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TOPIC: Help me spend $200,000 (Gates Foundation grant) to reinvent the Washington News Council. We have a Job Opening for a Project Manager.

CONVENOR: John Hamer, Executive Director, Washington News Council

PARTICIPANTS: Carrie Shaw, Jim Bellinger, Rob Moitoza, Pam Kilborn-Miller, Mike Kitross, Sarajane Sigefriedt, Brian Glanz, Bart Preecs, Alex Stonehill, Susan Adler, Mitsue Cook, Paul Lowenberg, Kristin Millis, Maurreen Skowran, Leif Utne

John Hamer explained that the WNC recently got a $100,000 “challenge grant” from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that he matched with another $100,000 in donations from other sources, and he was genuinely interested in new ideas and suggestions on how to spend the funds.

We went around the circle and introduced ourselves and why we came to this session. John explained what the WNC's traditional activities and programs have been since it was founded in 1998 -- i.e., a kind of "outside ombudsman" for WA state media.

John passed out copies of the WNC’s brochure, mission statement, and Job Description for a new Project Manager, which would start as a part-time job.

Mike Kittross said the WNC’s Mission Statement had 4 major players: the Public, Media Institutions, the Troops (reporters and editors), and Sources (government, business, and “targets” of stories). He asked if the WNC’s mission might be changed to focus more on the Sources and opening them up to respond to the media better.

John Hamer noted that the Washington Coalition for Open Government already did that, and he was on the WACOG’s Advisory Committee. He said the WNC wanted to be more of a Coalition for Open Media.

Carrie Shaw noted that a survey of journalists by the Pew Center for the People and the Press had found that journalists who made campaign contributions in the Kerry-Bush presidential election gave more to Kerry by a 10-1 ratio, and asked if the WNC would address the issue of political bias among journalists.

John said that was not part of our mission, and we focused on Washington state. He said the WNC was non-partisan and/or bipartisan, and we were pretty evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats on our Founding Board and Council.

Karen Toering asked if the WNC might become a convenor and mediator with the ethnic press, an archive of weekly ethnic newspapers, and more demographically specific. John said that was an interesting idea worth considering.

Kristin Millis noted that victims (of domestic abuse, for example) often don’t know that they are victims, and wondered if the WNC might take on the role of educating the public about the media’s job, best practices, etc. She said that education about media literacy should start early, preferably in grade school. She also said the WNC should do more social networking. John agreed that was a shortcoming today, and we want to get better at it – which could be part of the new Project Manager’s job.

Leif Utne said his Zanby software program could be very helpful in linking the WNC to other media and community organizations interested in more dialogue and discussion about media issues and ethics. The Uptake, for example, offers livestreaming, video, and liveblogging. John said that would be a great WNC tool.

Mike Kittross suggested that the WNC might do a Directory of Media organizations statewide as a resource. He also said the WNC could give small grants to students for research and travel statewide to examine and write about media issues.

Sarajane asked if the WNC’s activities were publicized through press releases or other means. John said all of our hearings were televised statewide on TVW, and we got some press coverage in print and broadcast, but we needed to do much more online. He explained how the WNC in early 2009 held a “virtual hearing” in the complaint of Secretary of State Sam Reed vs. KIRO7 TV, and citizens statewide voted and commented on the two KIRO stories at issues. They almost unanimously criticized KIRO for inaccurate and shoddy journalism.

Brian Glanz asked what was the result or outcome of our proceedings and findings. John said the WNC’s only real power was in shame, embarrassment and publicity for the offending media organizations. He said that public accountability was a two-way street, and the media need to be held publicly accountable for their ethics and performance. He said that was a way to rebuild public trust and credibility, but that many journalists resisted that kind of public review and critique, which is too bad. He said media organizations that were more Transparent, Accountable and Open would win friends, readers, viewers and listeners, and even use it as a PR tool. He mentioned the TAO of Journalism Seal idea that the WNC is now promoting as "A Commitment to Transparency, Accountability and Openness." He said it would be a voluntary, self-affixed seal and anyone could use it, from an individual blogger to a hyperlocal newsite to a mainstream media outlet. It would be overseen by everyone on the Web. He also offered TAO Seal T-shirts to everyone for only $10 each.

Brian Glanz said that the WNC should develop an online ad that people could use by clicking through, to help raise our profile. Many non-profits could benefit from this, he said. John said that was a great idea and we’d pursue it.