Finding “a flamingo in the barnyard”

Flamingo in the Barnyard

Photo by Pedresz on Flickr --

Chris Stein of The Pacific Northwest Inlander gave The News Council a little coverage in an article about Spokane Police ombudsman Tim Burns. The article says:

When police ombudsman Tim Burns laid out his ideas for reforming the police department to a Spokane City Council committee last month, he also had a few choice words for the city’s reporters.

“During the past two years, the ombudsman has heard complaints from law enforcement and the community that the media is inaccurate in their reporting and unfair in their portrayal of the situation,” Burns wrote. He pointed to The Inlander’s Injustice Project, a series of articles on inequities in the criminal justice system, published in 2010. He added that he’s heard complaints about the Spokesman-Review’s coverage but wasn’t able to point to any specific examples.

The solution to these situations, Burns says, could be a watchdog for the city’s major media outlets.

Sounds like a good idea. Or, as Stein suggests, “Burns may have to look no further than the Washington News Council for the kind of oversight he says is needed.” Our President and Executive Director John Hamer agrees, and is quoted in the article saying:

“Every news organization I know needs outside comment, criticism and feedback,” Hamer says. “We are the best bet, and if people have concerns about the media’s coverage over in Spokane, they can come to us.”

See what KHQ Executive News Director Neal Boling and KXLY’s news director Jerry Post have to say about the idea in The Inlander’s original story.

Also take a look at the comments to hear more from Hamer, as well as an appearance from former US Congressman George Nethercutt who calls The Washington News Council

“A flamingo in the barnyard of irresponsible and uncontrolled journalism.”


On your marks, get set…INNOVATE!


Anybody paying attention to the world of journalism innovation knows about the Knight News Challenge, which just passed its 2011 application deadline. Each year brings a flurry of amazing talent, as hundreds of cash starved brainiacs try to pitch the next big idea for the new media revolution.

The Challenge is in its fifth year of pushing the motto “You Invent it, We Fund It” and is throwing down up to $5 million for ideas that fall into the four categories: Mobile, Authenticity, Sustainability, and Community.

Applicants get to choose whether to make their submission public or private, with 683 people brave enough to put theirs out in the open for all to see, including us. Many of them piqued my interest, but here’s the three that I am especially rooting for.

1. Muckrock – A Centralized Freedom of Information Publishing Tool.

Creator Michael Morisy describes this as a “legal wikileaks” using the Freedom of Information laws, where anyone can request, track, and publish government documents or data sets. The site is already up and seems to be doing well, seeing that Morisy has already found himself in a bit of trouble with the authorities in Massachusetts. I am a big fan of better transparency in government and like the idea of democratizing the process, especially by leveraging legal rights that are already in place. With all the Wikileaks drama unfolding, it’s important we prop up a politically acceptable alternative that can’t be shut down or deemed a terrorist organization. My biggest concern is the potential for abuse from those who want to bog down government, which Morisy should address. Unfortunately there isn’t an “FAQ” or even an “about” section on the site, which is a major setback for those who want to learn more and put this tool to use.

2. Metafact – An Open Source Machine Readable Fact Checking System.

This is an idea that has been stirring around in my own head for quite some time, and I’m thrilled that Mother Jones is doing work to materialize it. This one is a hefty technical spoonful to swallow, but in theory it is a valuable idea. The goal is to streamline the fact checking process by allowing journalists to mark up their stories to associate statements of fact with sources that back them up. Users can then have easier access to source material, and better yet, annotate the article themselves with their own supporting or contradictory sources. I am a strong believer that we need a better managed system for annotating and fact checking news material, so we can move beyond the politics of “he said, she said” and start debating policy solutions based on known truths.

It’s interesting to compare Metafact’s proposal with that of Truthsquad, which was submitted by NewsTrust. While both proposals offer great potential value, I see Metafact as a better option because it is seeking to create a standardized technology that can be adopted by platforms like Truthsquad to help them do their work more efficiently. Of course, the pursuit of technological standards can be a bitter fight, and I would hate to see this idea flop because it is too difficult to universally adopt. If they get funding, they will be developing it to work with Drupal, which is still widely used, but seems to be falling behind WordPress, so they would have to build something that works with both content management systems.

3. “Crowdsourced Budget Transparency Platform Trial for Seattle and Washington State

Clearly this is a working title, but the idea would be a great experiment. I am a bit biased because it would be launched here in Seattle, and to my surprise, it was the only public submission that came from Washington State besides ours. This one was submitted by Jeff Reifman, who runs a Facebook application service called NewsCloud that has been recently supported by the Knight Foundation. NewsCloud worked with Knight and the Boston Globe to build the Your Boston Facebook application which recently made a beta launch.

Reifman hopes to expand upon NewsCloud to create a platform that allows citizens to “use social media to assess city and state budgets, show affinity for programs they care about, highlight wasteful spending, identify fraud and create more transparency and citizen involvement in general.” I share the reasoning for his proposal as government budgets seem to grow more and more hideous, and many of us complain, though few of us truly understand them. It would be extremely useful to have a way to break it down and crowdsource the pieces that matter most so that we have a better idea of where our tax dollars are going. Part of his goal is to not only shed light on wastefulness, but to highlight usefulness.

As a supporter of the open web, I have serious concerns about moving this process to Facebook, as they already own so much of our lives.  Of course I understand that so many people use it, and it makes it is easy for everyone to participate, so I sympathize on that regard. Either way, I hope we get a chance to test it out and maybe resolve some of the bickering, or in the very least, have it become more informed.

(note: see Reifman’s comment below for clarification that they do not plan to build a Facebook app, but rather use Facebook Connect to access their own web app.)

4. Bonus Runner up! Emancipay

This idea was proposed by Doc Searls at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. This is a big can of worms to open, but basically they are trying to experiment with a new system to fund journalism and build a better relationship between news providers and consumers. If they can pull it off we will all be extremely grateful.

Here’s a complete list of all the previous winners, some that I’m keeping a close eye on are (community funded stories), Media Bugs (a tool to report and track news inaccuracies), and Document Cloud (an online repository for reporters to share source documents).

It’s been very refreshing to see all the elbow grease that people have contributed to this contest. Best of luck to everyone, and be sure to vote and comment on our Online Media Guide submission.


Seattle developers release new open source tool to combat ballot fatigue

Image licensed under Creative Commons obtained on flickr

A recent poll says that WA residents may be experiencing initiative overload. Here are two tools you can use to make better sense of your ballot, considering we have near record number of initiatives printed on it this year.

The first is a new website unveiled this week at Seattle City Club’s recent lunch event. It’s called the Living Voters Guide, and it’s funded by the National Science Foundation. Not only is the idea really cool with an easy to understand layout, it is also a multi-pronged tool that can be used to serve numerous roles.

1. To help educate voters on ballot initiatives, including Pros/Cons (you can fill in and share your own!), as well as your stance compared to others.

2. To grab valuable data on the initiative process itself.

The team behind the Living Voters Guide includes researchers at the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement at the University of Washington. I can’t say for certain what they will do with all this great data they are collecting (not just people’s opinions, but how long they spend forming those opinions) but I’m sure it can potentially reveal some key insights on how functional and democratic the initiative process is, (or perhaps isn’t).

3. To influence voters who would otherwise be undecided, and possibly recruit voters who would otherwise skip the initiative, feeling like they don’t know enough to make an informed decision.

I am also giving bonus thumbs up because The Living Voter Guide is built on an open source platform. Something new called ConsiderIt that apparently enables the creation of crowd interactive pro/con lists.

On top of that, a bonus bonus toes up because they have an easy to understand Privacy and Data collection policy that anonymizes the users IP address and Geolocation (through one way hash tag encryption), thus allowing people to contribute their opinions without worrying about retaliation for saying something controversial.


A second website to try is called BallotPedia.

It’s built with the same exact technology as the ever lovable Wikipedia, and functions just about the same.
Definitely worth an exploration.

Let us know about your experiences with these tools in the comments or over at our Community. I’m anxious to see how they are being adopted.