The Washington News Council announced last week that it will close down on May 31. The organization played a necessary role in our state’s media landscape as it sought to ensure accuracy and hold the press accountable. For people who felt they were the victims of drive-by journalism, the WNC provided an outlet for them to seek redress and to right a wrong.
This great organization was kept going by the sheer energy and gusto of executive director and founder John Hamer. He consistently recruited outstanding board members, a mix of people with strong journalism backgrounds and people of prominent community stature. Hamer built the council’s profile, raised money, and put on one of the best annual fundraisers around, the fun and hilarious Gridiron West dinner.
Hamer and his board believe the media landscape has changed so much – the explosion of social media and blogs are large factors – that the news council model doesn’t work anymore. There’s simply too much media for a council to hold accountable. The job became in some ways too big – but those same factors that make the media landscape today so sprawling are also tools for holding journalists accountable in this new era.
The WNC gained the most attention for its public hearings, in which complainants and media organizations could make their case about the fairness and accuracy of a piece. Not surprisingly, not all local media outlets were enthusiastic about the WNC, and some refused to participate in its hearings. KIRO 7, for example, refused to defend an incredibly dubious story about felon voting after a complaint by then-Secretary of State Sam Reed.
Even when the media organization refused to participate, the WNC still used a fair, transparent process to get to the truth. While it received far less attention, Hamer recognized that one of the best ways to improve the quality of journalism was to reach out to the next generation of journalists. He used his “TAO of Journalism” outreach to encourage young journalists to take the TAO pledge to be Transparent, Accountable, and Open.
Congratulations to John on his retirement. He is leaving with many thanks and kudos for all he accomplished in the WNC’s 15 years, and with hopes that he will find a way to stay involved in issues of journalistic excellence.