Mark Worth's diatribe against journalists who have gone over to the “dark side” left me wondering if he isn't perhaps the one who is in the wrong profession (Media Culpa, “Hacks Turned Flacks,” 7/9; also see Mark Worth's Media Culpa column, this issue). He presented a great deal of innuendo, but precious little evidence, that those he named are somehow steering reporters away from big stories and crucial information. Worth wrote colorfully of his bad experiences with a previous Boeing flack, but failed to illustrate that Sean Griffin is guilty in any way of similar sins. And if Worth were to carefully read his abridged version of Rebecca Hale's comments, he might realize that, despite his spin, she was not saying she didn't know the difference between journalism and public relations.
Worth implies that Debbie Cafazzo left a PR job with the city of Seattle because she is “scrupulously honest.” I know that she is, since she was a reporter at the Journal American when I was city editor. But I doubt seriously Cafazzo was saying public relations is generically dishonest.
In anything–including journalism– there are good people and bad people, good positions and bad positions. I recently left the news business after 20 years and am now a “flack” at the University of Washington. In my office, it was made clear from the outset that we are there to assist reporters, not to steer them in any particular direction or to quell negative publicity.
Perhaps Worth's brand of journalism–and the fact that it is not just tolerated but embraced–best explains why so many good people are fleeing the profession. If I were a city editor and had Worth's application before me, one read of his last column would be enough to land his résumé in the round file.
Apparently Mark Worth (“Hacks Turned Flacks,” 7/9; see Worth's Media Culpa column, this issue) thinks a person who moves from the news business to the public information business sheds his or her honesty and integrity. That is pure paranoiac nonsense. Anyone who has worked as a professional journalist long enough to be noticed knows that misleading reporters is counterproductive. I'll assume Worth's reports on the Boeing PR persons are accurate and in context. If so, the conduct of the spokesman who allegedly threaten to withhold information was thoroughly unprofessional and deserves severe criticism or worse. But that is not to say that because a reporter asks a question, it must be answered. However, the Boeing PR representative who was quoted as saying that he did not have “a problem representing a company position that I don't agree with,” correctly understands that his job is to explain the company's position, not his own. Even an honest, virtuous reporter like Worth reports on things he doesn't agree with, but that doesn't make them untrue or wrong or unethical by definition.
I wonder what training and experience Worth believes public information people ought to have. Is it not in the public interest for a Rebecca Hale to put her professionally honed talents to work providing necessary information to the public? Or does Worth believe that untrained, inexperienced persons serve the public interest better? Or does he believe no information is appropriate unless initiated by a news person? Does Worth have such a low opinion of his fellow reporters to think that they will write fantasies when faced with information from a PR person of a similar background? Certainly not all public relations people adhere to the highest ethical standards, but then neither do all reporters. Most PR people work hard to provide accurate information for the public's benefit and the success of their clients. They often facilitate important work by news persons reporting complex or fast-breaking situations or issues. The skills of former professional newspersons are central to making available the necessary public information of government and commerce. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Perhaps, someday even Mark Worth may do it.
Ed Isenson, APR
A colorful family
I loved Cooper Moo's feature, “My Brother and Me” (7/23). It brought back lots of memories for me. Also from Wisconsin (he writes his brother joined the family there), I'm the third of six kids and the last my mother gave birth to. Our parents also beat the early '70 directive that colors shouldn't mix.
Growing up with siblings who were African-American/white, Native American/African-American, and African-American (and we three white ones) was perfectly normal. In fact, I was about 13 years old before I learned white people could adopt white kids. Why would they want to? When you adopt, you adopt for color, I'd thought. Yes, some issues came up, but our parents focused on how different we all were in looks and temperament. Our family's world was normal and a boatload of fun. I pitied all-white families and wondered if they were ever bored. We certainly weren't.
Keeping his word
In Rick Anderson's article “Garages R Us” (7/23), he states “she [Jan Drago] has also asked the public not to pester council members with calls or e-mails about center [Washington State Convention & Trade Center] construction while they're debating the issue in her committee this month.” For the record, I didn't say anything like that.
First of all, I did not ask people to not “pester” council members about this issue. I requested people not to contact council members on this issue, but I did not say or imply anything about “pestering.” Second, council members are prohibited by law from communicating with proponents or opponents of the Convention Center Council Conditional Use who are not parties of record. The City Council's approval of the Conditional Use permit is quasi-judicial. This issue is quasi-judicial because the council functions more like a judge than a legislative body.
When considering such projects, council members are governed by the Appearance of Fairness doctrine. This legal requirement precludes council members from reading letters, responding to telephone calls, or being lobbied on this specific project. If council members do communicate in the above manner, they could risk losing the right to vote on the project if it comes before the council.
Thank you for an opportunity to set the record straight.
Seattle City Council Member
Rick Anderson responds: I stand by my pestering–and note that in a story in which Drago stands accused of turning a $10 million project into a $22.5 million giveaway of taxpayer money, she disagreed with one word.
Kibbles and kudoes
Regarding “Journalism Sucks 2” (Watchdogs, 7/16): First, I regret the diminishing frequency of the Hamer and Parks' column. The abolition of Eastsideweek, and the irregularity of the Weekly in carrying it, sort of throws us into the dark ages as far as local watchdogs of their particular viewpoint are concerned. That viewpoint is a civic necessity, where The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer seem to compete in advocacy journalism by omitting news items uncongenial to their political cheerleading.
And good for “Journalism Sucks 2.” However, it omits (and so did the “national media” in its limited self-examination of the recent rash of slanted stories) two very powerful examples of media misfeasance, both beautifully and meticulously described in Renata Adler's book, Reckless Disregard. No humble posing by the media there, no apologies: CBS and The New York Times instead savaged the individuals who took them quite properly to court, using batteries of attack-dog lawyers with lavish resources. The tactics are tough to describe in 10-second sound bites, and Ms. Adler obviously devoted months to her superb research and exposition of the two trials. It is not an easy read, but it makes the sarin “story” a bit less surprising. “News” producers with an axe to grind are nothing new. I should hope that Ms. Adler's work would be remembered during the current attention to media gimmicks.
No farmland is an island
The annexation of farmland by cities in King County is by no means a foregone conclusion, as suggested by James Bush's article in the Weekly (“Take My Density, Please,” 7/16). The public debate on Auburn's attempt to annex prime farmland has yet to happen, and promises to illuminate the conflict between the county's investment of $1 million in taxpayer funds to purchase farmland development rights in perpetuity, and the abandonment of those lands to a city with a record of farmland conversion to non-farm uses.
Ultimately, there is no public benefit to the county in letting this land be annexed. Farmlands use very few public services, and consistently generate more in tax revenue than they cost to maintain.
Moreover, the proposed interlocal agreement will not protect these lands–even a cursory reading shows this. And the claim that the annexation will eliminate an “island” of unincorporated land in the UGA, becomes laughable when one realizes how many “islands” of urban growth the county has created outside of UGAs.
Chair, FarmCity Alliance
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