Did Social Media Doom Minnesota News Council's Promotion of 'Fair, Vigorous, & Trusted Journalism' Since 1970?

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The Minnesota News Council is closing. (Credit: Minnesota News Council)

One of the two state news councils in the U.S. is closing, the Associated Press reported. The council — the Minnesota News Council — has been active since 1970.

The Minnesota News Council (MNC) states on its website that its mission is “to promote fairness in the news media by helping the public to hold news outlets accountable for the stories they produce.”

It started as part of the Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA) but split and became a corporate nonprofit in 1971, according to the MNA. According to its website, the Minnesota News Council was inspired by the UK Press Complaints Commission.

Similar to other press councils around the world, MNC accepted citizen “complaints about news coverage.” Their “File a Complaint” web page states:  “If you have a complaint about something you’ve seen or read, tell us! You can phone, fax, mail, or submit your complaint online. The News Council will respond within two business days.”

Here is an international list of 57 press councils.

Origins & End of the Minnesota News Council

Journalism professor Ed Gerald originally studied the UK press council, the PCC, on behalf of the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

He “was impressed with its ability to resolve complaints and to restore public trust, and he came back urging the Minnesota Newspaper Association to start a news council here.”

The Minnesota News Council is closing because of fewer complaints by the public and decreased “corporate funding,” according to its president, Tony Carideo. For example, Carideo told the Minnesota News Association that the MNC only has had ten “hearings” since 2007 — five in 2007, five in 2008 and one “between 2009 and the end of 2010.”

Carideo reportedly explained to the Minnesota Newspaper Association that the public is complaining via online comments section, direct e-mail and Twitter about news articles so the news council is less used.

As MinnPost noted, Carideo’s comments aren’t surprising.  “I can’t help wondering how social media and our near-instantaneous ability to chew over stories and attendant outrages lessened the complaints. These days, the juries have gotten quite a bit bigger, though the procedures quite a bit more ad hoc.”

MNC, Model for Only Remaining U.S. Press Council?

The Minnesota News Council was “the model” for the Washington News Council, which was founded in 1998. Washington News Council — the only news council remaining in the US after the Minnesota News Councils’ closing — countered the idea that social media and internet forums can solve issues in media’s coverage.

“If someone or their organization is damaged by inaccurate, unfair or unethical news reports, online digital response mechanisms may not be enough. The News Council is still here to help review complaints and provide recourse to those who are damaged by media malpractice. “

Washington News Council explained that the Minnesota News Council got much of its financial backing from Minnesota newspapers and media outlets.  “However, their funding declined severely in recent years due to the financial problems of the news industry in Minnesota.”

The Minnesota News Council’s “endowment, worth around $270,000, will be transferred to a nonprofit affiliated with the MNA probably will be used to support journalism education and professional training,” the AP reported.

The Washington News Council recently earned $200,000 in donations — $100,000 that it raised and $100,000 from the Gates Foundation Challenge for the second year in a row.  The WNC based its “by-laws, guidelines and procedures” on the MNC’s, but instead of using funding from news organizations, it has been backed by “foundations, corporations, associations and many individuals.”

The Washington News Council describes itself on its website as “an independent, nonprofit, statewide organization whose members share a common belief that fair, accurate and balanced news media are vital to our democracy. We have been called an ‘Outside Ombudsman’ or even ‘Better Business Bureau’ for the news media in Washington.” Here is their “complaint process” steps and complaint form.

Does Social Media Replace MNC’s Model of Media Industry Self-Regulation? 

The MNC website states: “The News Council exists to open a productive dialogue between the public and the media on the standards the media upholds. One way we do this is by holding public hearings on unresolved individual complaints about news coverage.”

iMediaEthics wonders if social media does, in fact, replace the depth and fairness displayed by such public hearings of citizens’  complaints? iMediaEthics has written to the Minnesota News Council for more information and will update with any response.

The MNC hearing board is made up of roughly half media people and half members of the public.  Notably, the media members “do not represent the news outlets or organizations they work for; they participate as independent professionals.”

A U.S. City News Council?

The city of Honolulu has, since 1970, what it calls the Honolulu Community Media Council (HCMC). Judging from its website, the HCMC does not seem to process citizen complaints themselves but routes them to the FCC. We are writing to ask for further information.

The HCMC “About Us” page states that Media Council Hawaii is “composed of individuals from the media and the community.” It describes itself as “a nonpartisan, non-governmental independent group” that “seeks to promote accurate and fair journalism in Hawaii, broaden public understanding of the role of the media, foster discussion of media issues, strengthen public support for First Amendment rights and freedoms, and improve public access to information.”


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Did Social Media Doom Minnesota News Council’s Promotion of ‘Fair, Vigorous, & Trusted Journalism’ Since 1970?

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