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This news media blog explores the nexus between the press, the public and technology with two missions. One, to engage citizens in an online conversation about the role of the news media in their lives, in the hope that they will use and critique the media more effectively. And secondly to explore how the press can remain relevant, essential and accountable to citizens and communities.

Mike Fancher is Editor at Large of The Seattle Times.

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February 29, 2008 3:45 PM

The "person of interest who wasn't" is dead

Posted by Mike Fancher

In late January I wrote a blog item about The Seattle Times' handled a story about a 29-year-old man who was a person of interest in the Capitol Hill stabbing of Shannon Harps. The Times didn't name the man, who was subsequently cleared of the crime, but printed extensive details about him

Today the newspaper does name him, in a story about his tortured life and death. William Francis Ball was stabbed to death in the heart. His body was found around midnight Feb. 21 in the 10300 block of Greenwood Avenue North. Police are investigating, and no arrests have been made.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Journalism ethics , News judgment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 29, 2008 7:20 AM

You be the editor -- Prince Harry in Afghanistan

Posted by Mike Fancher

Should news of Prince Harry's deployment in Afghanistan have been withheld or reported?

The British press and Associated Press had known for weeks that he was there, but didn't publish the information for security reasons. Press Here for the story. The AP wrote:

The deployment plan had been disclosed to reporters, with no specific date, but was not reported previously because of an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and all major news organizations operating in Britain, including The Associated Press. The news blackout was intended to reduce the risk to the prince and his regiment.

The Washington Post called that a "remarkable deal between the British military and the news media."

Yesterday the story broke on the Drudge Report. It's not clear how Drudge learned of the deployment.

Now that the story is out, the British military and press are making the most of it, as illustrated by this report in the Telegraph.

And, the debate is underway over whether the story should have been held in the first place and whether it should have been revealed while the prince, third in line to the British throne, was still on the battlefield.

You be the editor.

Comments | Category: Journalism ethics , News industry developments , You be the editor |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 28, 2008 9:05 AM

Go to the head of the class, Linda Shaw

Posted by Mike Fancher

If a newspaper were a school sack lunch, beat reporting would be the sandwich. Everything else comes and goes -- the apple, carrots, celery, juice, Jello, chips, string cheese, cookies and whatever. But the sandwich is the mainstay.

My admiration for beat reporters went up a few years ago when I judged the beat reporting category of the Pulitzer Prize. This was the best work in country by people covering beats like politics, medicine, education, sports, religion, government, the arts and entertainment. The range of topics was matched by the scope of work within each entry -- breaking news, investigations, profiles, features, analysis. Beat reporters do it all.

So, it's exciting that Seattle Times reporter Linda Shaw has been named the best education beat reporter in the country for 2007 by the National Education Writers Association.

Continue reading this post ...

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February 27, 2008 1:21 PM

No country for old newspaper men

Posted by Mike Fancher

The future of newspapers was discussed by a bunch of gray-haired guys last night at the News Tribune in Tacoma. I was one of them. The others on the panel were:

David Brewster, founder and former publisher of Seattle Weekly and current publisher of

Jack Hart, recently retired managing editor of the Oregonian in Portland

Alex Tan, former chairman of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communications at Washington State University and currently WSU diversity faculty fellow

Putting us through our paces was Joanne Lisosky, associate professor of communication at Pacific Lutheran University.

"It wasn’t quite dinosaurs discussing the coming meteor," according to a report in the News Tribune. The report continued:

If there was a consensus, it was that newspapers must evolve. But also that changes in technology allow newspapers to involve the community in new and exciting ways.

Another blog report on the session started with an exchange about "What you should expect from your newspaper." Press Here for that report by News Tribune Managing Editor Karen Peterson.

Anything we lacked in being able to predict the future of newspapers was countered by the passion we all feel for the role of the press in society.

Footnote: Brewster and I agreed the Tacoma crowd of about 80 people was far friendlier than any we would have faced in Seattle. That said, I suspect we wouldn't turn down an invitation.

Comments | Category: Journalism trends , News industry developments , News media diversity , The future of journalism |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 26, 2008 4:05 PM

I feel like the groundhog at large, but I'm back

Posted by Mike Fancher

I've spent some time hibernating near Winthrop. Now that I've popped my head out, some of what I see makes me want to go back underground.

Speaking of the New York Times, I'll confess I read portions of its John McCain romance article on my iPhone while dining at a wi-fi-equipped restaurant. As I read out loud, my wife kept saying, "That's not a story." Apparently The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer agreed, as neither chose to print the piece.

I couldn't resist sending an e-mail from the dinner table to Times Executive Editor David Boardman, asking his take. He replied:

Well, I was uncomfortable enough with it that we didn't use it. But I also knew that it would be the talk of the news cycle, and we used a Washington Post version that focused strictly on her status as lobbyist, not as possible mistress.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Journalism ethics , Media bias , News judgment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 16, 2008 1:30 PM

What's ahead for the world's greatest news service?

Posted by Mike Fancher

The traditional business models that bring you the day's news are in flux, including the relationship between the Associated Press and the news organizations that own it.

AP, which began in 1846, is a cooperative owned by some 1,500 U.S. newspapers and run by a board of directors that is elected by its members. But there has been a growing tension in recent years as AP has created new opportunities and revenue sources, some of which involve selling content to emerging businesses that compete with traditional media.

Continue reading this post ...

Comments | Category: Journalism trends , Media ownership , News industry developments , The future of journalism |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 13, 2008 2:44 PM

"Murder, after all, is the ultimate form of censorship."

Posted by Mike Fancher

With sad irony, yesterday's posting about the death photo of famed WW II correspondent Ernie Pyle coincides with new reminders of the dangers facing journalists of today.

The body of a young Iraqi reporter was discovered yesterday in Baghdad. Hisham Mijawet Hamdan, 27, who was abducted Sunday, had been shot in the head and chest. Press Here to see a report.

Two CBS News journalists, a British citizen and an Iraqi who were also kidnapped Sunday in Iraq, remain missing. They were taken from their hotel in the southern city of Basra. Press Here for a report.

A Pakistani eye doctor who wrote a weekly column for a news magazine was shot and killed outside his home on Saturday. An insurgent group claimed responsibility, saying Dr. Chishti Mujahid opposed their cause. Press Here for a report.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released the latest version of its annual report "Attacks on the Press." The report says 32 journalists were killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2007. Worldwide, 65 journalists were killed last year, the highest toll in more than a decade.

A preface to the book, written by CNN's Christiane Amanpour, says most of those killed were not shot in combat. "Seven out of ten are targeted and hunted down, then shot, bludgeoned, or stabbed." She adds:

This fact is chilling enough. What is even more outrageous is that 85 percent of these murders are carried out with impunity. To colleagues left behind, the message is clear: Stop reporting anything sensitive. In too many countries, that message is heeded. Journalists censor themselves and a whole society is the poorer, deprived of vital information and the ability to hold those in power to account...

Impunity is the single biggest threat facing journalists today. Murder, after all, is the ultimate form of censorship.

CPJ is launching a campaign to publicize these murders, investigate them and pressure authorities around the world to seek justice for the slain journalists.

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February 12, 2008 4:15 PM

Poignant photo of Ernie Pyle, a correspondent who should be remembered

Posted by Mike Fancher


This photo shows World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle shortly after he was killed by a Japanese machine gun bullet on the island of Ie Shima on April 18, 1945.

When I read of the recently discovered death photo of Ernie Pyle, it struck me that many younger readers would have no sense of his place in the history of American journalism. For that matter, anyone born after World War II might not know much about this famed correspondent who won the 1944 Pulitzer Prize for his columns from the battlefield.

I was born in 1946 and can remember watching the movie "The Story of G.I. Joe," with Burgess Meredith playing Pyle. The movie was released in 1945, just months after the correspondent was killed on a Pacific island. I must have seen it on TV in the mid-1950s, probably on a Saturday afternoon.

Several years ago I read a collection of his columns that was given to me when I helped judge the Scripps Howard Foundation Ernie Pyle Award for human Interest writing. Press Here for samples of his work.

Thinking of that contest triggered an idea -- who better to write something personal about Ernie Pyle than Don Duncan, a retired Seattle Times reporter who was twice a finalist for the award. Here is what he wrote:

Continue reading this post ...

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February 12, 2008 9:30 AM

Seattle City Council back open-government bill

Posted by Mike Fancher

Kudos to the Seattle City Council for urging the state legislature to pass a bill requiring audio taping of all executive sessions of government.

HB3292 requires taping so there will some record of what happened in these closed sessions, should a court subsequently finds the activity shouldn't have been secret. The tapes would be divulged only after such a finding.

Lobbyists for many cities and counties across the state argued against the bill, saying it would have a chilling effect on the closed-door conversations. The measure appeared dead because of that opposition, but legislative supporters resurrected it. The opponents haven't backed down, but support from Seattle sends a message that not all local governments are against it.

Seattle Councilmember Richard J. McIver said, "Requiring the recording of executive sessions is an important step in government accountability."

Council President Richard Conlin said, "This resolution continues the Council's long track record of support for open government. We support the efforts by the Attorney General and the State Auditor to insure that executive sessions are recorded along with the necessary safeguards to protect those recordings."

Press Here for a Vancouver Columbian editorial that articulates the logical behind the bill, which has broad, bi-partisan support among state leaders. And Here for a similar editorial in The Seattle Times.

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February 11, 2008 9:45 AM

Protecting yourself from identity theft

Posted by Mike Fancher

Consumers concerned about identity theft should be more careful with their wallets, checkbooks and credit cards and be less trusting on the telephone, according to a new study by Javelin Strategy & Research of San Francisco.

Press Here for a full story about the study.

I pay attention to stories about identity theft because it is a legitimate concern, but it is often misused by people trying to close access to public records. Studies show that public records have not been a source of identity theft, but the topic is emotional. Press Here for an earlier column on the subject, including mention of a 2006 study by the Better Business Bureau that said information from public records was not identified as a source of identity theft.

I asked James Van Dyke, president of Javelin whether his firm's study examined the risk of identity theft from public records. Keep reading for his e-mail response:

Continue reading this post ...

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February 6, 2008 8:05 PM

Taping executive sessions -- chilling effect or turning up the heat?

Posted by Mike Fancher

City and county government officials from around Washington state want to kill a bill requiring that executive sessions be tape recorded. Their rationale -- the taping could have a chilling effect on these secret conversations.

Say what?

The state House committee that heard testimony earlier this week took no action, which could mean the measure is dead for this session. The Vancouver Columbian reported:

Opponents, including some legislators who have served on city councils or school boards, said the mere presence of a tape recorder in a closed session would have a chilling effect on attorney-client discussions.

Clark County Commissioner Mark Boldt, a former state legislator, was among those who testified that the law would create headaches for governing boards. He recalled having to hammer out a settlement with attorneys in a liability case in a closed county commission session.

“We had to ask the hard questions,” he said. “When you put a tape recorder in front of an executive session, you may not say that uncomfortable question.”

HB 3292 makes clear that the recordings can't be divulged unless a court later finds that what is on the tape violates of the state's Open Meetings Act. In other words, officials should have no discomfort, provided they aren't skirting the law in the first place.

For example, the state auditor found eight instances in which public bodies met in executive session to discuss legal matters without a lawyer present. That's problematic because it's hard to assert attorney-client privilege when there is no attorney with the clients. (See earlier post on the auditor's report.)

Is this fight really about the bill's possible chilling effect or the potential for turning up the heat on inappropriate executive sessions?

Backers of the bill are making a push to keep it alive. Stay tuned.

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February 6, 2008 9:40 AM

Be a citizen journalist at the Washington caucuses

Posted by Mike Fancher

If you are planning to attend either the Republican or Democratic caucuses this Saturday, The Seattle Times wants your help. Times Political Editor Richard Wagoner explains:

We're recruiting citizens who plan to participate in the caucuses to send us their first-hand reports during and after the caucuses. This will give citizens an opportunity to tell their own stories of the caucuses and how they feel about the process and the results. I'm looking forward to reading these unfiltered reports from people who have a stake in the discussions.

The Times is seeking reports sent by e-mail. Participants from outside the Seattle area, including Eastern Washington, are welcome.

Press Here if you’d like to participate.

Wagoner said David Postman, chief political reporter, will be blogging results, taking feeds from at least a half-dozen other reporters at the caucuses.

We hope this will give readers a more immediate sense of what's happening at the meetings, how the debates are going and which candidates appear to be winning out. Both Postman's blog and the citizen reports will be published online, and I hope some of the content can make its way into the print editions, too

If you are uncertain about how to participate in the caucuses, here are several stories The Times has published to help you:

Going to a caucus? Be ready for in-your-face politics

Clinton, Obama chase next big prize: Washington state

Newbies could throng (Snohomish County) caucuses

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February 5, 2008 8:30 PM

It's going to be a wild and crazy night for politics

Posted by Mike Fancher

My beat with Press Here is to track how the news media are meeting the public's needs, especially with new technologies. There is a lot going on Super Tuesday. I'll point out some fun twists as I find them. Send comments if you see something new and different.

Among newspapers, the Washington Post is using live video. The quality doesn't match television, but the commentary is thoughtful and competitive with TV's pundits. (Of course I have a soft spot for Ben Bradlee, former executive editor and now editor at large, a noble title. He was just on.) The live chat that accompanies the video seems trivial.

The New York Times offers "Voices from the Polls," a map with links to voter comments from around the country. The newspaper's Politics page with a nifty chart that shows the delegate count unfolding. Check the Polling Place Photo Project, a national experiment in citizen journalism.

David Postman, chief political reporter for The Seattle Times, is hosting a Virtual Super Tuesday Party, starting at 5 p.m.

Polls just closed in Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted reader comments on whether they had problems voting.

New -- Checking out the Boston Globe, I found a seven-part series on "The Making of Mitt Romney." It's billed as the most comprehensive biography of the candidate. Depending on how the night unfolds, that might be worth a look tomorrow. Or not.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch didn't have many bells and whistles, but it did have an important breaking story with voters saying poll workers weren't prepared. Any voting irregularity will get scrutiny this year.

Polls in Illinois close at 5 p.m. our time, and the Chicago Tribune is asking voters to post questions in advance. They will start answering the questions after polls close. I can't wait to see the answer the to invisible ink pens being used in one ward. Or why one election judge punched another in the face. Only in Chicago.

6:30 p.m. -- Denver's Rocky Mountain News is blogging live and offering "spot videos" from party caucuses, which are just underway. The rival Denver Post is offering live caucus videos.

6:55 p.m. -- The Los Angeles Times is promoting live video interactive chat, but the next one does start until 7:15 p.m. in LA.

Update -- The LA Times live video chat was just that, but it lasted only 15 minutes and shut down for another 45 minutes. What's up wth that? Meanwhile, the newspaper is updating a story on problems at polling places.

10:10 p.m. -- With tonight's results in, Washington's caucuses just got a lot more interesting, especially for Democrats. The Seattle Times wants your help. Press Here to find out how.

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February 4, 2008 4:20 PM

Recording what goes on behind closed doors

Posted by Mike Fancher

Under Washington law, government entities may meet behind closed doors for specified purposes. But how is the public to know whether these executive sessions are limited to appropriate purposes and are otherwise allowable under the law? And what's to be done after the fact if they aren't?

Auditor Brian Sonntag compiled a list of 460 issues involving open meetings of various agency boards between 2004 and 2007. Among the problems:

-- Conducting executive sessions for unallowable purposes.
-- Taking official action in the closed session, which is not allowed.
-- Failing to state or document the purpose of the session.
-- Discussing pending litigation, but without an attorney present.
-- Holding closed sessions without first holding an opened session, as the law requires.

Under existing law, not much can be done be done once violations like those come to light. The legislature can remedy that with passage of HB 3292. It would require audio taping of executive sessions and retaining the recording two years, providing a backstop in case of a legal challenge to the executive session.

A state House committee will take testimony on a bill tonight and likely vote on it tomorrow morning.

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February 4, 2008 10:50 AM

One writer's take on the best journalism of 2007

Posted by Mike Fancher

Like pitchers and catchers showing up for baseball's spring training, contest season is underway in newsrooms across the country. In addition to preparing and submitting entries, some papers send around reprints, hoping to get some insider attention about their best work of the previous year.

Unfortunately, readers seldom get to see the best work from elsewhere, so I'll try to alert you to what's getting the buzz.

For starters, check out Jon Marshall's take on the Best of 2007. Marshall, who writes "News Gems," a blog on the site of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), offers picks from newspapers, television, magazines and Web sites. Go to his column for commentary and links to these favorites:

Continue reading this post ...

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February 1, 2008 9:00 AM

If Microsoft buys Yahoo, can Googlezon be far off?

Posted by Mike Fancher

Before you do anything else, Press Here to look into the possible future of today's report that Microsoft is bidding to acquire Yahoo.

The link takes you to EPIC 2015, a wonderfully chilling short film that looks back at how the press, as we know it, ceased to exist. A pivotal event anticipated in the film happened in 2008, when Google and join forces to become Googlezon. The rest, as they say, is history.

The film says the News Wars of 2010 were notable for the fact that no actual news organization took part. In 2011, the "slumbering Fourth Estate" fought back in a copyright suit, but the U.S. Supreme ruled in favor of Googlezon and against the New York Times.

On Sunday, March 9, 2014, (the final year in the original version of this film) Googlezon created EPIC, the Evolving Personalized Information Construction. It is a summary of the world, customized for each user. At its best it is "deeper, broader, and more nuanced" than anything before. At its worst it is "a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational."

The original film concluded that the success of EPIC pre-empted any meaningful discussion of the media and democracy or journalism ethics. "But perhaps there was another way."

That line is dropped for EPIC 2015, suggesting there wasn't.

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Recent entries

Feb 29, 08 - 03:45 PM
The "person of interest who wasn't" is dead

Feb 29, 08 - 07:20 AM
You be the editor -- Prince Harry in Afghanistan

Feb 28, 08 - 09:05 AM
Go to the head of the class, Linda Shaw

Feb 27, 08 - 01:21 PM
No country for old newspaper men

Feb 26, 08 - 04:05 PM
I feel like the groundhog at large, but I'm back







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