Seattle’s BOLD plan for a Journalism Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WOO-HOO! We met the Gates Foundation Challenge!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Burbank juggles TBTL podcast with life back on commercial radio

Just when Luke Burbank thought he’d left mainstream radio behind for good, KIRO came calling.

Burbank, known for his The Too Beautiful To Live podcast, signed on last week to join Dave Ross as co-host of KIRO’s mid-morning news and talk program.

While Burbank didn’t plan out his move back to commercial radio, he’s discovering he relishes the opportunity.

“It’s pretty cool having my mom and girlfriend listen to me on the radio each day again,” Burbank said. “I’m enjoying it more than I thought.”

Burbank was first approached by KIRO in September. At the time, he was happily riding the rising popularity of his podcast, which is known to listeners as TBTL. Since KIRO canceled his show by the same name late last year, Burbank had been producing it on his own.

By this fall, TBTL was pulling in an impressive 1.7 million downloads each month. Burbank loved having control of his on-air future, and figured he’d never need to work for commercial radio again.

But KIRO’s station leaders had other plans. About six months ago, Burbank started calling into the Dave Ross show every Tuesday for a chat and update on TBTL. In September, KIRO called Burbank and said they thought the conversations were going so well, would Luke be interested in sitting in with Dave on the show on a trial basis?

Burbank didn’t know if the gig would be permanent, but he decided to give it a whirl. And just last week, he was offered the formal co-host position.

Burbank didn’t take the decision to move back to KIRO lightly. He didn’t want to compromise the rising success of TBTL. And he also didn’t want to put the fate of his career back in the fickle hands of commercial radio.

“I think I’d talked myself into believing there was no benefit to being on commercial radio,” Burbank said. “But that was also probably partly because no one was offering me a job.”

Burbank decided that he would join Ross, but he wouldn’t end TBTL. With advertisers now paying for spots on TBTL, the podcast has become its own self-sustaining enterprise. Burbank didn’t want to give that up.

“TBTL is my baby,” Burbank said.

To keep TBTL running, Burbank brought back Jen Andrews as a producer. She helped Burbank start the show at KIRO, but didn’t stay on once it became a podcast. With TBTL pulling in large audiences and such high profile guests as Adam Carolla, David Sedaris, Ben Gibbard, and Ira Glass, Burbank figures he can afford to pay a producer.

Even with Andrews on board, Burbank’s days are hectic. He’s at KIRO by 7 a.m. to plan the day’s show with Ross, and goes on the air from 9 a.m. to noon. In the afternoon, he records the TBTL podcast, either from KIRO’s studio or from his house. Burbank also juggles voice over gigs and a regular role on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” His many roles means he’s now talking for a full four to six hours a day.

“My schedule is a little crazy right now,” Burbank said.

This marks the first time that Ross has taken on a permanent co-host since he began doing The Dave Ross Show in 1987. Ross said it’s inherently less natural to maintain a monologue alone in a studio, so he welcomes the new addition. Not only is Burbank smart and talented, Ross said, but he’s far younger and brings the perspective of another generation.

“It’s probably tougher on him because I make him explain his obscure cultural references,” Ross said. “I’m working on an iPhone app that can translate them in real time.”

Burbank, for his part, enjoys working with Ross. He finds his co-host “smart, flexible and level headed.” Burbank also commends Ross for not resorting to loud, fake outrage, as so many radio hosts tend to do.

“That kind of personality would be really hard for me,” Burbank said. “I really like Dave.”

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Bill Radke back on Seattle airwaves

When Bill Radke returned to Seattle two weeks ago, he needed to hit the ground running.

Radke stepped into his new job as morning host on KIRO-FM at the height of election season. After six years working for NPR out of Los Angeles, he needed to catch up on Washington politics in a hurry.

He also needed to embrace 2 a.m. wake-ups, four-hour stints on the air, and Seattle-style rain.

“It’s a shock to the system after living in the San Fernando Valley for six years,” Radke said.

Drizzle and all, it’s been a welcome homecoming for Radke. He became a familiar voice for Seattleites during the 1990s, when he hosted NPR’s Morning Edition on KUOW. Radke also was known around town for his stand-up comedy work and humor column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Radke didn’t plan to return to Seattle this year. He enjoyed his gig with NPR’s Marketplace, and his wife felt equally satisfied with her job at a law firm. The couple and their three children were settled in a house in the sunny San Fernando Valley.

But when KIRO on-air talent Luke Burbank called Radke up with a tip that the station wanted a new morning co-host to join Linda Thomas, Radke began to seriously consider the idea. His parents live in Lacey and his seven siblings all still reside in the Seattle-area. Radke envisioned his children growing up around their cousins.

Radke even welcomed the chance to return to Northwest weather. He missed the lush, green landscape. He thought fondly of cozy days indoors, book in hand, with rain pounding down outside.

His wife, however, was a different story.

“I said, ‘I know you don’t like the rain, but what if we give it a shot?’” Radke said. “In the end, she was game.”

Radke also liked the idea of working for KIRO again. He’d listened to the station since high school and interned there at the beginning of his radio career. Radke knew and respected Linda Thomas, and looked forward to getting the chance to team up with her.

“Linda is warm, funny, and knows so much about this area,” Radke said.

Though Thomas has only known Radke for a couple of weeks, she’s gung ho on the partnership so far. She said he’s smart, can be both serious and funny, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“He’s exactly what I would want to listen to on the radio, so it’s going to be so much fun to do the show with him every morning,” Thomas said.

Thomas and Radke don’t plan a major overhaul of the show’s current events content, but the flavor and delivery may shift a bit. Radke wants to spend more time on feature stories, rather than just present the facts in a fast paced manner. Thomas said the team will continue trying to find unique stories someone won’t hear anywhere else.

In the past two weeks, Radke’s life has been a whirlwind of catching up on the Seattle scene and learning his new role. At Marketplace, he was on the air for just seven minutes at a time. At KIRO, he and Thomas control the airwaves for four hours straight.

Radke also must live with constant sleep deprivation. He’s at the studio each day between 2:30 and 3 a.m. He tries to catch a mid-day nap, and then picks up his three-year-old daughter and six-month-old twins. Oftentimes, Radke is in bed for the night before his wife or children.

But Radke is embracing his hectic life. He reasons he’s lucky to re-enter Seattle radio at the height of an exciting political season.

“I’m playing catch-up, but that’s part of the fun in this businss,” Radke said. “I’m always learning.”

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Onward to AOL

Heidi DietrichAfter nearly a year of working as a freelance journalist, blogger, and contract writer, I’m heading back to the world of full-time work.

Starting November 7th, I’ll be working for Patch, AOL’s new, ambitious nation-wide network of local news sites.

Like many of the best opportunities in life, I somewhat stumbled into this one. It took a phone interview with Seattle journalist Mike Lewis to turn me on to the possibility of working for AOL.

I first connected with Lewis earlier this year, when I wrote a Washington News Council blog item about his decision to buy the Streamline Tavern on Lower Queen Anne. The move from Seattle P-I columnist to bar owner wasn’t typical, and I was intrigued by how Lewis felt about the career shift.

During our conversation, Lewis told me about everything he embraced about life behind the bar, and also everything he missed about journalism.

Fast forward several months, and I found myself once again on the phone with Lewis. This time, I wanted to talk to him about his decision to take a job as regional editor for Patch.

As we discussed his reasoning for joining the AOL team, I became more and more intrigued by what the company was doing. AOL, I learned, planned to spend $100 million and hire 1,000 editors to build its nationwide Patch effort. The company was positioning itself to become one of the country’s largest employers of journalists.

In the Seattle area, AOL would be rolling out 24 local news sites. Lewis was brought on to oversee 12 South Seattle Patch local editors, plus a roving editor, sports editor, calendar editor and copy editor for the cluster. A still-to-be-hired second regional editor would oversee the same size team for North Seattle.

I found that I shared many of Lewis’ reasons for being interested in Patch. AOL is investing significant money and effort in the venture. Lewis compared the job so far to working for a fast moving tech start-up, with all the excitement and uncertainty of launching someone new. Lewis and I both agreed that the chance to be part of a massive journalism experiment, in a time when no one knows for sure where the industry is going, was intriguing.

When Lewis asked if I’d have any interest in a local editor job, I told him I did. I liked the fact that local editors were given the autonomy and independence to run their own site, manage their freelance writers, and decide what news content to post every day. I’ve never been an office person and love the freedom of making my own decisions. Patch would give me the chance to take a project and run with it.

While I’d be making a web site my own, I’d also have the perks of working for a big corporation. Weekly team meetings, an editor, a regular paycheck, and benefits. A sense of stability freelance journalism can never provide.

Late last week, while in Boston for the Head of the Charles regatta, I accepted AOL’s offer to become the local editor for the Patch Edmonds site. I chose Edmonds because I already know the community. I grew up in the neighboring city of Shoreline, have friends and relatives in Edmonds, and currently live in North Seattle. I love the passion and loyalty Edmonds residents feel for the waterfront community.

Since Patch remains a new and untested venture, I can’t yet predict what will happen with the sites. But I’m excited to be part of such an ambitious effort, and I’m glad to be part of the early development process.

I plan to continue to blog for the Washington News Council, so long as it doesn’t conflict with my work and coverage area at Patch. I enjoy keeping up on happenings in Seattle’s broader media world, and the WNC blog provides a great outlet for me to do so.

On November 7th, I’ll head down to San Francisco to join all of the west coast Patch team for a conference. I’m looking forward to finding out more about AOL’s plans for Patch, and to meeting all of my future colleagues.

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New online publication The Seattle Lesbian hopes to fill news niche

The creators of Seattle’s first lesbian news site believe the city is long overdue for such a publication.

Last week, Kate West and Sarah Toce launched The Seattle Lesbian. Though Seattle already has more than one gay news outlet (Seattle Gay News and Seattlegayscene.com), West and Toce saw demand for a site aimed just at women.

Toce, The Seattle Lesbian’s editor-in-chief, already wrote for national lesbian publications when she and West started talking about a local site. When Toce contacted publicists about stories, they often asked her why there were no media outlets in Seattle to pitch to.

Toce and West’s lesbian friends, in turn, complained about local gay news sites not devoting enough ink to the lesbian community.

“There was definitely a void,” said West, who acts as executive editor for The Seattle Lesbian.

With The Seattle Lesbian, West and Toce plan to cover Seattle news, politics, celebrity gossip, and local lesbians of note. Toce, who already regularly writes about Hollywood’s gay stars, will continue to cover the beat for The Seattle Lesbian. West wants to feature local gay performers, singers, and writers.

“There’s no press being done on them,” West said.

The pair will also write about politics. This week, for instance, they’re attending rallies and news conferences for Patty Murray. They’ll cover issues and pen columns on topics important to lesbians.

“We want to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice,” Toce said.

Whether The Seattle Lesbian will become financially viable remains to be seen. Right now, West is keeping her other full-time job as a claims analyst for an insurance company. Toce, on the other hand, is devoting her attention entirely to the site. In addition to their own work, they are relying on Toce’s partner for the site’s photography and several local writers for regular columns. They’d like to be able to pay freelancers, but they aren’t there yet.

The two are just beginning to build their advertising base. Since they’ve launched the site last week, several organizations and companies interested in ad spots have contacted them, Toce said. They believe political organizations, such as Equal Rights Washington, and gay-friendly or gay-owned local businesses would be prime candidates for advertisers.

Toce and West say they are also receiving a steady stream of emails from local lesbians who welcome the site’s arrival.

“We’re getting quite a little fan base,” Toce said.

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Mark Matassa on life in the mayor’s office

In the last year, Mark Matassa left journalism behind to steer Mayor Mike McGinn’s communications staff through controversial budget cuts, bike-friendly road policies, and tunnel debates.

And he’s done it all while fighting brain cancer.

Remarkably, Matassa expresses only optimism and gratitude for where he’s at. He’s embracing his hectic life, stress and all.

“I really love working for the mayor,” Matassa said. “I feel lucky to have landed here.”

Matassa didn’t set out to become McGinn’s director of communications. When the mayor’s office reached out to him last December, he’d been working as an editor at online news site Crosscut for only a few months. He’d been a reporter and editor at news outlets up and down the West Coast his entire life, and hadn’t given much thought to leaving journalism.

But out of pure curiosity, Matassa decided to take the invitation for an interview at the mayor’s office anyhow. Upon meeting with McGinn, Matassa instantly took a liking to the man, both for his values and his open, comfortable attitude.

“If Dino Rossi had called looking for a communcations director, I would not have taken the job,” Matassa said. “But I felt a political and personal connection with McGinn.”

Matassa also became intrigued by the idea of witnessing behind-the-scenes operations of city government for the first time. He’d covered politics throughout his journalism career, and wondered about the view from the other side.

Almost a full year later, Matassa isn’t sorry he took the leap away from journalism. For the first time in decades, he feels he can engage in political debate at a party. After years of trying to be objective, he’s happy to say that he feels McGinn’s budget is brilliant, agrees with the mayor’s anti-tunnel stance, and advocates for cycling and mass transit.

“I’ve found it really refreshing to come out and say what I think about stuff,” Matassa said.

Matassa won’t talk politics, however, in his own home. His longtime partner, Michelle Nicolosi, is the executive producer at Seattlepi.com. To counter any potential perceived bias in Seattlepi.com’s coverage of City Hall, Matassa and Nicolosi steer away from business and political discussions. Nicolosi, in turn, won’t work on or edit stories that involve the mayor’s office, and Matassa communicates with other reporters at Seattlepi.com.

While Matassa’s political gig marks a shift from the attempted objectivity of reporting to clear bias, he also finds similarities between City Hall and a newsroom. Both jobs carry equal pressure. In the news business, he hurried to meet deadlines, report stories accurately, and produce copy quickly. At the mayor’s office, his stresses come from managing relationships with various groups and people. Both types of pressure, Matassa has found, suit him well.

“I’m good under stress,” Matassa said. “I find the challenges in journalism and at the mayor’s office incredibly invigorating.”

Day to day, Matassa also finds his role as communications director not so different from being an editor. In both jobs, he spends significant time managing other people and sitting in meetings.

For Matassa, the challenge of adapting to a new career pales in comparison to his larger fight. Since 2006, he’s been battling brain cancer. He’s gone through two surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.

This summer, Matassa took two months off from his duties at the mayor’s office to undergo radiation therapy. He’s been back at the office for four weeks now, but struggles with fatigue. Matassa credits coworkers with filling in for him when needed.

“Everyone at the mayor’s office has been so cool and helpful,” Matassa said. “They’ve all pitched in.”

Even though he’s constantly tired, Matassa embraced his return to work. He loves being part of Seattle’s political scene, and he missed the action while on sick leave.

“I wake up happy,” Matassa said.

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Mike Lewis out from behind the bar, onward to Patch

When I last checked in with former Seattle P-I columnist Mike Lewis, he was spending most of his time pouring drinks and growing business at the Streamline Tavern, the Lower Queen Anne bar he purchased with three partners last year.

Lewis, who lost his job at the P-I when the paper ceased publication as a print news product, admitted to missing journalism. Though he still wrote freelance articles, he longed for the chaos of a newsroom and the excitement of regularly chasing down scoops.

He didn’t have to miss the news biz for long. Lewis recently signed on as Seattle regional editor for Patch, AOL’s new neighborhood news network. He’ll oversee 12 local Patch sites south of Seattle. AOL still needs to hire a second regional editor to run 12 blogs north of the city.

Today, Patch launched the first of its Seattle sites, University Place Patch. The next sites slated for launch in the Seattle area are Bellevue, Mercer Island, Bonney Lake-Sumner, and Lakewood. They will likely go live at the end of October.

Lewis didn’t seek out the Patch position on his own. He only heard about AOL’s ambitious nationwide neighborhood news efforts in July, a full year after AOL acquired the start-up Patch Media and began growing the network. One of Lewis’ former Seattle University journalism students had been speaking to a Patch recruiter about becoming a local editor, and she recommended Lewis for the regional editor position.

When Patch’s hiring team called up Lewis, he wasn’t sure if he wanted the job. But he met Patch’s west coast editorial director, Marcia Parker, at the Seattle Marriott, and after a few hours together he became convinced that AOL was serious about the venture.

Lewis learned AOL planned to spend $50 million to build Patch this year alone, and another $50 million next year. He sensed the company’s enthusiasm for the project and dedication to hiring good people.

“I like the way they are running things,” Lewis said. “AOL is taking a big gamble on this and putting a lot of money into it.”

Lewis hopes his role as regional editor will allow him to do some writing down the road. Right now, he’s working on hiring local editors for the 24 community sites around the region. Patch will also bring on board a roving editor, copy editor, sports editor, and calendar editor for each of the 12-site clusters in the Seattle area.

Patch offered Lewis his choice of north or south Seattle, and he selected south, mainly because he spent more time there reporting when he was at the Seattle P-I. Should the company hire a second regional editor with strong preference for the south end, however, Lewis is also willing to work with the north communities.

AOL has no plans at the moment to start sites for any of the urban Seattle neighborhoods, and Lewis said the city is already saturated with local blogs. Patch can compete in the suburbs, Lewis said. He could see the company eventually starting another 12-site cluster in another populated region of the state, however.

Nationwide, Patch currently has 220 sites in 17 states, with 16 more sites slated to go live this week. By next year, AOL plans to have 1,000 editors, making it one of the largest employers of journalists in the country.

Working for Patch reminds Lewis of being at a fast-moving, well-funded start-up. He’s juggling the time consuming new gig with finishing up several freelance projects and working one night a week at the Streamline.

“I’m running as hard as I can to get everything out,” Lewis said. “But that’s the nature of modern journalism.”

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Small Town Community Newspapers Strive to Thrive

The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association http://wnpa.com held its 123rd annual convention in Wenatchee last week. WNPA members own or work for weekly newspapers and small dailies all over the state. Their first convention was held in Tacoma in 1887!

Running a small-town community newspaper isn’t easy, especially these days when journalism is in such chaotic transition as print moves online. But these folks are survivors: tough, determined, creative – and remarkably optimistic.

Displaying a gritty mix of change and hope, the WNPA named this gathering “Join the Revolution 2010: Mission Possible.” In many cases, these newspapers are doing better than the large urban dailies. They tend to be closer to their readers than big-city media. After all, they see their subscribers every day at the grocery store, in church, and at high-school football games.

About 140 publishers, editors, reporters, photographers, advertising managers, sales representatives, graphic designers, and technology specialists attended. Some of these folks do virtually all of those jobs by themselves, or with tiny staffs – including their spouses.

Copies of all their papers were on display. Anyone who thinks newspapers are dying should have a look at these lively, colorful, innovative publications – and check out their increasingly active websites.

On Friday night, they gave each other dozens of awards in all kinds of categories (For a list of winners, see http://wnpa.com). The hours-long awards banquet was followed by an open-bar hospitality suite, a swimming-pool party, and karaoke. Hey, these are journalists!

Looking over my notes and quotes from the three-day gathering, I decided to give a few awards of my own….

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE AWARD

“Our industry has seen some rocky times….But community papers – daily, weekly or otherwise – are the future of our industry. The trend is there. The ship is turning.”
 Paul Archipley, WNPA President and Publisher, Mukilteo Beacon (http://mukilteobeacon.com/) and Edmonds Beacon (http://edmondsbeacon.com/)

WE’RE TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT AWARD

“We’re not just going to have a print newspaper anymore….The Web is not a huge moneymaker, but it’s not a money loser. We’re building up traffic. Our hits and visits are going up. Our website has only 25-30% of the content that’s in the newspaper, so we’re not giving it away.”
 Patrick Sullivan, Publisher, Port Townsend Leader (http://ptleader.com/)

BUT CAN WE MAKE ANY MONEY AWARD

“How do we pay the bills in that new environment? I hate to use the word ‘monetize,’ it’s a ridiculous word….But how are we going to make this work financially? How are we proceeding in the struggle on how to produce revenue from this electronic delivery? If we don’t do that, we’re in a world of hurt.”
 Bill Will, Executive Director, WNPA (http://wnpa.com/)

LET’S ALL GO MOBILE AWARD

“Mobile is still in a startup phase. We’re just starting to push out the apps….The mobile space is fascinating because there are so many more options. We can really get granular if the customer wants that. A mobile ad can initiate a phone call, an email, or open up a phone showing [the advertiser’s] nearby locations.”
 Seth Long, Director of New Media, Sound Publishing Inc., Kent (http://soundpublishing.com)

CONTENT IS STILL KING AWARD

“Content is power. Anything in your archives is power. When you put up a piece of news, people find that news and make it their own. The more you put up, the more value it has. Some things I don’t put it on our website, because I know our competition is reading our website for their next morning’s paper. They’ll just read it online and put it in their story. How do you save the value for your print edition? You’ve got to buy our paper to get the best stuff.”
 Patrick Sullivan, Publisher, Port Townsend Leader (http://ptleader.com)

FACEBOOK IS A REAL COOL TOOL AWARD

“What can we do to drive and promote engagement? It’s easy to do. All we did was put up a Facebook page. We’re not making any money on Facebook. What we are doing is building a community. We now have more of a network: People are feeding us story information, and commenting on our stories either directly on Facebook or on our comments page. Anything you can do to drive up that level of engagement, so people have a greater sense of ownership over the content and are involved in the content, is good.”
 Jason Cline, Technology Consultant (http://modaira.com) , Sequim Gazette (http://www.sequimgazette.com/)

FACEBOOK FRIENDS HAVE REAL FACES AWARD

“One of the best things that Facebook has done is to make people use their real names. As more people get used to being themselves online, that will improve the quality of comments we get….Every month you see more people using their names thru the Facebook feature….It’s incredibly powerful. Put Facebook friends around your page. I can’t overstate the importance of that. People just click a button saying they like it. People are going there and so are their friends. Your site is alive.”
 Seth Long, Sound Publishing Inc. (http://soundpublishing.com)

FACEBOOK DRIVES OUR WEB TRAFFIC AWARD

“Our Facebook page has 500 fans and 3,100 friends. We get good story ideas. It was a slow start, but now our Website has gone from 21,000 to 35,000 visitors, and that corresponds directly to Facebook.…Our Web traffic is directly related to our Facebook growth and the interaction we have with our community.”
 Roger Harnack, Publisher and Editor, Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle (http://www.omakchronicle.com/)

OLD-FART DINOSAUR AND PROUD OF IT AWARD

“While we’re playing around with these ideas, our current revenue streams are drying up. We’re going to fall into the canyon….People who care about the community, and care about our democracy, are being drowned out by social networking….We’re being asked to consider things that have nothing to do with journalism. I don’t know when I went from being a young upstart to being an old-fart dinosaur. I am not sold on Facebook and Tweets. ‘Mental masturbation,’ I call it. If somebody can explain it to me, please do!”
 Paul Archipley, President, WNPA

IT’S WORKING IN WAITSBURG AWARD

“I’m a journalist by profession, but the business I’m in is communication. There are a million ways to communicate with people. We get them to our website. It shows that you care about them, as potential readers. You care about what they care about….Eventually, advertisers will see the value of going to these sites….The death of newspapers has been greatly exaggerated for decades. You have to reach out and go to people.”
 Imbert Mathee, Publisher, The Waitsburg Times (http://www.waitsburgtimes.com/)

OLD TOOLS STILL WORK IN LYNDEN AWARD

“I can make more money with a special [advertising] section than in two hours talking about Facebook. I’m a businessman….I try to put out the best community newspaper I can. I can’t sell online advertising.”
 Mike Lewis, Publisher, Lynden Tribune (http://lyndentribune.com)

TWEETING LIKE MAD IN ISSAQUAH AWARD

“We use Twitter as a ‘news flash.’ It goes directly to their phones and that brings them to our website….We have 15,000 circulation, and now 1,500 people have signed up to follow us on Twitter. All our City Council and School Board members are signed up. They want news….But today, the news is now! Do you want the news later or now?”
 Debbie Berto, Publisher, Issaquah Press (http://www.issaquahpress.com/)

PUBLISHER WHO DOESN’T READ A PAPER AWARD

“I get a daily paper delivered daily, but I hardly ever read it. I’m turning 40 this year, so I’m in the bridge generation. I get all my news online. The way people are consuming news is so different from the way they did 10-20 years ago….They want to go to the comments, and see what other people think about the news.”
 Chuck Allen, Publisher, Quincy Valley Post-Register (http://qvpr.com/)

GOING MOBILE IN OMAK AWARD

“This [holding up his smartphone] is tomorrow’s newspaper, and we have to treat it that way….Everything you want you’re gonna find on your phone. That’s where we’re going. Our business model of the future should be talking about applications for mobile phones, or maybe getting papers on Kindle and paying for those subscriptions. The Internet’s 30 years old. We’ve moved way beyond it. But newspapers haven’t caught up.”
 Roger Harnack, Publisher and Editor, Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle (http://www.omakchronicle.com/)

PROFIT IS NOT A BAD THING AWARD

“Newspapers have been a profitable enterprise for years. By going online, will that profitable model continue, or will we find that we’re no longer a profit-making business? All this conversation is about communicating with people, instead of ‘Am I gonna make money on this?’….It’s still all about the money. You still have to have dollars to hire people to write the news.”
 Andy McNab, Publisher, Idaho County Free Press, Grangeville
(http://www.idahocountyfreepress.com)

PROSPECT OF HANGING CONCENTRATES THE MIND AWARD

“A lot of us are in the business not to make money, but because we thought we had a calling….Is there a future here for newspapers? There may be, but it may not be a profit future….If we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately.”
 Paul Archipley, WNPA President

Granted, these quotes are just snapshots from many hours of intense discussion, and my “awards” are clearly somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But they help capture the “disruptive innovation” that’s going on in the news industry all over the country these days.

Here’s one more award, to Steve Buttry of TBD.com (http://www.tbd.com/) a new online news source for the Washington, D.C., area that just launched in August. Buttry was the “out-of-town expert” and did three sessions – “Managing Your Changing Workload,” “Multimedia Storytelling” and “Complete Community Connection,” which is his template for managing what some call the new news ecosystem. (For more details, see http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/)

YOU CAN – AND MUST – CHANGE AWARD

“The smaller organizations that are represented here can be more nimble and more innovative….You have the resources to use the tectonic shift that’s taking place as a prod to try new things….What can you do to uphold your standards and matter to your community, and meet your goals of community engagement? Find the people in your community who are passionate about things and see how you can engage with them. Put their blogs on your site, sell ads and share some revenue. You can look at them as competitors or as collaborators….Twitter is the most valuable tool for journalists that I have seen introduced in my career. If you’re plugged into Twitter, then if something happens anywhere, you get news and photos….Social media needs to be part of your newsroom approach. It is connecting with your community.”
– Steve Buttry, Director of Community Engagement, TBD.com (http://www.tbd.com/)

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Tom Skerritt on TheFilmSchool’s growth and new home

With lips sunburned from a recent fly fishing trip in Jackson Hole and a baseball cap on his head, Tom Skerritt looked every bit the unassuming Seattleite sipping tea from his Starbucks mug last week.

And as he began talking and his enthusiasm grew, it was not to promote his own movie star projects, but to share the latest progress made by TheFilmSchool.

“TheFilmSchool has had a really great year,” Skerritt said.

I met Skerritt at the Madison Park Starbucks to catch up on

TheFilmSchool, the screenwriting program Skerritt helped found six years ago. I’ve kept in touch with Skerritt since attending TheFilmSchool several years ago to learn about script writing, and I’m always eager to hear about the school’s progress.

By Skerrit’s account, TheFilmSchool has never been stronger. Applicant numbers have been rising each year, and the school now has 350 graduates. TheFilmSchool will for the first time offer three separate three-week intensive sessions this year, up from two in years past. In addition, this summer marked the inaugural Prodigy Camp, a week-long summer program on Whidbey Island for teens.

Each of the adult sessions attracted 20 to 30 students, and Prodigy Camp hosted 15 kids. TheFilmSchool drew applicants from around the world, including Australia, Estonia, and the United Kingdom. Students receive instruction from Skerritt and fellow school founders Warren Etheredge, John Jacobsen, Rick Stevenson, and Stewart Stern.

TheFilmSchool is also gearing up for next year’s move into its own space. The school teamed up with the Seattle International Film Festival to lobby for city matching funds to renovate the Seattle Center’s Alki Room.

Construction will begin in October and wrap up next July. SIFF and TheFilmSchool will share office and classroom space and a film screening theater. Right now, SIFF has offices in South Lake Union and TheFilmSchool uses rooms in the Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms and Center House.

Skerritt believes TheFilmSchool’s new shared space and partnership with SIFF will strengthen the local film community. SIFF’s mission to showcase quality films fits right with TheFilmSchool’s aims, Skerritt said.

“We can work together to legitimize the Seattle film community,” Skerritt said.

Skerritt and the school’s other founders started TheFilmSchool because they wanted to teach students how to become better story tellers, and produce the kind of scripts worth turning into films. At the time, Hollywood was bypassing Seattle as a filming venue for cheaper locations in Canada. If Seattle couldn’t attract movie projects, Skerritt and the rest of the team figured, the city needed to create its own.

Skerritt continues to make TheFilmSchool his priority, even though his life is hectic. He also juggles continued onscreen roles and his own screenwriting projects. Right now, Skerritt is trying to find funding to turn one of his screenplays into a feature film. The story surrounds a wounded World War II veteran passing on life knowledge to a young man.

In addition, Skerritt spends much of his time being a father to three-year-old Emiko. Skerritt, who also has grown children from his first marriage, adopted Emiko with his wife, Julie. Their quiet family life suits Skerritt well.

“I never thought I’d do fatherhood again, but here I am, and I absolutely love it,” Skerritt said.

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