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The Press and the Public at Odds: Voicing Grievances Against the News Media


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Nerissa Young, SPJ Project Watchdog chairwoman, 304/466-4846 or nyoung@register-herald.com
Sarah A. Shrode, SPJ Director of Communications, 317/927-8000 or sshrode@spj.org

Tired of hearing the news media say “mea culpa” without seeing them held accountable for their actions?

A panel of experts will discuss and debate the role and effectiveness of news councils at the 2001 Society of Professional Journalists National Convention in Bellevue, Wash., on Oct. 6. Seating for the program – from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. at the Best Western Hotel, 11211 Main St. – is limited.

Washington and Minnesota have news councils comprising people from different backgrounds who hear grievances against the news media and issue non-binding, public decisions. It’s a way for parties to settle their differences outside the courtroom. But do they work? Do journalists pay attention to what news councils have to say and change their ways accordingly?

Panelists from across the country will address those questions.

The panel includes Joann Byrd, editorial-page editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Gary Gilson, executive director of the Minnesota News Council; Geneva Overholser, syndicated columnist with Washington Post Writers Group and professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism; and Carol Nunnelly from the National Ethics Credibility Roundtable Project. Louis Hodges, Knight professor of ethics in journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., will moderate.

The program is part of SPJ’s Project Watchdog initiative to engage the public in dialogue about the role of the news media in a free society.

"At a time when polls have shown the public's confidence in journalists has eroded, it's more important than ever for us to reach out to our readers, viewers and listeners," said SPJ President-Elect Al Cross, political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Cross will take office as SPJ president Oct. 6 at the national convention.

“The public can expect a spirited and honest discussion about news councils and how journalists do their jobs,” said Nerissa Young, a general assignment reporter at The (Beckley, W. Va.) Register-Herald and SPJ Project Watchdog chairwoman. “Nearly everyone, at one time or another, has been curious about what motivates journalists and how well they respond to criticism. This is a chance for folks to hear a first-hand discussion on that very topic from some of the top people in our profession.”

The program is a town hall forum, free and open to the public, in which the audience will be allowed to ask questions and offer comments after the roundtable discussion.

"The press is among the most vital institutions in every democracy. Yet, it is fragile,” said Hodges, the event's moderator. “The ways we usually keep professional people accountable – holding their feet to the fire by licenses and government controls – will not work for journalists. Free speech is too important to trust to politicians and government bureaucrats, so in America we have always looked for other mechanisms of accountability for journalists. They include news councils.”

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


MEDIA PASSES: Media passes for events at the Oct. 4-6 2001 SPJ National Convention may be obtained in advance or at the convention's onsite registration desk at the DoubleTree Hotel – Bellevue, 300 112th Ave., S.E., Bellevue, Wash.

For more information or to obtain a media pass, contact:
Sarah A. Shrode
SPJ Director of Communications

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