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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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March 31, 2008 10:20 AM

Ross Anderson -- Still chronicling the spirit of the Northwest

Posted by Mike Fancher

At lunch recently a UW professor asked whatever happened to Ross Anderson. The prof was fondly remembering a story by the former Seattle Times reporter, who had a gift for capturing the Northwest spirit.

Then a couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from someone in Anchorage asking how to contact Ross. "He stayed with us in Cordova, after the Oil spill and I wanted to send him a note or email," she wrote. (Ross was on the team that won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Exxon Valdez.)

These things must come in threes, because I got an e-mail from Ross last week announcing that he has created a Web site called Rossink.com. It includes links to some of his past work, including his memorable reliving of the Klondike gold rush, and provocative essay on intelligent design. Check it out.

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March 20, 2008 10:50 AM

Bearing Witness: The press in Iraq

Posted by Mike Fancher

Update -- I encourage readers to view the comment posted below by Bill, who writes from his active duty experience. His comments reflect the feelings of many in society, and I will attempt to address them later. Thanks for weighing in, Bill.

Reuters has put together a powerful narrative, "Bearing Witness: Five years of the Iraq war," about the role of its journalists in trying to bring this story to the world. The presentation includes a compelling photo timeline and video commentary from three journalists: Samia Nakhoul, Goran Tomasevic and Dean Yates, who pays tribute to the seven Reuters staff members who have been killed in Iraq since 2003.

There is also a 5-minute video that includes many disturbing images, but gives a sense of how the war has been witnessed on the ground. Andrew Marshall, Baghdad bureau chief from 2003 to 2005, says:

Iraq has been the most dangerous war in history for journalists. I think it shows the value of what we're doing.

Covering the news in hostile places is a worthwhile thing. It can bring about change and inform the world. And it is worth us risking our lives.

Alastair MacDonald, Baghdad bureau chief from 2005 to 2007, says:

I think the experience of living and working in Baghdad for that time is always going to be with me.

There is a sense of the importance of human life and human relationships that stays with you when you've been in a place where human life is being lost so cheaply.

News coverage of the war's fifth anniversary appropriately focuses on citizens and combatants, but I urge readers to spend a few minutes with the Reuters narrative. It is a reminder of the service of the men and women who bear witness for the rest of us.

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March 20, 2008 8:15 AM

Public sees government secrecy on the rise

Posted by Mike Fancher

How secretive is government? Plenty and increasingly, according to a new public survey conducted in connection with Sunshine Week.

Three quarters of the respondents said they think the federal government is very or somewhat secretive. That's up from 62 percent in 2006.

Local government fared a lot better, with 56 percent saying their local government is very or somewhat open. In contrast, 40 percent said local government is very or somewhat secretive, but that is up from 34 percent just last year.

The scariest responses had to do with suspicions about government and personal privacy:

Although only about a quarter of adults believe the federal government has opened their mail or monitored their telephone conversations without a federal warrant, three-quarters believe it has happened to people in the United States and two-thirds say it is very or somewhat likely to have happened to members of the news media.

The most encouraging response is nearly everyone said that when they vote in state and local elections it is important to know a candidate's position and record on open government. That's one reason organizations like the Washington Coalition for Open Government have been asking candidates to take a pledge of openness. (Press Here for more on that.)

On specific issues, the survey said:

People also overwhelmingly want access to information such as who lawmakers meet with each day (82 percent), police reports about specific crimes in local neighborhoods (71 percent), and permits for concealed handguns (66 percent). About half said they do not object to officials asking people seeking records to identify themselves or explain why they'd like to see the record.

Sunshine Week is a non-partisan open government initiative led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

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March 18, 2008 12:05 PM

Update -- You can still catch some rays during Sunshine Week

Posted by Mike Fancher

Update -- TVW, the Washington State public affairs television network, will broadcast the Sunshine Week national and local panels at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, March 21. Check the TVW web site for the channel locator and updating on future show times on the TVW schedule.

This is Sunshine Week, and Seattle area residents can join the cause tomorrow at the studios of KCTS 9 Television, 401 Mercer Street, Seattle.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative of the American Society of Newspaper Editors to support open government and freedom of information. The town meeting at KCTS is sponsored by the Washington Coalition for Open Government, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization.

The town hall here will start at 10 a.m. with the national broadcast of a panel on government secrecy and your right to know. the broadcast wil be followed at 11:30 a.m. with a local panel in the KCTS studios. The panelists are:

Tom Carr, Seattle City Attorney
William Crittenden, of the Groff Murphy law firm
Rob McKenna, Washington State Attorney General
Sam Reed, Washington Secretary of State
Brian Sonntag, Washington State Auditor
Lynn Kessler, Washington State Representative and House majority leader

Enrique Cerna, executive producer for KCTS will moderate.

The event is free. No RSVP is necessary, just show up at the KCTS studio after 9:30. Press Here for driving directions.

Sunshine Week is endowed by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Comments | Category: FOIA , Free Press , Open government |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 13, 2008 11:30 AM

Shining the light on your government

Posted by Mike Fancher

Today's Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer include a 4-page section about open government. While it is intended for use in high-school classrooms, the section is useful reading for all citizens.

Continue reading this post ...


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March 7, 2008 4:05 PM

And the winner in Texas is -- we'll get back to you

Posted by Mike Fancher

A Seattle Times reader asks for a front-page correction declaring Sen. Barack Obama winner of the Democratic presidential contest in Texas. The request illustrates the no-win challenge facing the press as the Democrats keep battling. People tend to quote the sources and conclusions they want to believe.

The reader cited a diary blog posting on the Daily Kos declaring, "MSM Finally Admits Obama Won Texas." The MSM (MainStream Media) in this case is National Public Radio, which, the blog item said, "is reporting a net 3 delegate lead for Obama once all is said and done."

Well, not quite. What NPR reported was that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed victory in the Texas primary — but Obama "may walk away with a greater share of the state's delegates." It added, "If the numbers stand as they are now, Obama could come out ahead in the Texas contests by just three delegates."

"May," "if" and "could" are what is call hedging in the news biz. NPR had to hedge because, "The whole Texas process will not be wrapped up until June," and that's assuming the Clinton forces don't take legal action contesting the caucuses.

The Seattle Times published an Associated Press story Friday saying there is no winner yet in the Texas Democratic caucuses. That means there also is no winner in the overall Texas delegate contest, which is a combination of primary voting and caucuses dubbed the "Texas Two-step."

AP wrote that Clinton got 51 percent of the primary vote, compared to Obama's 47 percent. So, she got 65 delegates and he got 61. The caucuses will add another 67 delegates, but it isn't clear how they will split. AP said that as of Thursday afternoon, Obama was ahead with 56 percent to Clinton's 44 percent, based on reports to state party headquarters by 41 percent of the precinct caucuses.

How complicated is all of this? Press Here for a Columbia Journalism Review analysis of what it calls an "extraordinary example of media bungling" of the delegate count by the New York Times. CJR says two NYT stories about the delegate count disagreed with each other and with an accompanying graphic.

I think the best place to look for neutral, up-to-date delegate information is the AP delegate tracker. And, please don't complain if it doesn't show your candidate winning.

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March 6, 2008 3:10 PM

The future of newspapers -- will they ever be the same?

Posted by Mike Fancher

Press Here to read a heartfelt expression about the future of newspapers in American. It is written by Peggy Drexler, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University, who writes:

I have been watching newspapers like you watch a cherished friend who has a slow debilitating illness. You wonder: Even if they survive, will they ever be the same?

The signs are not encouraging.

It's not that the media companies are speeding toward the edge of a cliff. On any given day, 51 million people buy a paper, and 124 million read one. Just for perspective, the Giants and Patriots set a Super Bowl record with an audience of 97.5 million. Profit margins are still in the high teens, and newspapers are touting their success in moving readers online.

This is not an industry that is going to go the way of carbon paper and rotary phones. It's worse than that. It's an industry with a wasting disease that will rob us of essential benefits that we have forgotten how to appreciate...

...I realized there is nobody to blame because it is nobody's fault. You don't blame cell phones when you can't find a phone booth. It's simply the onslaught of technology and the inevitability of consumer choice.

We've seen it before. But this time there is more at stake.

I worry about the quality of debate. I worry about the truth. I worry about a community's ability to examine itself. I worry about the abuse of power when nobody is watching. I worry about losing the sheer enjoyment of great writing and reporting.

But most of all, I just feel sad.

I suspect many of us share that worry and sadness, even as we work to keep this cherished friend on life support, hoping for a full recovery.

As for the observation that there isn't anyone to blame, the combination of high profits and aggressive disinvestment in content would seem to be one place to point an accusatory finger.

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March 3, 2008 9:20 AM

Prince Harry -- Readers sound off; ethicist has a different view

Posted by Mike Fancher

Seattle Times readers who responded to an online poll said overwhelmingly that Prince Harry's fighting in Afghanistan should have been withheld from the public until after he returned to England. Ninety-two percent of 359 people who responded took that view.

British news organizations and the Associated Press had agreed not to report that the prince was in Afghanistan for what was supposed to be a four- to six-month assignment. In return for their silence, they would get special access to him during and after his assignment and could report on it once he returned. The entire affair sparked an ongoing media debate.

The news organizations were holding up their end of the bargain, but the information was leaked to the Drudge Report, which posted it online last week. Seattle Times readers said that was wrong.

But Bob Steele, probably the most highly-regarded journalism ethics thinker in the country, sees the question in a different way. He says the press should never have agreed to the deal in the first place. Press Here to see Steele's comments on his "Everyday Ethics" site. He writes:

Continue reading this post ...


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March 2, 2008 8:00 AM

When the news is bad -- shoot the messenger

Posted by Mike Fancher

How angry are Boeing supporters about the tanker deal going to AIrbus? Mad enough that one Seattle Times reader wanted to shoot the messenger for publishing an unrelated troubling story at a time when the aerospace giant is hurting:

Why did you print the story "Inspector finds "weaknesses" in oversight of aircraft quality"? On the day after Boeing lost the military contract to an overseas company, you had to print this! When is the Seattle Times going to stand up for Boeing or any other American company? When is the Seattle Times going to become patriotic and support the taxpayers?


Your paper has once again disgusted me to no end, the sickening liberal news media can not even stand up and be patriotic. I'm sure your paper supports the decision to send billions and billions of dollars to France - your paper makes me sick. Why is it the American people has to put up with this - maybe next time be a little bit more considerate. Boeing is a good company, how many Boeing airplanes fly every single day with no problems? Maybe you could print a story on that next time. Disgusting!

My response to the reader:

Continue reading this post ...


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

Recent entries

Mar 31, 08 - 10:20 AM
Ross Anderson -- Still chronicling the spirit of the Northwest

Mar 20, 08 - 10:50 AM
Bearing Witness: The press in Iraq

Mar 20, 08 - 08:15 AM
Public sees government secrecy on the rise

Mar 18, 08 - 12:05 PM
Update -- You can still catch some rays during Sunshine Week

Mar 13, 08 - 11:30 AM
Shining the light on your government

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