WNC To Hold Hearing on Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW Complaint

***UPDATE*** we now have the hearing video and full set of documents involved with the complaint as a downloadable PDF. We also have national coverage by The Washington Times and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Ombudsman. Plus local coverage in Sound Politics and the Northwest Daily Marker.

The Washington News Council’s Board of Directors has set a date for a hearing on a formal written complaint from the Vitae Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM concerning a story that aired April 13, 2011.

The hearing will be Saturday, March 31, 2012, from 9 am-noon, at the University of Washington’s Communication Department, Room 120. It is open to the public.

You can download a PDF collection here to read the basic complaint and initial correspondence between Vitae and KUOW.

WNC Hearings Board Chair Karen Seinfeld presiding over the Sue Rahr v. Seattle Post-Intelligencer case

Karen Seinfeld, Chair of the WNC Hearings Board and former Chief Judge of the Washington State Court of Appeals, will preside at the hearing. (UPDATE 3/16/12: Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander will be presiding in Judge Seinfeld’s place at the hearing.)

The WNC Hearings Board will be comprised of current and former WNC Board Members, including Martin Neeb, Scott Forslund, Shannon Myers, Bill Gates Sr., Steve Boyer, John Knowlton, Erik Lacitis, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer, Paula Selis, Chris Villiers and Walt Howe.

The WNC recently received two grants from the Gates Foundation and Microsoft for 2012 operating expenses.

To see how a WNC hearing works, here is a link to a video and background information of a 2006 hearing in the Sheriff Sue Rahr vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer complaint, held at Town Hall Seattle.

(The P-I chose not to participate in the hearing, which is their right as media participation is voluntary. They posted a 17-page written response on their website, much of which was read into the record by Judge Seinfeld at the hearing. Had they attended, they would have had full opportunity to “stand by their stories” in public, respond to questions from the Council, and make their case in an open forum.)

The WNC received the Vitae Foundation’s formal written complaint on June 9, 2011, and the Council’s Board of Directors accepted it for our process after careful review. The WNC’s Board unanimously agreed that the complaint raised “serious questions of journalistic performance or ethics,” which is our main criterion for acceptance. The Board takes no position on the merits of a complaint at that stage, however.

We notified both sides that the complaint had been accepted and began a 30-day resolution period, encouraging both Vitae and KUOW to seek a compromise resolution. WNC convened a meeting on July 14, 2011, at the WNC office with Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW and Pia de Solenni, representing the Vitae Foundation. The resolution period was extended for another 30 days, and extended again through the end of the calendar year. Both sides were urged to continue seeking a compromise.

Following WNC’s three-part recommendation of a proposed compromise resolution, Guy Nelson did conduct a brief telephone interview with Debbie Stokes (CORRECTION: An earlier version identified her as “Debbie Nelson.” We regret the error.) of the Vitae Foundation on Sept. 30, 2011, and posted the transcript on the station’s website. However, the station did not acknowledge that the original story was incomplete and misleading, as they had conceded privately. Nor did they do an on-air story, which was part of the proposed compromise. Nelson said they would “seriously consider” doing a follow-up on-air story, which was part of our proposed compromise, but set no timetable.

The WNC tried through 2011 to mediate Vitae’s complaint, hoping that a satisfactory compromise resolution could be reached. WNC Board Members believed that a resolution was possible. However, in January 2012 it became clear that resolution was unlikely. More than six months had passed — far exceeding the WNC’s normal 30-day resolution period — and there had been little progress.

Under the WNC’s Complaint and Hearing Procedures guidelines, if the complainant is not “satisfied with the news outlet’s proposed resolution to the complaint,” a hearing date to air the issues is scheduled. Vitae was not satisfied with KUOW’s response and therefore requested a hearing. The WNC’s Board, after careful deliberation, agreed to set a hearing date.

A hearing is not a trial, but an open discussion of journalistic standards, which is healthy and helpful for both sides — and for the general public. WNC has asked both parties to submit final written statements by March 10 that include “any new information obtained or agreements reached during the process of trying to resolve the complaint.”

WNC’s Complaints Committee will phrase questions for the Council to consider at the hearing, identifying “which actions by the news outlet allegedly violated standards of accuracy, fairness and/or journalistic ethics.” Final wording of the questions will be shared with both parties and made public at least 10 days prior to the hearing.

One resource the WNC may use at the hearing is National Public Radio’s newly revised Ethics Handbook, which was just released last week.

WNC’s guidelines also state: “Parties may continue to try to resolve the complaint prior to a hearing, but if they do not reach a resolution before the day of the hearing, the hearing will proceed.” If the complaint is resolved to both KUOW and Vitae’s satisfaction by March 30, the hearing will be cancelled.

For further information about the complaint or questions about WNC’s process, contact:

John Hamer (206.262.9793)
President and Executive Director
Washington News Council
1201 1st Ave. South, #331
Seattle, WA 98134

8:30 a.m. – Doors open to Room 120, U.W. Communications Building, to public and news media. (Open at 8 a.m. to WNC Hearings Board)

9:00 a.m. – WNC President John Hamer welcomes attendees,
makes brief remarks about WNC complaint & hearing process.

9:05 a.m. – Hearings Board Chair Gerry Alexander calls hearing to order, asks all Board members to introduce themselves

9:10 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:25 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by KUOW

9:40 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:45 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by KUOW

9:50-10:30 a.m. – Questions (40 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board

10:30-10:45 a.m. – Break

10:45-11:30 a.m. – Discussion (45 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board members (questions of Vitae and KUOW only to clarify issues)

11:30 a.m. – Chair Alexander asks if either party wants a brief recess to reconsider positions or eliminate questions. If so, action is taken.

11:35 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

11:37 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by KUOW

11:40 a.m. – WNC Hearings Board votes on written ballots, which are counted by WNC staff. Vote results announced by Chair Alexander.
Hearings Board members confirm their votes by show of hands.

12:00 p.m. – Hearing is adjourned by Chair Alexander.


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


“100 Friends of the WNC” — Distinguished Group Growing Fast!

The Washington News Council has formed100 Friends of the WNC. Members pledge to donate $1,000 a year for three consecutive years to help support the News Council’smission. Friends also receive two tickets to our annual Gridiron West Dinners.

Members so far include: Nancy Alvord, Minoru & Yoko Arakawa, Tom Barwick, Richard & Edwina Baxter, James Bianco, Steve Boyer, Herb & Shirley Bridge, Suzie Burke, Doris Cassan, Pedro & Laura Celis, Tom Cock Jr., Jane & David Davis, Tom Downey, Jennifer Dunn, Jim Ellis, Bill Gates Sr., Margo & Andy Gordon, Martha Kongsgaard & Peter Goldman, Austin & Ina Hamer, Ken & Cathi Hatch, Tom & Peggy Hayward, Richard & Elizabeth Hedreen, Bob & Pat Herbold, Sandeep Kaushik & Elizabeth Goodwin, Betsy Lieberman & Richard Groomer, Grant & Marci Larsen, Bruce & Jolene McCaw, Chuck & Tracy Nordhoff, Chuck & Cathy Novak, Mary Odermat, Vic Odermat, Mary Pigott, Joe & Jaynie Putnam, Harry & Ann Pryde, Skip Rowley, Bill & Jill Ruckelshaus, Sandy Schoolfield & Jon Kechejian, Karen Seinfeld, Helen Silha, Stephen Silha, Gary Smith, John Stanton & Theresa Gillespie, Sid Snyder, Craig & Joan Watjen.

If you’d like to join this distinguished group, please call our office at 206.262.9793 or go to the “Click & Pledge” box at the top of this page.


New Media and Public Members Join WNC Board of Directors

Three new members were voted onto the WNC Board of Directors at our Annual Board Retreat on July 29, held at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. They are:

Margo Gordon, Public Member, who is returning to the Board after serving from 1998-2004. Margo is former Dean of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. She stepped down as dean but continues to teach as a professor at the school. She also has taught journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School.

Jonathan Lawson, Media Member, who is Executive Director of Reclaim the Media and Public Affairs Specialist at the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME. He is also host/producer of a weekly jazz program on KBCS-FM. He is a graduate of Guilford College and Harvard Divinity School.

Martin J. Neeb, Media Member, who is General Manager of KPLU-FM in Tacoma, a position he has held since 1981. He recently announced his retirement, effective in December 2006. He is a founding member of the City Club of Tacoma and has been an officer of West Coast Public Radio and the Arthritis Foundation.

The following two members joined the WNC Board earlier in 2006:

Mike Flynn, Media Member, who recently retired as President and Publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal. He is also on the boards of Junior Achievement of Greater Puget Sound, Downtown Seattle Association, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, and the Harbor Club.

Dr. Eddie Reed, Public Member, who just received his Ph.D. in Education from the University of Washington. He was a WNC board member from 1998 to 2004 and served as President of the organization for three years. Dr. Reed is now Instruction Coach and Professional Development Director for the Tukwila School District.

The Board Retreat was a day-long meeting that included welcoming remarks by CWU President Jerilyn McIntyre, and luncheon remarks by Ken Robertson, Editor of the Tri-City Herald. The Council voted to accept the complaint from the King County Sheriff’s Office against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It heard reports from several task groups and committees. And it watched a videotape of the Minnesota News Council’s hearing in the case of Northwest Airlines vs. WCCO-TV, plus a Mike Wallace “60 Minutes” segment on that case, in which Wallace endorses news councils.

The following officers were re-elected for one-year terms:

President – Stephen Silha (Media Member)

Vice President- Steve Boyer (Public Member)

Vice President – Dave Schaefer (Media Member)

Treasurer – Sandy Schoolfield (Public Member)

Secretary – Suzie Burke (Public Member)


WNC Elects New President, Vice Presidents; Silha’s op-ed in Christian Science Monitor

Stephen Silha was elected president of the Washington News Council at the WNC’s board meeting on July 23, 2005. Silha, a writer and communications consultant, had been vice president of the council.

The Christian Science Monitor published his op-ed piece, “News councils: a meeting place for communities and their storytellers,” on Aug. 29, 2005. Click HERE:

“News councils provide a nonthreatening, neutral way to explore citizen complaints about media coverage, to examine ethics, and to communicate more clearly about the purpose and techniques of journalism,” Silha wrote. He described the WNC’s Knight Foundation-funded project to create two more news councils in other states (see next item below).

Silha replaces Cyrus Krohn, who stepped down as WNC president when he took a new job at Yahoo! Krohn, who is maintaining his residence in Issaquah, will remain as a media member of the Council.

Steve Boyer and Dave Schaefer were also elected vice presidents of the News Council. Boyer is Senior Vice President of Rockey Hill & Knowlton, and a Public Member of the WNC. Schaefer is Assistant Director of Public Affairs at the Port of Seattle and a Media Member of the WNC.

Sandy Schoolfield is now Treasurer of the WNC and Suzie Burke is Secretary.

The News Council has received other national publicity. Mark Jurkowitz‘s recent piece in the Boston Phoenix

http://www.bostonphoenix.com/medialog_2/ (second item) also described the Knight Foundation grant project.

Both Silha’s and Jurkowitz’s pieces were posted on Jim Romenesko’s widely read national media website.


WNC Adds 11 New Voting Board Members

The 24-member Washington News Council has added 11 new voting board members to replace members who stepped down at the end of their second 3-year terms, or for other reasons. The new Council members were welcomed and officially voted on board at the WNC’s Annual Meeting on Feb. 5. Click HERE for media images. Click HERE for all WNC board members’ biographies. The new members are:


George Cole – Development Officer, Central Washington University, Ellensburg (formerly with Montana Public Television, Spokane Public Radio, KREM-TV)

John Knowlton – Journalism Professor, Green River Community College (President-elect, Pacific Northwest Association of Journalism Educators)

Erik Lacitis – Staff Writer, The Seattle Times

Clayton Park – Business Editor, King County Journal (former editor and reporter, Puget Sound Business Journal, Seattle Sun, The Seattle Times)

David Schaefer – Assistant Director of Public Affairs, Port of Seattle (former Seattle Times reporter and editor, former press secretary for U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott)


Everett Billingslea – Vice President, Administration & Legal Affairs, Lynden Inc. (former General Counsel to Gov. Gary Locke; former Bogle & Gates attorney)

Steve Boyer – Senior Vice President, Rockey Hill & Knowlton (former director of communications, Services Group of America; former Sr. VP, The Fearey Group)
Stan Emert – Director of Community Relations, Symetra Financial (also boys basketball coach, Lakeside School; host/producer, KWPX public affairs TV show)

Paula Selis – Senior Counsel, Consumer Protection Division, High Tech Unit, Washington State Attorney General’s Office

Fawn Spady – Co-owner, Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants (co-founder, Education Excellence Coalition; founder, Creative Empowerment Inc., a consulting firm)

Cindy Zehnder – President, TVW (former chief clerk, WA State House of Representatives; former deputy commissioner, WA State Employment Security Department)

The WNC also elected a slate of officers for 2005:

President – Cyrus Krohn, Executive Producer, MSN Video

Vice President – Steve Silha, Writer and Communications Consultant

Secretary – Sandy Schoolfield, Community Volunteer

Treasurer – Suzie Burke, President, Fremont Dock Company

“We are very pleased to be adding so many excellent new members to the News Council,” said WNC President Cyrus Krohn. “And we were delighted to have so many terrific people apply.” The new members were selected from nearly two dozen applicants in an open, statewide competitive process.

The WNC’s board members oversee the organization’s operations and finances. They also consider complaints against the news media and vote on the validity of these complaints in formal WNC hearings. These are voluntary, unpaid positions with 3-year terms.

Ken Bunting, Executive Editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was a guest speaker at the WNC’s annual meeting. He discussed the P-I’s efforts to maintain public trust and credibility with readers, the changing news media market, and the vital need for fair, accurate, balanced and comprehensive news coverage. To read Ken Bunting’s remarks, click HERE.