The 2011 Gridiron West Dinner is coming!

We’re pleased to announce the details of our 13th Annual Gridiron West Dinner

A “roast/toast” to the one and only DALE CHIHULY

The Gridiron Dinner is our signature fundraising event, which allows all our vital programs to continue, and is seriously a romping good time.

Last year we had the mayors in stitches, and this year we’ll be shattering a little glass, so come join us!

THURSDAY, DEC. 15, 2011
FREMONT STUDIOS, 155 North 35th Street, Seattle

RECEPTION: 5:30 p.m.
DINNER & ENTERTAINMENT: 6:30-9:30 p.m.
VIP CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATE AFTER PARTY: 9:30 to ???

In the Gridiron West Dinner tradition, the evening will feature songs, comedy, video, photos and “toasts/roasts” of our honoree, Dale Chihuly.

Master of Ceremonies: Mike Egan
Musical Tribute: The Nowhere Men
Plus a Host of Celebrity Toasters/Roasters including Sally Bagshaw, Jim Bianco, Jeff & Susan Brotman, John Buchanan, Leslie Chihuly, Mimi Gardner Gates, Allen Shoup, & Tom Skerritt

Festive Attire: Chihuly Colors Encouraged!

This event will sell out, so reserve your tickets and tables now!

PAST GRIDIRON WEST DINNER HONOREES:

2010 – Greg Nickels, Norm Rice, Charles Royer, Paul Schell, Wes Uhlman (see the review from Seattle Met)
2009 – Suzie Burke
2008 – Kemper Freeman Jr.
2007 – Bill & Jill Ruckelshaus
2006 – Tom Foley & Slade Gorton
2005 – Bill Gates Sr. & Mimi Gardner Gates
2004 – Jennifer Dunn & Gary Locke
2003 – Jim Ellis & John Ellis
2002 – Dan Evans, Booth Gardner, Mike Lowry, Al Rosellini, John Spellman
2001 – Jean Enersen, Kathi Goertzen, Susan Hutchison
2000 – Emmett Watson
1999 – Adele Ferguson, Dick Larsen, Mike Layton, Shelby Scates

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American Journalism Review reviews WNC, so WNC reviews AJR

When I got a phone call from a reporter for American Journalism Review (AJR) saying he was doing a story about news councils, I was both happy and wary. Happy because we don’t get much national coverage, especially from a prestigious publication like AJR. Wary because the reporter said he was a young editorial assistant at the magazine and had never even heard of news councils before his editor asked him to write about them.

But hey, I was a young reporter once and often did stories on subjects I was clueless about, so I gladly consented to an interview. I wanted to make sure he got the story right. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with him explaining how we operated, giving him background information, and referring him to other possible sources.

The story was just posted on AJR’s website. Overall, it’s not bad. Well-written, accurate and reasonably balanced, with several different perspectives and lively quotes. To his credit, the reporter called me back twice to double-check facts and run my quotes by me to make sure that’s what I said. Not enough reporters do that, so kudos to AJR.

The story focuses on the demise of the Minnesota News Council, which closed its doors in January after a 40-year run. The MNC was the model for the Washington News Council when we started in 1998. We essentially adopted their guidelines and procedures, as AJR correctly notes.

The story — also correctly — points out that we are the only surviving news council in this country that still hears formal complaints against the news media.  It states — correctly — that the WNC and the MNC, with funding from the Knight Foundation, held a national contest to start two more news councils in 2005 and awarded start-up grants to groups in New England and California. It notes — correctly — that the New England News Council changed its name to New England News Forum, and decided not to hear public complaints against media outlets, but just to host discussions about news-coverage issues. It states — correctly — that the California effort (actually, just Southern California) “never got off the ground.” (Why? Because its director moved to another state.)

For the most part, the AJR story gets it right. However, there are some points I take issue with.

1. HEADLINE — “Fading Away” is true for the Minnesota council, but our council is as vigorous as ever. We just matched a $100,000 challenge grant from the Gates Foundation, received a $10,000 grant from Microsoft, and were named “Organization of the Year” by the Municipal League of King County. We totally redesigned our website in the past year, with an active blog, a growing online community, a fun “What I Read” series, a NewsTrust.net widget, and other innovative features. We have lots of exciting plans for 2011 and beyond. We are by no means fading away. What’s more, news and press councils are proliferating around the world. For a global list, see the AIPCE’s website.

2. OMISSIONS — The story doesn’t mention the WNC’s latest really cool projects, including our “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable, Open” Pledge and Seal, which is gaining traction nationwide, and our unprecedented new OMG (Online Media Guide) for Washington state, which is generating great interest. Granted, the reporter’s space was limited, but surely there was room for a sentence or two about these efforts — especially since the story is a “web exclusive.”

3. QUOTES — AJR quotes some folks whose comments are debatable, to say the least. Tony Carideo, the last chairman of the MNC, says that the willing participation of news organizations is “absolutely critical” to the success of any news council. Well, maybe. But in our 13 years of operations, new organizations have never actually appeared at our complaint hearings to answer questions about the stories at issue. In each case, they responded in written statements or online, but were not willing to face the complainants and the council in an open forum. Carideo told AJR that if the news outlets don’t participate, “that doesn’t work.” Oh, really? He should ask King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, whose complaint against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was upheld, or the Washington State Beef Commission and Dairy Products Commission, whose complaint against KIRO7 TV was upheld.  The process clearly worked for them, as it has for others who have come to us when they had no other recourse. The fact that the media organizations didn’t participate in person actually reflects more negatively on them than on us.

4. TECHNOLOGY — AJR quotes Carideo and Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation saying that with the Internet, online feedback to news outlets is much quicker and easier, so there is less need for a complaint-and-hearing process. However, both acknowledge that comments sections are often uncivil and unproductive, and a news council can provide more thoughtful analysis of media ethics and performance. Gary Gilson, former head of the MNC, says it is “absurd” to think that online access provides “any serious measure of accountability to the general public.” He’s absolutely right. People constantly tell me that we are needed now more than ever.

Newton is spot on when he states: “We still need to keep thinking of good ways to keep quality news and information about journalism on the table when complaints are discussed, but it looks like we need digital, real time ways to do it.” That is precisely what the Washington News Council is doing — and further evidence that we are not fading away. Instead, we are actively  reinventing ourselves in the digital media age. Want to help? Join our community. Talk back. Connect. Engage.

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WNC Named “Organization of the Year” by Municipal League

The Washington News Council has just been named “Organization of the Year” by the Municipal  League of King County. Here is their press release, sent out today to news media statewide.

This is a great honor for our little non-profit organization. We would like to thank all of our friends, supporters and donors who helped make our important work possible over the past 12 months — and over the past 12 years — to encourage high-quality journalism and media ethics.

Other Civic Award winners this year include King County Sheriff Sue Rahr (Public Official of the Year), BECU – Boeing Employees Credit Union (Business of the Year), and Susannah Frame of KING5 (Government News Reporting). So we’re in really good company!

The Muni League, which turned 100 years old in 2010, is a highly respected organization that supports good government and public service in our region. Past winners of the “Organization of the Year” award include Futurewise, Seattle Works, Urban League, Intiman Theater, Real Change, King County Bar Association, and Pioneer Human Services. We’re honored to join this distinguished group.

The award will be presented at the League’s 52nd Annual Civic Awards dinner on March 31. We invite you to attend to help us celebrate the occasion.

I would personally like to thank the great team that helped “reinvent” the WNC in the past year: Kathy Schrier (executive assistant), Jacob Caggiano (communications strategist), Brian Glanz (web developer) and Heidi Dietrich (blogger, now with AOL Patch). Plus my terrific WNC Board Officers: Suzie Burke, Martin Neeb, Olivia Lippens and Shannon Frew. You’re the ones who really made this award possible.

Finally, special thanks to all the generous donors who supported the WNC and helped us meet the Gates Foundation Challenge Grant by raising $100,000 by Jan. 15, 2011, which was matched by the Foundation. We are determined to keep up this vital work and expand our activities in 2011 and beyond. With your continued support, we’ll do exactly that! Please call or email me with your ideas and suggestions. One last thing: WOO-HOO!

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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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WNC Raises $100,000 to Meet Challenge Grant Target for 2010!

The Washington News Council successfully raised $100,000 in matching donations, pledges and in-kind contributions by Jan. 15, triggering payment of a $100,000 challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The WNC would like to thank all those who donated or pledged to help us meet this extraordinary challenge:

$10,000 or more: Dollar Development Company, Kemper Development Company, Charles Simonyi Fund, Clear Channel Outdoor (in-kind billboard space), Everything Under the Web (in-kind website redesign).

$5,000 or more: Microsoft, PEMCO, Premera, Doug & Janet True

$2,500 or more: Suzie Burke, Pedro Celis, Lynden Inc., Vic & Mary Odermat

$1,000 or more: Steve Boyer, Bill Bryant, Ken & Cathi Hatch, Austin Hamer, Tom Hayward, Bob & Pat Herbold, Peter Horvitz, Geoff & Teresa Hunt, Barbara Kenney, Deanie Larsen, Martin Neeb Family Foundation, Bill & Jill Ruckelshaus, Phil Smart Sr., Washington Dairy Products Commission, Michael Young

$500 or more: Everett Billingslea, John Blackman, Bob Donegan (in-kind dinner event), Kirby Lindsay, Helen Silha

$100 or more: Creigh Agnew, Karen Dunn, Reagan Dunn, Becky Cox, Denny Fleenor, Mike Flynn, Walter Liang, Chuck Rehberg, David Schaefer
$50 or more: Gene Anest, Oren Campbell, Megan Gilshire, Pete Rollins, Steve Shapiro, Dann Mead Smith

If the WNC raises an additional $100,000 in donations and pledges this year, and meets the terms of the grant agreement, the Gates Foundation will award another $100,000 matching grant in 2011.

The WNC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to promote fairness, accuracy, balance, accountability and ethics in the news media. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Donate online at www.wanewscouncil.org, call 206-262-9793 to donate or pledge, or mail checks to WNC, P.O. Box 3672, Seattle WA 98124-3672.

CONTACT: John Hamer, WNC Executive Director, 2026.262.9793

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A Bittersweet Tribute to Don Hewitt

Don Hewitt, who died this week, changed my life. Last year, I finally got to tell him that face-to-face.

In 1996, “60 Minutes” – the program that Hewitt originated and produced – did a segment called “You Arrogant Journalists.” Mike Wallace and his crew covered a hearing before the Minnesota News Council on a major complaint by Northwest Airlines against WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis. The council upheld the complaint, agreeing that WCCO practiced shoddy journalism.

I missed it when it aired, but a friend of mine gave me a videotape and said: “Why don’t we have a news council in Washington state?” I was a media critic at the time and thought having a news council here was a good idea. An organizing committee formed, and we launched the Washington News Council in the summer of 1998. [Read more...]

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WNC’s Gridiron West Dinners Held in Seattle & Spokane

SPECIAL OFFER: “Bobbleheads” of Slade Gorton & Tom Foley, which were sold at this year’s dinners, are still available: Join the Washington News Council at the $50 level, and get your choice of either. Join at the $100 level or above, and get one of each. Join “100 Friends of the WNC” and get SIGNED versions of both Bobbleheads. Call 206.262.9793 to join or use the “Click&Pledge” box at the top of this page.

Tom Foley & Slade Gorton “Toasted” at Gridiron West Dinners in Seattle and Spokane; Foley ill but said, “Go ahead and roast me!”

The Washington News Council honored former House Speaker Tom Foley and former Senator Slade Gorton at TWO gala Gridiron West Dinners this year. A total of nearly 500 people attended the two events, which are getting rave reviews from those who were at one or both dinners.

The Seattle dinner was held on Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. (It will be broadcast on TVW on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. and repeated subsequently. See www.tvw.org for viewing schedule.) The Spokane dinner was held on Saturday, Nov. 11 at The Davenport Hotel. The WNC’s annual events are billed as “toasts,” but some call them “roasts.”

Slade Gorton and his wife Sally attended both events. However, Tom Foley was honored “in absentia” because he was recently diagnosed with a heart problem and was unable to travel. Foley sent a letter expressing his regrets, and the full text was read aloud in Seattle by Honorary Dinner Co-Chair Bill Gates Sr. and in Spokane by Honorary Dinner Co-Chair Jennifer Dunn.

After receiving the letter on Nov. 1, the WNC decided to turn the “toast” of Foley into a “Get Well” tribute. A life-sized photograph of Foley was onstage next to Gorton at both events. All guests were invited to sign an oversized “Get Well, Tom” poster card that will be delivered to him soon. Foley sent “responses” to his toasters that were read aloud. Both dinners were videotaped and copies will be sent to Foley.

The WNC’s annual Gridiron West Dinner has become one of the most popular events of the fall. Always held in the week after Election Day, it is a bipartisan gala with songs, comedy, video tributes and affectionate “toasts” by and of prominent political, business, civic and media figures.

“Toasters” in each city took the stage in pairs to aim their remarks at the two honorees.

“Toasting” Foley in Seattle:

Phyllis Campbell & George Nethercutt, Norm Dicks & Jack Lein

“Toasting” Gorton in Seattle:

Jim Ellis & John Ellis (with Patti Payne), Mike McGavick & Rob McKenna

“Toasting” Foley in Spokane:

Father Bernard Couglin & Janet Gilpatrick, Jack Geraghty & George Nethercutt

“Toasting” Gorton in Spokane:

Jennifer Dunn & Mike McGavick, Jim McDevitt & Cathy McMorris

Table sponsors (in one or both cities) included: Avista, Boeing, Microsoft, Gates Foundation, King County Journal, PEMCO, Preston Gates Ellis, Puget Sound Energy, Premera Blue Cross, Paine Hamblen, The Gallatin Group, Fremont Dock Company, Gonzaga University, Building Industry Association of Washington, Frank Russell Company, Lynden Company, KPLU-FM, TVW, Seattle Mariners and the Gorton Legacy Group.

Mike Egan, Master of Ceremonies at the last several Gridiron West Dinners, emceed at both events and presented his hilarious “slide show” of Foley and Gorton photographs (starting with their baby pictures). A moving video tribute to the two honorees (including old home movies) was once again produced for the events by Ken Jones and Larry Cali.

Exclusive to both 2006 Gridiron West Dinners were fabulous “Bobbleheads” of Foley and Gorton. These were the table centerpieces and many were auctioned off at the two events. However, some are still available for purchase (see caption above for details). The Bobbleheads are limited-edition collectors’ items, designed by David Horsey, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, exclusively for this year’s WNC Gridiron West Dinners. (Special thanks to David for designing them and to the Seattle Mariners for underwriting the costs.)

Music and songs (this year’s song parodies were from “West Side Story”) were provided by Cabaret Productions, under the leadership of Jim Anderson. And the Washington News Council’s Board Members sang their traditional group song — always a highlight of the evening! (Sample lyrics: “There’s a case for us, somewhere a case for us….”)

Incredible travel packages donated by Noble House Hotels were raffled off at the dinners.

They included multi-night stays (plus airfare) at the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club in Redondo Beach, California; and the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, California; also, overnight stays at the Edgewater Hotel on Seattle’s waterfront and the new Hotel Deca in Seattle’s University District.

Both evenings ended with a song by the Cabaret Productions singers to the tune of “America”:

“I like to be in America,

OK by me in America,

Our press is free in America,

And that’s the key to America!”

Previous Gridiron West events have honored:

2005 – Bill Gates Sr. and Mimi Gardner Gates

2004 – Jennifer Dunn and Gary Locke

2003 – Jim Ellis and John Ellis

2002 – Al Rosellini, Dan Evans, John Spellman, Booth Gardner and Mike Lowry

2001 – Jean Enersen, Kathi Goertzen and Susan Hutchison

2000 – Emmett Watson

1999 – Adele Ferguson, Dick Larsen, Mike Layton and Shelby Scates

If you missed previous Gridiron West Dinners, you don’t want to miss this year’s, when we will “toast” Bill and Jill Ruckelshaus on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. SAVE THE DATE!

To guarantee two seats, join “100 Friends of the WNC” (see Click&Pledge box above).

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