WNC Awards Two $2,000 Scholarships

The Washington News Council awarded two $2,000 scholarships to students planning careers in communications. The scholarships are named after the late Dick Larsen and Herb Robinson, both longtime editors at The Seattle Times.

WNC President John Hamer, who worked with Larsen and Robinson for many years on The Times’ editorial board, presented the scholarships during a June 24 reception at the WNC office, located above the Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle.

The 2010 WNC Dick Larsen Scholarship winner is:

Peter Sessum, 38, a junior at the University of Washington who is studying journalism. He is a staff writer for The Daily. He was formerly a student at Edmonds Community College and editor-in-chief of the Triton Review campus newspaper.

Before that, Peter was a liaison officer with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and an international advisor in the poppy-eradication program there.

He is a member of the Asian American Journalists Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

John Hamer & Pete Sessum

In an essay accompanying his scholarship application, Peter wrote:

“Media is the watchdog of the government, but someone needs to watch the watchdog. That is the purpose of the people. As journalists, we should be transparent, accountable and open. And the people should be able to expect that of us. It is the duty of the reporter to inform the people of the issues at hand. Then, the people can make informed decisions.”

The 2010 Herb Robinson Scholarship winner is:

Alexander Herbig, 18, who is graduating from Mountlake Terrace High School and will attend Seattle Pacific University in the fall. He plans to study communications, global development and psychology.

During high school, Alex was a Young Life leader and camp counselor. His senior project was Simply Haiti, which launched two days before the Haitian earthquake and raised $30,000 for a feeding program and earthquake relief. He also was a photojournalist and editorial writer for The Hawkeye school newspaper, and MVP on the junior varsity soccer team.

Alex Herbig & John Hamer

In an essay accompanying his application, Alex wrote:

“I feel as though trust is a journalist’s best friend. Journalists have the ability to twist a story just about any way they want, making the good guy look like the villain or the other way around. Not only that but their stories can create some serious consequences for the person or company in the story. With this power comes the responsibility of the journalist to be trustworthy.”

Scholarships are funded by donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. Since 2000, the WNC has awarded 22 scholarships with a total value of nearly $30,000.

CONTACT: John Hamer, President, WNC – 206.262.9793 (info@wanewscouncil.org)

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The Orwells: Britain’s top political writing prizes

LONDON, ENGLAND – Martin Moore, director of Media Standards Trust, suggested we meet at Starbucks on Victoria Street, near Westminster Abbey. My Seattle office is just down the street from Starbucks headquarters, I told him, so that would be fitting.

Martin had invited me to attend the Orwell Prize Awards Ceremony at Church House, Dean’s Yard, Westminster. The prizes, which might be compared to the Pulitzer Prizes in the U.S., are given to a journalist, a book author and – just since last year – to a blogger.

George Orwell

The Orwell Prizes have become Britain’s most prestigious awards for political writing.
About 400 people gathered for the presentations. The winners are kept secret until they are announced.

The room was filled with journalists from all over Great Britain. This year, 212 books were entered for the Book Prize, 85 journalists for the Journalism Prize, and 164 bloggers for the Blog Prize. These were pared down by a distinguished group of judges to a “shortlist” of 6 books, 7 journalists and 6 bloggers. Most of the shortlisters were there, hoping to accept in person if they won.

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Who will hold the news media accountable?

OXFORD UNIVERSITY, ENGLAND – Is there a need for media accountability in the chaotic new world of online journalism? If so, who will hold the media accountable?

In-house ombudsmen? Outside news and press councils? Independent media critics?

The “blogosphere”? All of the above?

Those were among the existential questions at the Organization of News Ombudsmen’s annual convention at Oxford University from May 12-15. The gathering was hosted by the Reuters Center for the Study of Journalism, headquartered at Oxford.

I was invited to join a panel: “Press Councils and Ombudsmen: A New Partnership?”

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Are We ALL Journalists Now? Who decides?

A prescient book was published in 2007: We’re All Journalists Now. The author was Scott Gant, a Harvard Law School graduate, former counsel for The New Republic magazine, and now an attorney in Washington, D.C., where he practices constitutional and media law.

I bought Gant’s book when it came out and liked it so much I called him during a visit to D.C. a couple of years ago. We met for coffee and talked for more than an hour about the increasingly perplexing questions: Who is a journalist these day, and who gets to decide?

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Shellee Hale to appeal court decision

Shellee Hale, the Bellevue blogger (see item below) who was ruled “not a journalist” by a New Jersey appellate court, is appealing to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Hale contends that she is a working journalist and thus entitled to protect the confidentiality of her sources. Her case raises vital questions about the definition of “journalist” – a matter that is certainly up in the air these days. [Read more...]


Bloggers as journalists: Who is protected?


Shellee Hale

In recent weeks, the debate over whether bloggers should receive the same legal protection as journalists has intensified.

After Gizmodo tech blogger Jason Chen wrote about a stolen next generation iPhone, police searched his home and seized his computers. Under state and federal law, police can’t issue a search warrant to confiscate the property of a journalist. Gizmodo’s parent company, Gawker Media, demanded the computers be returned, saying Chen is a journalist and qualifies for legal protection. The company is considering filing a lawsuit against police.

Closer to home, a Bellevue entrepreneur, blogger, and mother of four is battling a recent court decision that denied her protection under journalism’s shield law. [Read more...]


Should journalists testify in public on topics they’re covering?

A rendering of the proposed Chihuly museumAt a recent public hearing on the proposed Chihuly glass art museum on Seattle Center grounds, two journalists spoke out against the idea.

The first, Stranger reporter Cienna Madrid, stated the newspaper’s position against the museum and asked why it needed to be on public land.

Another journalist, Crosscut editor and publisher David Brewster, spoke against the museum proposal on behalf of a nonprofit group he helped found four years ago. Friends of the Green at Seattle Center, which has no connection to Crosscut, has been advocating for open space at the Center.

Madrid and Brewster approached the hearing in different ways. [Read more...]


Spot.Us brings new journalism model to Seattle

Seattle’s newest media player opens for business today.

Spot.Us, which allows community members to fund civic journalism projects, has expanded to Seattle. Journalist David Cohn started the network in San Francisco in late 2008 and added on a Los Angeles site early this year. He sees Seattle, as a third major west coast city, a natural fit.

“Seattle has a really robust journalism community,” Cohn said.

David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us

David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us

With Spot.Us, readers decide what stories they want to fund. Journalists and news organizations post story proposals with an estimated cost to report and research on the Spot.Us site. Anyone interested in the pitch can pledge a donation. If the pledges reach the necessary amount to fund the story, the money is collected.

“I’m a big believer that the public should be able to participate in journalism,” Cohn said.

So far, two-thirds of stories pitched on Spot.Us have reached their funding goal. [Read more...]


Public Votes in “Virtual Hearing” on Sam Reed vs. KIRO7 Complaint

In an unprecedented “virtual hearing,” dozens of people voted and commented as part of a Citizens Online News Council on a formal written complaint from Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed against KIRO7 Eyewitness News.

The votes were largely critical of KIRO7 and upheld Secretary Reed’s complaint. Of nearly 100 people who voted online, only a few defended KIRO. The rest supported Reed’s position.

A key part of the Washington News Council’s mission is to encourage citizen participation in public discussion of media ethics and accountability. This online vote advances that goal.

The WNC invited citizens to vote on the questions that the full News Council would have considered had this case gone to a hearing. (For a full list of the questions, total votes and collected comments, plus complete background information, see HERE)

The voting deadline was April 30, 2009, during national “Media Ethics Week” sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Votes came from statewide, with a few from other states. Some votes were from journalists. Most voters added comments. Examples:

“KIRO TV’s News Director, Reporter, and General Manager should come clean and be a good example by admitting that a journalist made a mistake.”

– Ken Hatch, former president, KIRO TV

“KIRO was clearly cautioned about checking its facts, but seemed more driven by getting a sensational story than by being accurate.”

– Mike Flynn, former publisher, Puget Sound Business Journal

“This case deserves coverage in media journals to show how careless coverage easily misleads.”

– Arnold Ismach, former dean, University of Oregon Journalism School

“KIRO ignored much of the factual information presented in the meetings with the Secretary of State and reported only what they wanted to report to make the story more inflammatory.”

– Roy Kimbel, Center for Ethical Development, Tacoma Community College

“I would say that the damage was done to the state – and the democracy in which we live.”

– Mike Kittross, editor, Media Ethics magazine

When Reed filed his complaint with the Washington News Council, he contended that two KIRO stories aired last fall were “factually incorrect, incomplete, misleading, sensationalized, inflammatory and unfair.” Reed and his staff had previously asked KIRO to air corrections and remove the stories from its website. When KIRO declined, Reed turned to the WNC.

The WNC accepted Reed’s complaint and hand-delivered it to KIRO. After they received the complaint, KIRO top management met with Reed and his staff in Olympia. They still refused to air corrections, but offered to remove the stories from their website if Reed agreed not inform the News Council or the public. Reed declined that offer. Later, KIRO removed the stories without informing Reed or the WNC, and without admitting any inaccuracies. Reed decided not to seek a public WNC hearing, so an online “virtual hearing” was proposed to hear citizens’ views.

The WNC invited KIRO to respond to Reed’s complaint, but the station did not return phone calls or emails, or answer a letter that accompanied the complaint. If KIRO responds at any time to the voting results and comments, we will post the full response on our website.

CONTACT: John Hamer, Executive Director (jhamer@wanewscouncil.org), 206.262.9793


Does journalism matter anymore?

Does journalism matter anymore? What exactly IS journalism these days, anyway? Who is a journalist — and who’s not?

These are some of the questions in the air the “Journalism That Matters” conference at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I’m spending a few days.

The conference was organized by two Seattleites and a former Spokane guy. Stephen Silha, who lives on Vashon Island, started the “JTM” series in 2001, and is former president of the Washington News Council. Peggy Holman, who lives in Bellevue, is a gifted meeting facilitator and “change agent.” And Chris Peck, former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, has been a driving force in the JTM series, and is now editor of The Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

About 100 people are here from all over the country, with a few from elsewhere in the world. All are interested in the future of journalism, but aren’t sure exactly what that future will be. [Read more...]