Remarks from my “refirement” party

John Hamer gives remarks at his "refirement" photo by Brian Glanz

John Hamer gives remarks at his "refirement"

Thank you ALL for coming. I really appreciate your being here to help me celebrate my “refirement” as I’m calling it. And I truly mean that. It has been a GREAT 15-year run, but I’m excited about this transition to a new stage of my life. A lot of you have asked me what I plan to do next. Well, I have a long “to do” list that includes spending more time with my first grandchild in L.A., and we have another one on the way. I also plan to do more volunteering, more mentoring or tutoring, more writing, maybe some teaching – and of course more hiking, biking, kayaking, reading, drinking and napping! Especially napping.

But I’m not retiring completely. One project may be to archive the history of the WA News Council, as many of you have suggested. We’d like to preserve our legacy somehow. Suzie Burke, our current WNC Board Chair, has graciously offered space for an exhibit at History House in Fremont, so the News Council will be immortalized not far from the Lenin Statue, the J.P. Patches Statue, and the Fremont Troll – which somehow seems very appropriate. Suzie said there’s only one condition: I have to ride as a Naked Bicyclist in the Fremont Solstice Parade in June. I’m sending Mike Egan in my place, since he’s already done that, as the picture of Mike at Suzie’s Gridiron Roast shows. We also got a lot of nice comments when we announced our closing, and if you’d like to add YOUR comments (Pro or Con!), please do so tonight. There’s a bulletin board at the side of the room.

David Horsey congratulates John Hamer and the WNC, alongside other good wishes. photo by Brian Glanz

David Horsey congratulates John Hamer and the WNC, alongside other good wishes.

When we started the News Council back in 1998, many people predicted we wouldn’t survive — including some of our original Founders and Board Members! A lot of other people HOPED we wouldn’t survive, including most journalists in this state, especially some of my oldest friends and colleagues in the newsrooms around town. Right, David Horsey? There’s an old saying: “Never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel.” Well, we picked a fight with those who not only bought ink by the barrel, but airtime by the year and pixels by the billions! But as the years went by, even some of my old journalist friends grudgingly accepted us – especially as long as they didn’t have complaints filed against them! The media didn’t always like our complaint and hearing process — but the public loved it! We helped a lot of people who were damaged by media malpractice and had nowhere else to turn. We helped them get their reputations back, in public.

It hasn’t been easy. We’re not a nonprofit that houses the homeless, feeds the hungry, cures the sick, cleans the environment, supports the arts or saves the animals. We’ve just tried to keep the news media accurate, fair, honest and ethical – which I believe affects all sectors of our society. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t firmly believe that the news media are the lifeblood of our democracy, and it’s absolutely vital that we have high-quality news and information to make decisions. Today there’s a valid concern about whether we’re getting that – especially since everyone is a journalist today, or at least they think they are. We are all deluged 24/7 with news, blogs, opinion, rumors, videos, photos, from all over the world. I call it a “cyber-tsunami” and we’re in danger of drowning in it. But who can be trusted to be accurate, fair and ethical? These days, you just have to make up your own minds. That’s one reason the WNC is closing: A little citizens’ group like ours is really challenged to keep up. But we tried, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished over 15 years.

Bill Gates Sr., enjoying remarks during Hamer's retirement. photo by Brian Glanz

Bill Gates Sr., during Hamer's remarks.

WNC wouldn’t have survived without the help of everyone in this room, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. My hat is off to you! You gave your time, your talent, and your treasure to help us. Some of you had more time, some more talent, and some more treasure. But you all helped, even if just with your moral support.

One person I want to single out tonight is Bill Gates Sr. The WNC literally would not be here without Bill. Patsy Bullit Collins, may she RIP, was on our Founding Board. She told Bill about the WNC and urged him to join our first Working Board. I’ll never forget the day when my fax machine started clicking and an application came with Bill’s name on it. I thought: Nah, this is a joke from one of my friends. But we had a section that asked: What experience do you have that would be helpful to the News Council? And Bill wrote: “A lot of experience.” Period. I thought, Wow, maybe it really is him!

So I called the number on the application and left a message, and Bill called back and said, Yes, he wanted to join our Board. And I said, we’ll have to think about that and we’ll put him on the waiting list…NO, I said he was on Board! He said he was pretty busy running what was then the William H. Gates Foundation, so he might not make it to all our meetings. Well, he almost never missed a meeting in all the years he was on the Board. He did miss one when he said he had to fly to London. I asked what was going on in London. He said his son was being knighted by the Queen. I said, now THAT’S a pretty lame excuse! But Bill’s help was truly extraordinary — financial, intellectual and ethical. I learned so much from you, Bill – about the simple things that are so important in life no matter what we do: Saying thank-you to those who help you, returning phone calls and emails expeditiously (which you always do), being persistent in the face of obstacles. For those who don’t know Bill’s little book, “Showing Up for Life,” I can’t recommend it highly enough. Lots of wisdom here. It’s a great read.

Some say that 80% of life is just showing up, and the other 20% is knowing when to move on. Well, I’m moving on after tonight, and I want to thank some others who have been especially helpful. There is another person without whom the WNC wouldn’t exist, and that’s Kathy Schrier, my half-time Executive Assistant. Kathy came on board almost 10 years ago and she really kept the place running, plus she had the patience to put up with me and all my crazy ideas. Kathy, you’ve been fabulous. And I genuinely can’t thank you enough.

During a loud round of applause for Kathy Schrier. photo by Brian Glanz

During a loud round of applause for Kathy Schrier.

Even after we close the doors of our office upstairs, Kathy and I will continue to maintain the TAO of Journalism Website and promote the TAO concept nationwide and worldwide. These TAO of Journalism “TAOttoos” as we call them were Kathy’s idea, and I want ALL of you to put one on tonight. They last about a week or so, or will come off with soap and water. We have people all over the world who have taken the TAO Pledge and display the seal in print or online, including hundreds of high-school journalists all over the U.S. We have bloggers in India, website sin Australia, and the B-Town Blog in Burien. Our goal is to keep nudging it out there as a way to help anyone doing journalism to gain credibility and earn trust. If journalism is going to matter, it must be trusted – and if it is to be trusted, it must be Transparent about who they are, Accountable if they make mistakes and Open to other points of view. That’s a pretty low bar! It should be a no-brainer. So we’ll keep the TAO going as long as we can. Any proceeds from our WNC Estate/Office/Garage Sale items in the back table will go to TAO website maintenance, mailings of TAOttoos and TAO nylon flyers. So buy something or throw a little money in the pot to help us. Just TAO it!

Now I want to call out a few more people who have helped us. My current Board Chair, Suzie Burke, who has been absolutely vital to our success. And as one of the savviest business people in Seattle, plus one of the most generous philanthropists I know, she kept me focused on the bottom line. My other Board officers, Vice President Heidi Kelly (who was on our original organizing committee in 1998) and Treasurer Tom Ranken. You have been a great team.

John Hamer and current Board Chair, Suzie Burke enjoy Mike Egan's remarks. photo by Brian Glanz

John Hamer and current Board Chair, Suzie Burke enjoy Emcee Mike Egan's remarks.

My past Board Presidents: Stephen Silha, David Schaefer and Cyrus Krohn. Can’t thank you all enough. All those who are on the Board or are Board Members Emeritus, raise your hands. Steve Boyer, whose idea it was to start a News Council in this state. Steve, I blame you for my so-called career. Steve was on our original Organizing Committee, along with my wife, Mariana Parks, Bill Baldwin, Chuck Nordhoff, Heidi Kelly, Joel Horn and Sandy Schoolfield. Thank you all!

I want to thank those who came to us with Complaints: Dr. Richard Wollert and Sheriff John Urquhart. Any others here? Leschi School? Vitae Foundation? Beef and Dairy Commissions? It took courage for you to stand up to the news media that damaged you with inaccurate stories. Thank you. I hope we helped you get your reputations back in public. Our process wasn’t perfect, but it sure beat a letter to the editor and was lots cheaper and faster than a libel suit.

Raise your hand if you donated to the WNC over the past 15 years, whether it was $50 or $100 a year, or as a member of our “100 Friends of the WNC” at the $1,000 level (Herb Bridge, Tom Hayward, Suzie Burke, Karen Seinfeld, others?). If you’re looking for other ways to help improve journalism, Stephen Silha and Peggy Holman are running a group called Journalism That Matters, which I’ve been involved with over the years. Our TAO of Journalism actually started at JTM meeting in Washington, D.C., several years ago. Talk to Stephen and Peggy to learn more about how JTM will help carry on some of the work of the News Council in a larger arena. They’re doing good stuff nationwide.

All of our young WNC interns and scholarship winners over the years, raise your hands. You were a great group, and we were glad to help you – we always paid minimum wage! – and many of you got our $1,000 or $2,000 Dick Larsen or Herb Robinson Scholarships. We gave 30 of them over 15 years, and many of our interns and winners have gotten great jobs in journalism or politics – or both, there is some overlap there!

Part of the crowded room during Hamer's remarks. At right, his wife, Mariana Parks. photo by Brian Glanz

Part of the crowded room during Hamer's remarks. At right, his wife, Mariana Parks.

Our Gridiron West Dinners was one of the most fun events in Seattle every year, and several of you helped with that: Monica Tracey, our event planner; Jim Anderson of Cabaret Productions; Kevin Joyce of EnJoy Productions. All who sponsored tables at our annual Gridiron West Dinners to help “roast and toast” various people. There’s a PHOTO BOARD on the side table with some of the highlights of our 15 Gridiron West Dinners, so check it out.

And finally, our Emcee, Mike Egan, who I’m now going to give the mic so he can give you a little photo slideshow, followed by the “Open Mic Roast” which I know is why some of you came. If you want to say a few words about me, get your name on Mike’s list and he’ll call you in order. But you need to follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics in your remarks: Seek the Truth and Report It; Minimize Harm; Act Independently; and Be Accountable. If you violate that code, I will GONG you off the stage. So get your facts right! I know I can trust you, just like we can all trust the media, right? Hah!

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Washington News Council Becomes World News Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 1, 2014

Operating worldwide from Washington State

The Washington News Council, after 15 years of extraordinary success in holding the news media in this state publicly accountable for accuracy and ethics, is now going global.

On April 1, the WNC will become the World News Council (WNC), with oversight of all newspapers, magazines, television, radio, newsletters, websites, blogs and other digital news and information sources worldwide, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and all other social media.

“Everyone in the world is a ‘journalist’ now – or at least they think they are. So everyone can – and should – be a media watchdog,” said John Hamer, who is retiring April 15 as Executive Director of the Seattle-based WNC (Fact Check: True). “It’s time for concerned citizens to weigh in all around the globe to reform their media.”

Anyone who wants to may join the World News Council and begin holding the news media in their nation, city, town, village or neighborhood publicly accountable. “The media won’t oversee themselves, so the public has to do it,” Hamer said. “Someone should.”

Hamer concluded: “To help us celebrate this historic transformation, we invite you to drop by our office in Room #331 above the Pyramid Alehouse for a free beer on May Day (May 1) from 6-8 pm. You will also be able to meet the new Executive Director of the Washington News Council.” (Fact Check: True).

CONTACT: John Hamer (jhamer@wanewscouncil.org) 206-262-9793

WEBSITES: http://wanewscouncil.org & http://taoofjournalism.org

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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.

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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.

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Our Advice for Britain’s new National Press Regulator

In the wake of recent scandals, Britain’s politicians want to regulate the country’s naughty media. Our own Washington News Council might make a better model.

England may soon have its own NPR: the “National Press Regulator.” Sound scary? It is.

The Economist calls it a “rotten deal,” arguing that the British NPR would be “set up by a royal charter, underpinned by statute, and monitored by a new recognising body, whose first set of members will be appointed by yet another committee, itself partly government-appointed …[N]ewspapers that fail to sign up will be subject to harsh exemplary damages.”

Can you imagine the outrage if anyone proposed that in the United States?

Read the rest of this piece from April, 2013, at Crosscut.com.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Journalism Needs More Ombudsmen AND News Councils

Craig Silverman gives keynote speech to #ONO2011 meeting in Montreal. John Hamer of WNC (bald spot on left) listens along with Michael Getler, ombudsman of PBS (bald head on right).

“It’s really important that we have accountability mechanisms in journalism. When it comes to our own accountability, most news organizations are doing a pretty poor job, to be blunt.”

Craig Silverman, in keynote speech to Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO) annual convention, Montreal

Craig Silverman, a regular columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and The Toronto Star, is also author of “Regret the Error – How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech.” 

In his talk to the world’s ombudsmen last week, Silverman cited several studies which found that 40 to 60 percent of news stories contained some kind of error! A comprehensive survey of U.S. newspapers found the highest error rate on record.
“We’ve been telling people for literally hundreds of years that when we make a mistake we correct it,” Silverman said. But the U.S. study found a correction rate of only about 2 percent.

“That is pretty outrageous,” Silverman said. “If we’re only correcting 2 percent of errors, we’re not meeting our own standards. It represents a serious failure on the part of news organizations.”

“Reporters will be inclined to not want to run a correction, because they’ve been trained that that’s a bad thing,” Silverman said. “They need to change that attitude.” He’s right on both counts.

What’s more, errors are “now forever,” because they are cached online, and spread worldwide by Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., Silverman noted. Dealing with complaints about errors is one of the jobs of news ombudsmen – and also of news or press councils.

I joined the Organization of News Ombudsmen as an associate member last year, partly because I love the acronym – ONO! – but also because the Washington News Council is a kind of “outside ombudsman” for news media in this state.

Unfortunately, there are no full-time ombudsmen at any news organizations in our state anymore. That’s too bad. Over the years when I was at The Seattle Times, they had four different ombudsmen. A couple of them were pretty good. I edited their columns, which ran on the editorial pages.

Ombudsmen hear and respond to complaints from readers, viewers or listeners about news stories that are arguably inaccurate, unfair, imbalanced and/or unethical. That’s also what news or press councils do – and what we have done for the past 13 years.

Some say ombudsmen – since they are employed by the news outlets, have offices in or near the newsrooms, and generally know the editors, reporters, and producers – can deal with complaints more effectively. Of course, since their salaries are paid by those they are hired to critique, some also may question their level of independence. But most try to be fair, thorough and constructively critical. Many do criticize their own newspapers, broadcast stations, and/or websites strongly – and they’re often not too popular in newsrooms.

Also, the number of ombudsmen around the world has declined over the years – especially in the United States. ONO now has about 60 members worldwide, with only 20 in the U.S. Many media organizations say they simply can’t afford the position anymore, when they don’t even have enough reporters to cover their local communities.

Ombudsmen’s jobs have been eliminated at many American newspapers in recent decades – including at The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At the same time, some of the best American newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today – have created or enhanced the position, although some are called “public editors” or “reader representatives.” There are also experienced ombudsmen at most major broadcast news outlets worldwide. In this country, only PBS, NPR and now ESPN have ombudsmen.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, former NPR ombudsman who now is executive director of ONO, told his colleagues in Montreal: “The ombudsman’s job is like being on the front lines of the First Amendment…We’re in between the public and the editors. We point out the warts and flaws. The [news] organization doesn’t want to hear it. We’re speaking truth to power.”

Jacob Mollerup, the current president of ONO whose title is “Listeners and Viewers Editor” at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation in Copenhagen, wryly described the job as “a lonely hell.”

He was only half joking. ONO members often say they have “the loneliest job in the newsroom.” Most journalists don’t like to hear complaints about their work and are reluctant to make corrections or explain their performance in public – which is what they always demand of those they cover. Double standard? Unquestionably.

The annual ONO conference is an opportunity for attendees to come together, swap stories, compare tactics, and commiserate with others who are in the same boat. Three days of panels, speakers and “shop talk” – with a few dinners and receptions thrown in – clearly have a therapeutic effect.

A draft business plan, sent out in advance and discussed on the final day of the gathering, notes that ONO’s first goal should be as a “meeting place and discussion forum.” The Montreal conference, for the first time, was simultaneously translated into English, French and Spanish, which was a great help to all.

Another goal is outreach – promoting ombudsmanship in cooperation with partners around the world. That includes to “be a serious partner in media projects where different organizations join forces in order to promote media accountability.”

A third is to expand the organization: “ONO should welcome members of independent press councils as associates.” I was invited to speak on a panel at their convention last year at Oxford University on how ombudsmen and press councils can work more closely together. And Mollerup recently attended the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE) conference.

A final goal is to keep an open mind for new projects and ways of promoting media accountability – including in cyberspace. That’s precisely what the WNC has been doing for the last few years, and I shared some of our ideas with ONO members:

  1. Report an Error. Silverman and Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs have developed a new online “Report an Error” system now being used by about 100 news sites and blogs. The WNC has been working with them and we now have the “Report an Error” widget on this site. We invite readers to report errors in Pacific Northwest media as we test this intriguing new system.
  2. NewsTrust.net. We also invite them to nominate and review state and regional stories on our NewsTrust.net widget. You must register to become a reviewer and it’s a great tool, especially to praise high-quality stories.
  3. Online community.  People may join our online community and begin participating in discussions of various topics. Our groups have grown steadily.
  4. Online Media Guide. We’re also developing a new Online Media Guide (OMG) for Washington news and information sources, which will be a valuable resource for journalists, public-affairs professionals, politicians, academics, etc.

One of the most interesting speakers in Montreal was Guy Amyot, executive secretary of the Press Council of Quebec. His council, unlike some others in Canada and elsewhere, hears complaints about print, broadcast and online news media, not just newspapers.

“It is the liberty of the press to be independent from any power structure, but because of this freedom they have to be accountable,” Amyot said. “The media are not obliged to name ombudsmen and are also not obliged to join press councils.” But, he strongly suggested, they should do both. He’s absolutely right.

In order to maintain public trust and credibility, all those practicing journalism need to be more transparent, accountable and open. Ombudsmen and news councils can clearly help – if more journalists would only listen.

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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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