CSM reports Fairness, accuracy, and balance. They've become media buzzwords, but what do they really mean?
It is fairly obvious. It means reporting the facts, including both sides of issues, without allowing your political or other opinions to influence what you report, and how you report it.Our community storytellers - the news media - sometimes need correcting. Yes, it's important to know how many people marched on the State Capitol, but citizens also want to know what's important and why. News councils are one way to help encourage that conversation by holding news organizations accountable while respecting their autonomy. That's tough to pull off, and some journalists who think any form of accountability is "chilling" resist cooperating.
That is ok. Once their papers or stations go out of business because no one is reading/watching, they will be out of a job.As someone familiar with two news councils in Minnesota and Washington State, I can offer firsthand testimony that news councils are great places for journalists and citizens to talk about news coverage, learn from each other, and strengthen the relationships between news organizations and their communities.
News councils provide a nonthreatening, neutral way to explore citizen complaints about media coverage, to examine ethics, and to communicate more clearly about the purpose and techniques of journalism. The American public has made it clear that journalism as practiced today is not serving them well. Many viewers and readers have responded by simply turning off the TV or radio, or canceling subscriptions.
Or they go to cable news services, and online sources, including blogs, for their information and commentary.Other consumers of news, overloaded with media babble, have found frequent "media fasts" crucial to their mental health. News councils offer better ways to reflect on what's working and what's not. Few institutions in today's culture are strong on reflection; this one encourages it....
The two news councils active today are independent organizations comprised of a mix of volunteers - 12 media people and 12 community members, who represent only themselves. The Minnesota News Council was created by newspaper publishers. The Washington News Council was created by media critics, retired journalists, and concerned citizens. Both have proved themselves important, impartial institutions holding up standards of the best in journalism. Here's how the arbitration process works: The councils mediate between media organizations and individuals or groups who feel they've been harmed by media coverage but agree not to take the case to court. Often the situation is resolved by the complainant getting his or her perspective published, but otherwise a hearing is held and the council votes on the validity of each complaint. Though the council can't mete out punishment, the process is publicized, and that can have considerable weight....
Sounds interestingThrough a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami, two new news councils will form next year. The Minnesota and Washington State news councils will offer seed money of $75,000 to each of the two best proposals submitted by February 15, 2006. (Guidelines and application form can be found at the websites of the Minnesota and Washington news councils.)
News councils in other states could take a different form. They might be started by journalism schools, civic groups, media outlets - or, perhaps ideally, coalitions of these organizations. Would fairness and balance look different in California, Kansas, New York, or Florida? We welcome serious proposals. Doesn't every state deserve a news council?