted along with the online votes.

Crosscut.com published coverage of the hearing in an article, “Independent panel: Seattle Times unfair to psychologist,” on June 3. GeekWire published two articles in advance of the hearing, “News Council to webcast hearing on Seattle Times series, sparking debate over public vote,” on May 31 and “Letter: Seattle Times objects to News Council’s ‘quasi-judicial spectacle’ and online vote,” on June 1. The hearing was also blogged by journalist and forensic psychologist Karen Franklin, PhD in “Newspaper unfairly maligned forensic psychologist, news council holds.”

Finally, Dr. Wollert sent this letter to the WNC expressing his “appreciation for the Washington News Council’s exhaustive and diligent adjudication.”

Former Judge Karen Seinfeld leads the WNC Hearings Board

The complaint concerned a series of stories, “Price of Protection,” that appeared in January, 2012.

All complainant and Seattle Times documentation and exhibits can be downloaded as one PDF file, here. The file includes a Table of Contents linking to references internal and external to the file. David Boardman, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of The Seattle Times, submitted this letter, which was also read aloud during the hearing. Please contact the Washington News Council if you have any difficulties or questions.

David Boardman issued the following correction on June 4th, 2013:

To The Washington News Council and Dr. Richard Wollert:

We at The Seattle Times apologize for any misunderstanding we may have created about Dr. Wollert’s status with Washington State University, Vancouver.  While the university’s director of communications had told us that the title “Research Professor of Psychology” was inaccurate and that WSU had “no personnel paperwork” for Dr. Wollert, the school has since located records indicating that he has an adjunct, non-teaching affiliation. WSU says a more accurate title for Dr. Wollert would include the word “Adjunct,” but they do not believe he was intentionally misleading. Nor were we. We regret the mistake, as does WSU.

Here is the list of Hearings Board members of the Washington News Council. (NOTE: Everett Billingslea, Pedro Celis, Obafemi Idowu, and Martin Neeb were unable to attend. John Hamer recused himself.)

NOTE: Members of the audience were invited to vote along with the WNC’s Hearings Board, either on paper ballots or online. They were also able to vote through June 16 with an online ballot. We requested names, email addresses, and affiliation on ballots to discourage anonymous votes.

Share

Washington News Council To Close Its Seattle Office

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 1, 2013

The Washington News Council, which just began its 15th year of operations and added 15 new members to its Board of Directors (Fact Check: True), announced that it will close its Seattle office on May 1.

The WNC will move lock, stock and beer barrel to London and “reboot” itself as the British News Council (BNC), with oversight of all newspapers, television and digital media in Great Britain.

“The British press are a total mess,” said Prime Minister David Cameron. “We’re confident the Washington News Council, having totally reformed the media in your state, can do the same for us.” Cameron said he was inspired by an April 1 article about the WNC on Crosscut.com.

The British press have faced harsh criticism after phone-hacking and police-bribery scandals involving dozens of journalists there. A government inquiry led to a proposal to create a new National Press Regulator (NPR) to oversee the British media, with power to levy fines on bad or unethical journalists. (Fact Check: True.)

“Our mission here is done,” said John Hamer, President of the WNC. “We have transformed the news media after 15 years.”

He cited several truly extraordinary changes, including:

  • Journalists are always careful to get the facts right, be fair and balanced, and leave their personal opinions out of all stories.
  • Journalists are always transparent, accountable and open, following the WNC’s “TAO of Journalism” pledge.
  • Journalists always double- or triple-check every fact before reporting, especially on Twitter and other social media.
  • News organizations always admit mistakes promptly, run corrections prominently, and humbly apologize for errors.
  • Journalists never do stories mainly aimed at winning Pulitzer Prizes, Emmy Awards or other journalism contests.
  • Citizens here completely trust major news outlets and generously support them with paid ads, subscriptions and/or donations.
  • KIRO7 TV’s “investigative” reporter Chris Halsne, who has been the subject of dozens of complaints to the WNC over the past decade, has left the station. (Fact Check: True.)

Suzie Burke of Fremont, Chair of the WNC Board, said: “We invite everyone to drop by the WNC office in Room #331 above the Pyramid Alehouse for a free beer on May Day from 6-8 pm to help us celebrate.” (Fact Check: True.) “And once our new office opens above London’s Fleet Street Pub, feel free to fly over for another beer…on us!”

CONTACT: John Hamer (jhamer@wanewscouncil.org), Soon-to-Be British News Council’s Chief Hacker-Whacker and Anchor-Spanker.

Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNC HEARINGS BOARD FINAL VOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUDIENCE VOTES ON JUNE 16:

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

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

ONLINE VOTES FROM JUNE 16-30:

1.Yes 2, No 40

2.Yes 40, No 2

3.Yes 43, No 2

4.Yes 43, No 1

5.Yes 3, No 41

6.Yes 35, No 0

7.Yes 4, No 35

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

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

BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

WNC To Hold Hearing on Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW Complaint

***UPDATE*** we now have the hearing video and full set of documents involved with the complaint as a downloadable PDF. We also have national coverage by The Washington Times and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Ombudsman. Plus local coverage in Sound Politics and the Northwest Daily Marker.

The Washington News Council’s Board of Directors has set a date for a hearing on a formal written complaint from the Vitae Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM concerning a story that aired April 13, 2011.

The hearing will be Saturday, March 31, 2012, from 9 am-noon, at the University of Washington’s Communication Department, Room 120. It is open to the public.

You can download a PDF collection here to read the basic complaint and initial correspondence between Vitae and KUOW.

WNC Hearings Board Chair Karen Seinfeld presiding over the Sue Rahr v. Seattle Post-Intelligencer case

Karen Seinfeld, Chair of the WNC Hearings Board and former Chief Judge of the Washington State Court of Appeals, will preside at the hearing. (UPDATE 3/16/12: Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander will be presiding in Judge Seinfeld’s place at the hearing.)

The WNC Hearings Board will be comprised of current and former WNC Board Members, including Martin Neeb, Scott Forslund, Shannon Myers, Bill Gates Sr., Steve Boyer, John Knowlton, Erik Lacitis, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer, Paula Selis, Chris Villiers and Walt Howe.

The WNC recently received two grants from the Gates Foundation and Microsoft for 2012 operating expenses.

To see how a WNC hearing works, here is a link to a video and background information of a 2006 hearing in the Sheriff Sue Rahr vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer complaint, held at Town Hall Seattle.

(The P-I chose not to participate in the hearing, which is their right as media participation is voluntary. They posted a 17-page written response on their website, much of which was read into the record by Judge Seinfeld at the hearing. Had they attended, they would have had full opportunity to “stand by their stories” in public, respond to questions from the Council, and make their case in an open forum.)

The WNC received the Vitae Foundation’s formal written complaint on June 9, 2011, and the Council’s Board of Directors accepted it for our process after careful review. The WNC’s Board unanimously agreed that the complaint raised “serious questions of journalistic performance or ethics,” which is our main criterion for acceptance. The Board takes no position on the merits of a complaint at that stage, however.

We notified both sides that the complaint had been accepted and began a 30-day resolution period, encouraging both Vitae and KUOW to seek a compromise resolution. WNC convened a meeting on July 14, 2011, at the WNC office with Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW and Pia de Solenni, representing the Vitae Foundation. The resolution period was extended for another 30 days, and extended again through the end of the calendar year. Both sides were urged to continue seeking a compromise.

Following WNC’s three-part recommendation of a proposed compromise resolution, Guy Nelson did conduct a brief telephone interview with Debbie Stokes (CORRECTION: An earlier version identified her as “Debbie Nelson.” We regret the error.) of the Vitae Foundation on Sept. 30, 2011, and posted the transcript on the station’s website. However, the station did not acknowledge that the original story was incomplete and misleading, as they had conceded privately. Nor did they do an on-air story, which was part of the proposed compromise. Nelson said they would “seriously consider” doing a follow-up on-air story, which was part of our proposed compromise, but set no timetable.

The WNC tried through 2011 to mediate Vitae’s complaint, hoping that a satisfactory compromise resolution could be reached. WNC Board Members believed that a resolution was possible. However, in January 2012 it became clear that resolution was unlikely. More than six months had passed — far exceeding the WNC’s normal 30-day resolution period — and there had been little progress.

Under the WNC’s Complaint and Hearing Procedures guidelines, if the complainant is not “satisfied with the news outlet’s proposed resolution to the complaint,” a hearing date to air the issues is scheduled. Vitae was not satisfied with KUOW’s response and therefore requested a hearing. The WNC’s Board, after careful deliberation, agreed to set a hearing date.

A hearing is not a trial, but an open discussion of journalistic standards, which is healthy and helpful for both sides — and for the general public. WNC has asked both parties to submit final written statements by March 10 that include “any new information obtained or agreements reached during the process of trying to resolve the complaint.”

WNC’s Complaints Committee will phrase questions for the Council to consider at the hearing, identifying “which actions by the news outlet allegedly violated standards of accuracy, fairness and/or journalistic ethics.” Final wording of the questions will be shared with both parties and made public at least 10 days prior to the hearing.

One resource the WNC may use at the hearing is National Public Radio’s newly revised Ethics Handbook, which was just released last week.

WNC’s guidelines also state: “Parties may continue to try to resolve the complaint prior to a hearing, but if they do not reach a resolution before the day of the hearing, the hearing will proceed.” If the complaint is resolved to both KUOW and Vitae’s satisfaction by March 30, the hearing will be cancelled.

For further information about the complaint or questions about WNC’s process, contact:

John Hamer (206.262.9793)
President and Executive Director
Washington News Council
1201 1st Ave. South, #331
Seattle, WA 98134

8:30 a.m. – Doors open to Room 120, U.W. Communications Building, to public and news media. (Open at 8 a.m. to WNC Hearings Board)

9:00 a.m. – WNC President John Hamer welcomes attendees,
makes brief remarks about WNC complaint & hearing process.

9:05 a.m. – Hearings Board Chair Gerry Alexander calls hearing to order, asks all Board members to introduce themselves

9:10 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:25 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by KUOW

9:40 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:45 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by KUOW

9:50-10:30 a.m. – Questions (40 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board

10:30-10:45 a.m. – Break

10:45-11:30 a.m. – Discussion (45 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board members (questions of Vitae and KUOW only to clarify issues)

11:30 a.m. – Chair Alexander asks if either party wants a brief recess to reconsider positions or eliminate questions. If so, action is taken.

11:35 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

11:37 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by KUOW

11:40 a.m. – WNC Hearings Board votes on written ballots, which are counted by WNC staff. Vote results announced by Chair Alexander.
Hearings Board members confirm their votes by show of hands.

12:00 p.m. – Hearing is adjourned by Chair Alexander.

Share

Students nationwide sign up for TAO of Journalism program

Tao of Journalism signup 2012

The staff of the Eagle's Eye News at Ruskin High School in Kansas City, MO takes the TAO of Journalism Pledge during Scholastic Journalism Week, Wed., Feb. 22. They were one of 20 student groups across the country to take the TAO Pledge last week.

Student journalists from across the U.S. took the TAO of Journalism Pledge during annual Scholastic Journalism Week, Feb. 19-25, promising to be Transparent, Accountable and Open (TAO) in their work as journalists. Student journalism groups are invited to take the TAO Pledge at any time, but Feb. 22 was set aside as National TAO of Journalism Pledge Day.

As the TAO of Journalism enters its third year, the momentum grows as more professional journalists and student journalists take the TAO Pledge and carry the TAO Seal on their work. It is a way to help instill public trust.

“We are trying to hold ourselves more accountable,” said David Gaines, newspaper adviser at Moffat County High School in Craig, CO. “This seems like a great way to make a pledge; let others see that we have made a commitment, and then hold each other to it!”

Congratulations to the following student media groups who have made a public commitment to be Transparent, Accountable and Open (TAO) in their work:

Mane Thing (newspaper)
Arlington HS — Riverside, CA

The Golden Word (newspaper & online)
Cibola HS — Albuquerque, NM

The Spoke (newspaper) & Stoganews.com (online)
Conestoga HS — Berwyn PA

The Image (yearbook), Pirate Press (newspaper) & DPNews (broadcast)
Dos Pueblos HS — Goleta, CA

Tiger Topics N the Red (newspaper)
Fishers HS — Fishers, IN

The Buzz TV
Fort Mill HS — Fort Mill, SC

The Spectacle (newspaper, broadcast, online news, yearbook)
Mesa Vista HS — Ojo Caliente, NM

The Blue Print (newspaper)
Moffat County HS — Craig, CO

OTVX (broadcast)
Oldham County HS — Buckner, KY

Overland Scout (newspaper)
Overland HS — Aurora, CO

Pirate Press (newspaper), ECHO (yearbook), PattonvilleTODAY (Online
News)
Pattonville HS — Maryland Heights, MO

Premier (newspaper)
Premier Learning Academy — La Marque, TX

The Echo (newspaper & online)
St. Louis Park Senior HS — St. Louis Park, MN

The Raven Report (newspaper)
Sequoia HS — Redwood City, CA

The Eagle’s Eye (newspaper)
Ruskin HS — Kansas City, MO

Smoke Signal (newspaper)
Stafford HS — Falmouth, VA

The Oracle (newspaper)
Steinbrenner HS — Lutz, FL

The Hawk (yearbook)
Susquenita HS — Duncannon, PA

The Yell-Kat
Yellville-Summit HS — Yellville AK

By taking the pledge, the student media listed above will be sent the TAO of Journalism Seal to post as a public promise to practice ethical journalism.

Congratulations to all participants!

Kathy Schrier, M.Ed., MJE
Washington Journalism Education Association
and
Washington News Council / TAO of Journalism Project

Share