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TOPIC: WHITHER WNC? – How can we re-imagine the Washington News Council to bring more citizens into the new news ecosystem?

CONVENOR: John Hamer, Executive Director, Washington News Council

PARTICIPANTS: Jim Vesely (former editorial page editor, Seattle Times); Luke Timmerman (Xconomy, former Seattle Times); Richard VanderKnyff (MSN Local, former LA Times).

1. Is there a role for the WNC? If so, what is it?
2. Can an “outside ombudsman” group of citizens help the new news ecosystem?
3. How should the WNC spend our $100,000 Gates Foundation grant, or should we just give it back and close our doors?

Luke Timmerman (LT) – Be a clearinghouse of Ethics statements. Xconomy has an ethics statement on our About page. People say everything in new media is inherently conflicted. Have a place where people can go and review the ethics statements of various orgs. WNC could review codes and let people make up their minds.

Jim Vesely (JV) – Luke is doing the same solid journalism now. No difference from his Seattle Times days.

LT – I was trained in old standards and practices, at Bloomberg and Times. Had more time to do investigative reporting. Not realistic anymore. Not doing long pieces that I was then, but 4-5 stories a day now. Hard-hitting reporting on the web still lives on. Need for solid experienced reporters. Good beat reporters. Beat reporting is prized. People come to Xconomy so they can get more info. We’re not just stenographers for a company.

John Hamer (JH) – QUESTION: Is traditional investigative reporting threatened by the decline in major media and is it still possible in the new news ecosystem?

JV – Big investigative series were “contest driven.” Example: “We’re gonna find out that the major took his SUV to Cannon Beach and we’re gonna nail him.” Gotcha journalism isn’t necessarily good journalism. More important things to cover!

LT – Prize-driven motivation is huge. It’s problem focused, not solution focused.

Rick VanderKnyff (RV) – Lots of it is prize driven. Meant for other journalists, not for readers. He once spent 2 months for a series that didn’t work out. Now expertise is flowing out of newsrooms into more vertical news operations, which is good.

LT – Still valuable that we have the touchstones. We use to call them newspapers. Kind of a clearinghouse. My Xconomy stories will get kicked up to a wider audience. After awhile, we just talk among ourselves.

RV – Did pre-conference interview with David Boardman of The Times. Even if it isn’t doing 100% coverage, we still need them.

JV – I’m the classic gatekeeper. Spent 40 years in business. Now there’s no gate, and no fence. We were there, trying to cover it all. You all left us for your video screens. Clearly we’re now in a different world where there’s no longer an authority figure or institution. Cronkite has become Jon Stewart.

RV – FactCheck.org. There’s a lot of self-policing on the Web. People are very quick to pull out mistakes in stories. Some find a small mistake and then cast aspersions on whole stories, which isn’t fair.

JV – You have to be a real geek to know about FactCheck.com. I don’t go there. Kids at SCCC (Seattle Central Community College, where he is newspaper advisor) go to Siccem.com.

LT – Washington News Council need partnerships with Mainstream Media. WNC.com needs to get more hits.

RV -- You could be a Better Business Bureau for the media.

LT – Knight Science Journalism Tracker. Boyce Rensberger. Peer review within science journalism. We’ve never had anything like that for other journalism. It’s a Blog of former science writers. Here are the most 5-6 interesting stories we’ve found today. Also write critical reviews. Climategate. How was that story Ssourced? Value in that.

RV – LA OBSERVED.COM. Covers media landscape in Southern California. Media critics. Also surfacing media news. Clearinghouse. Lots about LA Times. Run by Kevin Roderick. Also cover TV. Recent Story: LATimes allows WSJ to use its printing plant. LAT moved deadline to 6 pm, so they could print WSJ in evening run. Bad move.

JH – www.newstrust.net is site that rates stories nationwide. We may do a statewide version called WANewsTrust.net. Might invite journalism student statewide to submit stories and rate them. NewsTrust did that with Stanford, Santa Clara, Berkeley.

LT & RV – Similar to Digg. Twitter. Slashdot.com. Techheds. Open source community that browses the web. Look at this, people say.

JV – Journalism students? Why should I care about what they think? Peer reiew? Maybe. Citizens? Even better. Maybe your role is already filled. The most powerful force in political review now is The Stranger. City Council staff all read it. Cutting edge for political commentary. Why? Attitude! No difference between news and opinion. Favorites: Bicyclists, minorities, those who get drunk, favor marijuana legalization. We are on your side. Seattle has more unmarried than marrieds. More pets than children. Greenies: Let’s get a state income tax. If you want to be respectful to women, read The Stranger from front to back. (Escort ads in back.) Gay rights, women’s power, etc. They represent Boutique Seattle.

Seattle Times used to do ProCons, but people only read what they disagree with, and attack that. They don’t read both sides.

RV – MSN Local – Aggregating the local stuff. Add local relevance. Home page is same all over country. How do we bring hyperlocal into the frame? We’re not gonna do original journalism. Be fair, get an interesting mix. How do you do that algorithmically? Partnering with Bing to surface local stuff. Sidewalk experiment failed (ahead of its time?) but had value. Surfaced human generated stuff. Yahoo: Hiring local editors.

RV – Yelp model. Sponsor Parties. Do restaurant reviews. Local.msn.com just launched. Partner with MSNBC. Lots of rolling disruptions in journalism for some time to come.

JV – Luke’s career path is the new arc.

LT -- What I do is more valued on the web than what I did at a print paper. It’s niche and vertical. Make it accessible and helpful. I’m a translator and interpreter. Know right questions to ask. Core audience. We’ve got analytics now. Every biotech CEO in the region reads this now. Search engines. Half of our traffic comes from SEOs.

RV – MSN portal around since 1995-96. Relaunched as Bing. What is our value to search, not as much portal product. We’re sort of redefining ourselves. Cyrus Krohn and Scott Moore are redefining us.

JH – Would a TAO of Journalism Seal (Transparency, Accountability, Openness) help?

JV – Don’t know. How about WNC doing a forum a month? Do more panels and get higher exposure. CityClub model.

RV – Independent entrepreneurial bloggers have a connecting orIgination. Monthly get-togethers with Media Bistro.

LT – Agree. Do gatherings. New organizations do some. A News Council becomes less relevant. In old days, people had grievances and no ways to air them. Do people feel they’re voiceless and can’t air their grievances today? I don’t think so.

JV – Group called MREs – Military Reporters and Editors. Have commonality. Good.

LT – Like Science writers organization. Has value. Maybe a broader approach?