Seattle student press rights hanging in the balance

Seattle area students and advisers meet Nov.8 to celebrate and discuss future plans.

by John Bowen and Kathy Schrier from the Washington Journalism Education Association to the Student Press Rights Commission blog

Principals will not have a chance to prior review Seattle School District journalism students because the school board recently withdrew its proposed and controversial policy change.

“As a former journalism teacher, it is important for me — as I know it is for our Board — that we uphold our practice of trusting our teachers to educate our students on the rights and responsibilities that come with freedom of expression and a free press,” Interim Superintendent of Schools, Susan Enfield, a former journalism teacher and adviser,  said in a press release.

Supporters of the existing free expression policy will now have a year to convince the Seattle School District board to keep its hands off and continue to encourage students to make final decisions and have responsibility for content.

During the first week of November as part of a system-wide policy overhaul, school officials announced they would seek to change a 2o-year policy of allowing students to make final decisions of content without prior review. The Washington State School Directors Association had recommended the new policy.

Washington students, advisers, media groups and citizens mounted a public and active four-day campaign reporting about and speaking against the policy change.

The press release indicated the school district would revisit the issue in 2012 to see how a policy change might fit with community values.

Students and supporters met Nov. 8 to celebrate and plan

Student journalists from five of Seattle’s high schools (Ballard, Garfield, Nathan Hale, Roosevelt and West Seattle) met Nov. 8 in the Nathan Hale journalism room to debrief following a promise by Seattle interim Superintendent Susan Enfield to leave unchanged the district’s current student press rights policy. The meeting followed a four-day, whirlwind campaign to thwart the passage of Policy 3220, a controversial, restrictive student press policy.

The students came together to celebrate the immediate victory, as well as to talk about how they must work together to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. The discussion focused on how the district policy-making process appears to be badly flawed, especially since some school board members seem to be ready to approve policies they haven’t even read.

Students plan to create a Facebook page and a website to keep in touch with each other, as well as to co-produce an article and possible insert about procedures used to decide policies in their school district. Students hope to run the piece in all their papers at about the same time. A coalition of Seattle student journalists is now in the works with plans to meet regularly.

Applauded for their efforts in fighting back the passage of Policy 3220 were Katie Kennedy and Kate Clark, Ballard High School editors, who went on the attack with community flyers, letters to school board members and on-air interviews with local talk radio hosts.  The group also applauded NPR reporter Phyllis Fletcher, KPLU-FM Seattle (who was in the room covering the meeting), for first discovering the proposed policy change and alerting Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center, who in turn contacted the Washington Journalism Education Association.

Fletcher shared how she discovered the information on the policy. She explained how, as part of  her regular preparation for covering upcoming school board meetings, she looks at the agenda and tries to become familiar with the items for consideration. A red flag went up when she discovered the language in Policy 3220 under consideration.

Clearly, her quick action made all the difference in preventing its passage.

Garfield High School adviser Casey Henry shared with the group a late afternoon message to Seattle journalism advisers from Susan Enfield, in which she apologized for the “consternation” caused by the whole ordeal and promised to make sure any future revisions to the scholastic press policy in Seattle  will include input from media advisers.

Students in the room added  they should be included, as well, and intend to make that known to the superintendent and the board.

This was a close call for student journalists in Seattle Schools, with lessons to be learned about staying vigilant. In fact, the students discussed creating a session for the 2012 National JEA/NSPA Spring Convention in Seattle, a case study on four frantic days for student journalists and their supporters in Seattle that fortunately ended positively.

Coverage from Seattle-area media

Announcing the proposed change
• Stop the presses, let the principal check them first
• Seattle school board moves to censor student newspapers
• Proposed Seattle school-newspaper policy raises censorship concerns
• Students say Seattle school board threatens censorship

Announcing the withdrawal of the proposed changes
• Seattle public schools beats hasty retreat
• Students say school board ‘setting the stage for censorship’
• Proposed ‘censorship’ policy for school newspaper withdrawn (Ballard High School)
• Ballard High newspaper editor-in-chief Kate Clark on her censorship fight with the Seattle school board
• School board withdraws controversial proposal: free speech maintained for students
• Seattle public schools withdraws controversial student newspaper oversight proposal
• Schools back off on policing student papers
• KUOW-FM late afternoon story/interview with Ballard editors Kate and Katie
• The Stranger

Other coverage
• How Seattle journalist got school censorship scoop
• Seattle school board pulls controversial publications proposal, will revisit in 2012
• Seattle School District seeks to remove forum policy for prior review
• Seattle school board pulls controversial publications proposal, will revisit in 2012


Putting Journalism Back into Focus at Seattle’s Town Hall

The Town Hall discussion, moderated by former Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher (left) with Tom Rosenstiel (center) and Bill Kovach (right)

While many hail the awe and power of the internet as the most revolutionary medium since the printing press, its most complained about side effect is information overload. Popular web evangelist Clay Shirky likes to say, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure,” and there are plenty of technological filters in place to help us (Google, Wikipedia, Digg, Newsvine, and so on…). Smart technology, however, doesn’t make up for smart people, which is why the new book Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload is an important addition to the discussion.

If you’re a reporter that’s been through journalism school, then you’re already familiar with authors and veteran journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel who penned The Elements of Journalism back in 2001 . Following their long successful careers as reporters for staple publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times, and The LA Times, the two are now hard at work trying to keep the values of journalism itself alive. Rosenstiel stays busy with the Project for Excellence in Journalism at Pew Research, and Kovach runs the Committee for Concerned Journalists (after spending 11 years with Harvard’s Nieman Lab). The duo made an appearance at Seattle’s Town Hall last Thursday to discuss the impact of journalism’s newest and arguably most potent element yet, citizens.

There are many interesting ways to compare the traditional media paradigm with the new era of citizen journalism, but perhaps the most dramatic is the shift in power dynamics. Gone are the days where we had a single trusted brand telling us “and that’s the way it is” with no recourse for dispute except a shot in the dark known as the letter to the editor. With an infinite supply of places to get news, the authority of the newspaper has greatly diminished.

While this conversation has been rehashed many times over the last decade, Rosenstiel and Kovach added some new insight to consider. One would assume that more democratic media equals a greater check on power, but as Rosenstiel pointed out, the irony is that more media gives more power into the hands of those who wish to manipulate it. A press release that was turned down by a major newspaper has many more places to go and spawn without first being vetted by trained journalists. Rosenstiel also disputed the notion that our news consumption has grown increasingly partisan, saying that of the top visited websites for news, 80% are what can be considered traditional non-partisan sources (i.e. Yahoo, MSNBC, CNN, AOL, etc.) It’s only after we get the story that we turn to opinionated sources to help digest and analyze the information.

In Blur, the authors detail six essential questions that all consumers of information must consider:

1. What kind of content am I encountering?

2. Is the information complete? If not, what’s missing?

3. Who or what are the sources and why should I believe them?

4. What evidence is presented and how was it tested or vetted?

5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?

6. Am I learning what I need?

The last chapter of the book offers advice on how journalism needs to change in order to adapt to the shift in relationship between reporter and audience. As Kovach noted in the talk, newspapers who once said “trust me” are now being asked to “show me.” It’s no longer enough for a reporter to give a summary, they need to offer the database. The new function of the press is to empower the audience to take action, use tools, and find information for themselves. Perhaps this explains why The Seattle Times won its Pulitzer through its use of Twitter, Google Wave, and other participatory tools.

There were many good questions from the audience about the responsibility of the press, and perhaps the most interesting question came from former Seattle PI reporter Monica Guzman, who asked about the responsibility of the citizen. Taking the idea of good Samaritan law a step further, she asked “If you see news and have the tools and don’t use them, are you being irresponsible as a citizen?” This definitely merits a lot of thought, as we’ve seen situations where citizen journalism was enormously valuable (i.e. the 2009 protests following the Iranian Election) as well as harmful (i.e. the inaccurate details of the Fort Hood shooting where reporters relied on a witness’s tweets).

Despite the skepticism that runs through their blood, both Kovach and Rosenstiel agreed that while there were virtues of the past that need to instilled today, we are overall better off in the new era of people powered reporting.

Watch video of the event below, courtesy of the Seattle Channel and Puget Sound Access


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.


Gridiron West Dinner a Big Success

The Washington News Council’s 12th (!) annual Gridiron West Dinner, (video here, pics here) held on Friday, Nov. 12 at The Conference Center at Convention Place in Seattle brought 350 people together to “toast/roast” five former Mayors of Seattle: Wes Uhlman, Charles Royer, Norm Rice, Paul Schell and Greg Nickels. Current Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was there to introduce his predecessors, and won some points for his good-natured remarks. To no one’s surprise, McGinn was the target of a few pointed shots himself.

It was a raucous, irreverent, edgy evening of songs, comedy, videos, slideshows and often caustic comments by “toasters/roasters” — with sharp retorts by the Mayors who were targets of the barbs. Emcee Mike Egan (who actually has a day job at Microsoft), ran the show with his usual zany aplomb, appearing in costume first as a Munchkin and later as Dorothy, as the evening’s theme was “Wizard of Oz.”  A radiant backdrop of “The Emerald City” hung behind the stage, where the five Mayors sat in soft armchairs while they took their hard medicine from various friends, colleagues, and journalists. There was even a video appearance of Mayor Gordon Clinton, who reigned during the Seattle World’s Fair (watch below).

YouTube Preview Image

Four extremely talented singers, dressed in spot-on costumes as Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, kicked off the program with a hilarious sketch about politically correct Seattle, written by Jim Anderson of Cabaret Productions. Anderson also wrote many of the lyrics (aided by former KING5-TV President Eric Bremner and WNC President John Hamer) and choreographed the show, as well as running the technical side including lighting, video, audio, costumes and props.

WNC Chair Suzie Burke and Hamer welcomed the crowd and gratefully thanked all the table sponsors (including Boeing, Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Simonyi Fund & Susan Hutchison, Premera, Space Needle Corporation, Chihuly Studio, PEMCO Insurance, Puget Sound Energy, and a dozen others). Carly Hunt Koczarski sang “America the Beautiful” beautifully. Our new promotional video, by WNC Communications Strategist Jacob Caggiano, was shown while dinner was being served, giving the audience a look at how the WNC has “reinvented” itself in the past few months with a redesigned website, a blog page, an online community, a TAO of Journalism site, and other innovative programs. After dinner, the musical tribute began with songs such as “Follow the Politics Road” and ”We’re Here to Toast the Mayors, These Wonderful Mayors of Ours,” with the audience joining in while lyrics were shown on the big screens.

YouTube Preview Image

A video called “The Mayors,” (above) done by Ken Jones of KJ Video Productions (and a longtime KING5-TV videographer) brought down the house with its animated Jib-Jab scenes including the Mayors as Chippendale Dancers. Only Paul Schell was unable to attend in person, though he was “toasted” anyway as his cardboard cutout sat on stage and an “Anarchist from Eugene” ran out shouting pro-Schell slogans for the hospitality shown to radical demonstrators during the WTO convention. A mini-auction, raffle and “raise the paddle” segment led by Auctioneer Fred Granados featured several terrific items and fiercely competitive bidding. The evening concluded with a wry rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” followed by a Champagne & Chocolate After Party with Domaine Ste Michelle Brut (thanks to Carol Munro) and Theo’s Chocolates (thanks to Chuck Horne).

Special thanks to all those who sponsored tables or purchased tickets, for making this evening possible. Your generous (and tax-deductible) donations make the News Council’s important work possible. In addition, every dollar we receive this year will be matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, thanks to a special “challenge grant” arranged by Bill Gates Sr. We can’t thank Bill Sr. and the Foundation enough for their generous support of the WNC since our founding in 1998.

Our annual Gridiron West Dinners, almost always held in the aftermath of the November elections, always attract a thoroughly bipartisan crowd. The event provides a welcome opportunity for Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Green Partiers and Tea Partiers, to come together for an evening of fun and frolic despite deep political and ideological differences. It is our hope that by enjoying a nice dinner, pouring a bottle (or two) of wine, and sharing a few laughs, people who may be deeply at odds on issues and policy will find some common ground and maybe find ways to work together better. Hey, that’s what everyone says they want these days, isn’t it?

[Also have a look at coverage of the event from Seattle Metropolitan]


What I Read: Ben Huh

By launching the popular I Can Has Cheezburger sites, tech entrepreneur Ben Huh made LOLcats and epic Fails household terms. All around the world, web surfers looking for a quick laugh visit the Cheezburger Network for photos of animals, people doing stupid things, misspelled signs, and other quirky topics.

But that doesn’t mean Huh, a former journalist, spends all of his time searching for comic inspiration. While Huh goes to a Cheezburger site, The Daily What, for pop culture news, he’s also a regular online visitor of news sites ranging from The New York Times to the Seattle tech news site TechFlash. And when he finally gets off the laptop, he can be found picking up a copy of The Economist.

Here’s what Ben Huh is reading:

1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?

Seattle P-I. I think their experiment and transformation into an online-only newspaper is fascinating to watch.

2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?

I read one of our sites, The Daily What (, for all my Internet Culture news. After that, I read the NYT or whomever surfaces via Twitter.

3. Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?

Mostly via my iPhone and laptop.

4. Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?

Twitter is the one I use the most.

5. What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

I visit Techmeme and TechFlash for my tech biz news. I visit The Daily What for Internet Culture and CNN and NYT for the main stream news.

6. Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and opinion?

No, it really depends on what’s being filtered to me.

7. Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so, how?

90% of all information is gathered via the Web. The remainder comes through analysis in magazines (The Economist and The Week).

8. Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?
I don’t read for fun, per se. I do that enough online. :)


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.


Trendy online web deals fuel neighborhood news sites

Justin Carder

In recent months, the Seattle start-up Neighborlogs has stumbled across the perfect match: neighborhood news sites and online web deals.
Ad dollars from popular coupon sites like Groupon, Tippr, and Living Social are now fueling the local news sites Neighborlogs supports. Companies like Groupon can pay a package rate for their discounts to appear on all 22 neighborhood and city news sites on Neighborlogs’ Seattle Indie Advertising Network. The network’s members include sites like Central District News, My Green Lake,, Seattle Crime, Publicola, and Seattle Transit Blog.

“The Groupons of the world are all trying to buy web traffic cheaply,” said Justin Carder, vice president of business development for Neighborlogs. “Neighborhood news sites make sense for them.”

The influx of ad revenue from coupon sites marks a shift for Neighborlogs, which previously found its advertising from more traditional venues. Service providers such as dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents used to be the main advertising clients. While Neighborlogs still sees some of that traffic, online deal sites now provide the bulk of business.

[Read more...]


From newsroom to dive bar

Most laid off journalists have turned to public relations, book writing, freelancing, or other pursuits equally fitting of the English major crowd.

Not Mike Lewis. He’s spending his days pouring beer at a bar, coming home at 3 or 4 in the morning. And he’s doing it by choice.

Mike Lewis at the Streamline Tavern

Former Seattle P-I columnist Lewis’ new life might represent the largest career shift a local journalist has taken in the past couple of years. Lewis, along with three business partners, bought The Streamline Tavern on Lower Queen Anne after the P-I imploded last year.

Since August, Lewis has been working to turn around a bar that had been on its last legs. He’s traded newsroom journalism banter for conversation with the Streamline regulars, many of whom have been frequenting the place for 25 years. [Read more...]


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.

[Read more...]


Can Marty Riemer conquer podcasting?

Marty Riemer and Jodi Brothers

On April 1st, Marty Riemer entered the brave new world of podcasting.

The longtime Seattle radio personality didn’t voluntarily switch from traditional radio to the podcast sphere. He found himself unceremoniously booted from KMTT-The Mountain last October. But Riemer, along with on-air partner Jodi Brothers, is now embracing the chance to experiment with an emerging medium that he believes could one day completely replace commercial radio.

“The future of radio is podcasting,” Riemer said.

[Read more...]