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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 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.

Comments (0) | Category: Journalism trends , Media ownership , News industry developments , The future of journalism |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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 ...


Comments (0) | Category: Journalism ethics , News judgment , You be the editor |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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 (0) | Category: Journalism ethics , News judgment , You be the editor |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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 (0) | 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 (0) | 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 ...


Comments (0) | Category: News industry developments |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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 Crosscut.com


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 (0) | 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 (0) | Category: Journalism ethics , Media bias , News judgment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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