Saturday, September 23, 2006

Media Forum Validates Advocacy Journalism Approach

On Thursday night I was part of a panel discussion on the topic of local media. I squeezed into the KHUM studio with Tom Sebourn (News Director, KGOE), Half-Def (pirate radio), Charles Winkler (outgoing Managing Editor, Eureka Times-Standard), Bob Browning (General Manager, KIEM-TV3), Rich Sommerville (incoming Managing Editor, Eureka Times-Standard), Paul Encimer (KMUD/Green Fuse), and Diane Batley (Assistant Managing Editor, Eureka Reporter). Mike Dronkers (KHUM Program Director and midday DJ) was our host and facilitator.

The discussion moved quickly and was surprisingly civil. The group was already expected to be large, but Half-Def and Sommerville were last minute additions. Batley was sitting in for Reporter Managing Editor Glenn Franco Simmons who she said was unexpectedly ill. At the top of the show, Dronkers acknowledged that I had inspired the program in our election night conversation questioning how unverifiable election results could be reported by the media as fact. I don't think he explicitly stated that I also booked all of the panelists except the three that weren't scheduled to be there.

As we went around the room to introduce ourselves, I took the opportunity to provide my definition of advocacy journalism. I noted that one of the stated goals of the We Do Not Consent blog is to change the public dialog on various issues and that bringing such a group together for this event is an example of what I consider to be successful advocacy journalism.

While I did NOT say the following on the air, I do point out in the Introduction to my book, We Do Not Consent (free .pdf download), that the Voter Confidence Resolution is my best example of advocacy journalism, so far. I wrote that when Arcata was the only City Council to adopt it. Now there's Palo Alto too. Two cities have declared "no basis for confidence" in election results under current conditions. To me this is an awesome amount of change to the public dialog. I don't say this just to pat myself on the back but to encourage adoption of the advocacy journalism approach as a necessary means for doing the organizing work required in pursuit of progressive change.

I went into Thursday night's forum with several goals in mind, some of which were acted upon off the air. On the air, in the few minutes we devoted to elections, I called upon the media to hold the elections department to the law by obtaining precinct poll tapes at all voting locations on election night. I know first hand that Humboldt does not have a perfect record of following this part of the election code.

Beyond just the accountability of seeing poll workers doing their jobs properly, I pointed out that gathering the poll tapes would allow an absolutely basic cursory verification that the centrally tabulated results jibe with the combined precinct totals. Given the number of precincts, I suggested that the various media might even consider some type of pool arrangement as is common among White House reporters.

I also reiterated the June 6 challenge that brought us all together, adding for emphasis that the media is currently allowing the government to dictate election results which are reported without question or verification, even though the results govern the power of the very same government. I recall Encimer and Sebourn chiming in with supporting comments but I don't remember any particular response from Batley, Winkler or Browning. I think this really is one of the best arguments ever developed for the election integrity movement and it should be fully pressed everywhere.

I also suggested that it would be in the interest of the media to join the call for hand counted paper ballots because then they could observe and document the counting process which would become the basis for considering their reporting to be credible. Each of these points was on my list of goals before the event.

After the show, I gave copies of We Do Not Consent to everyone there. I mentioned how much I appreciated the media coverage of the book launch and how I'd like to get an actual book review that deals seriously with the issues. There were no promises.

At one point I corralled Batley, Winkler and Sommerville. I told them Voter Confidence Committee member Ruth Hoke had written an article based on reviewing local media coverage of election issues as documented in my scrapbook. Hoke's article is excellent and one way or another you will soon get a chance to read it. I quickly flashed the scrapbook though we didn't leaf through it. I was sort of making my pitch and wanted to get to the point.

I gave one copy of Hoke's article to each daily paper. I suggested another writer borrow the scrapbook and write a similar article to compare two people's perspectives of the same thing. There was some interest in this, as I framed a media critique as a means of instituting accountability, the very reason we had supposedly gathered (though I don't think Dronkers used the word even once). It was reasonably suggested that a more neutral party such as the North Coast Journal or an HSU journalism professor do the second critique. A few things to figure out, but as one of the goals for the night, it certainly moved ahead.

I should also mention that Winkler, as basically a caricature of the role he's played for 2.5 years (as I've blogged, and as Hoke notes in her scrapbook review), suggested that I publish Hoke's piece first, which of course would not reach the audience it deserves and would defeat the point of what I'm proposing.

Back in the studio, the other thing worth mentioning is that in the final few minutes we were also joined on the phone by Arcata Eye Editor Kevin Hoover and the pseudonymous blogger Captain Buhne. Apparently one or both of them felt it was important to "prove" that they are not the same person. The Captain's voice, by the way, was disguised to preserve the secrecy of his or her identity. There is somewhat of a cult of personality around this person who has repeatedly scooped the entire community on very inside stories of local media operations.

Captain Buhne's most recent scoop was the announcement of Winkler's departure from the T-S. During the forum, Winkler expressed a little frustration and dismay that the Captain would know such things, but even more so that he/she operates without the accountability of a real name. Click here for a partial transcript of just this portion of the show. The Humboldt Herald is the only other local blog I've seen with any items about this event. If I've missed anyone, feel free to add a comment below. As for Winkler, he claims to have been offered a promotion to a newspaper in the Bay Area where he would rather not live. He says he is now trying to sell his Humboldt home and explore his options.

Feedback overall has been quite good. Consensus among participants was that this was worthwhile or perhaps necessary and that it should happen again. According to Dronkers, calls to the radio station have been positive, suggesting a longer show next time and fewer panelists.

As the first of its kind (here, at least), this event created an immediate tangible impact and change; and with panelists urging future forums, this event also created a ripple effect on the long-term big picture; and by the nature of the discussion, allowing citizens and especially independent media makers to directly address and challenge those holding the reins of the local corporate media outlets, we tapped directly into the relationship or balance of power between We The People and the media most responsible for shaping our local reality.

I have offered these same criteria before to judge the appropriateness of a potential goal, and to describe the hallmarks of peaceful revolutionary acts.

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Posted by Dave Berman - 11:05 PM | Permalink
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