There will be no more news councils operating in the United States, effective May 31.
The Washington News Council is shutting down at the end of next month. It was the last news council left after the Minnesota News Council closed in early 2011. iMediaEthics interviewed executive director and co-founder of the council John Hamer in 2011 about the council’s work.
The council identified itself as an ‘independent, nonprofit, statewide organization” that held “news media publicly accountable for their performance.” It accepted complaints from the public about the media.
In an April 9 announcement on the council’s website, Hamer said of the council’s work:
“We had a great 15-year run, and we helped a lot of people who were damaged by media malpractice. But the news media have changed tectonically since we began. The eruption of online digital news and information made our mission of promoting high standards in journalism much more difficult, if not impossible. How can anyone oversee a cyber-tsunami?”
In its 15-year history, the council “held 10 public hearings on citizen complaints against media organizations” and “more than 20 panels or forums on media issues,” the announcement stated. As iMediaEthics has written, Hamer said the council tries to resolve complaints before getting to the complaints stage of hearings.
Will Council be replaced by new organization?
The decision to close the council came after Hamer’s announcement to retire, the council’s announcement said. In its search for someone to fill Hamer’s position, “the Board decided that a complete reinvention was needed, not just a new Executive Director.”
“It’s time for a restart,” the council’s chair of Board of Directors Suzie Burke said.
Despite the suggestion that the council would be replaced by another organization, Hamer told iMediaEthics by e-mail the council’s board of directors isn’t planning on a new body following the closure of the council.
Hamer wrote, “We are not taking the lead on creating a new body. Just don’t have the time, energy or resources. However, our ‘TAO of Journalism’ website will stay alive and I plan to keep promoting that nationally and globally.”
The “TAO of Journalism” is one of the projects the council created, calling for “anyone else practicing journalism in the broadest sense of the word” to “take the TAO Pledge’ of transparency, accountability and openness.
Its website describes it as “a promise to your audience that you will be Transparent about who you are, Accountable for your mistakes, and Open to other points of view.”
The pledge “has spread (slowly) around the world, but needs more exposure and encouragement,” Hamer wrote to iMediaEthics. “Student journalists especially like it.”
Hamer added, “I believe the public needs to take a much stronger role in ‘crowdsourcing’ media ethics. People should urge their local media to take the TAO Pledge and post the TAO Seal, then watch to see if they’re living up to their promise. Media criticism is needed and valuable, but it’s easy for journalists to ignore, even when it’s as incisive as what you folks do.”
Hat Tip: Jim Romenesko