New project offers chance for papers, readers to talk

We need to talk."

Now there’s a sentence to strike fear into the heart of whoever hears it. Nothing good ever comes out of a discussion that starts with those words, or so it seems.

The reason is simple. Often that declaration really means, "I’ve got something you need to hear, and you probably won’t like hearing it. But I’m going to tell you anyway."

Oh, oh. What’s the problem? What are the areas of disagreement? Is your point of view not being heard? Do you understand mine?

We need to talk.

Taking a fresh look at things never hurts. Maybe things need to change. Maybe we can clear the air about longstanding issues.

It’s hard to predict where discussions like these will go. But putting the issues on the table and discussing differences is a good place to start. From there, it becomes possible to gain understanding, build credibility and work toward solutions.

That’s the idea behind a new program called the National Credibility Roundtables Project that is being developed by the Associated Press Managing Editors, a professional organization dedicated to improving journalism in the community as well as in the newsroom.

With a $325,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the editors group is planning to sponsor roundtable discussions in 50 communities, one per state, to examine controversial coverage of a story or issue. Or, to delve deeper into an issue that hasn’t received enough coverage in the newspaper.

"APME editors all across the country face regular criticism of their local reporting," said Chris Peck, president-elect of the organization and editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. "Politicians, business interest groups, minority communities and ordinary readers routinely complain about the quality, completeness and accuracy of local news reporting."

The credibility roundtables will provide forums for examining news coverage and dealing with issues that emerge. The grant will be used to train facilitators to guide the discussions and pay the costs of holding the event.

"The mission of each roundtable will be to educate the public about the journalistic rationale for the controversial coverage and to educate the journalists about why some members of the public don’t find the coverage credible," Peck said.

To take part, a newspaper will need to agree to keep working with "readers, stakeholders and journalists to try to define guidelines to shape ongoing coverage of the story or issue in question." Editors also have to agree to report on the meetings in the paper.

In other words, the roundtables are just a starting point.

From my perspective, this is a great opportunity for a newspaper like The Herald — and its readers. We regularly track complaints and get monthly feedback on our successes and misfires from our advisory council. But we don’t have the resources to set up a professionally guided discussion that could probe issues in greater depth.

I’ve already told Peck of my interest in having The Herald chosen as one of the 50 newspapers. A big question, though, is what coverage or issues would we address if we were selected?

That’s where you come in. What topics would you recommend for discussion in a credibility roundtable? Are there stories in The Herald that you think are biased, incomplete, inaccurate or otherwise wanting? Are there areas of coverage where you believe we fall short of providing the full story? Do you see gaps in our reporting, whole topics that rarely get the attention they deserve?

"It could be a business news story, coverage of ethnic communities or a local controversy over coverage of political candidates, communities of faith or crime," Peck suggested in his letter to editors.

Even if we’re not selected to participate in the national project, we’ll try to find ways to create a discussion at the local level.

You can pass along your suggestions by leaving a message on a special voice mailbox, 425-339-3036, sending an e-mail to

yournewspaper@heraldnet.com, writing a letter or calling me directly at the number below.

We need to talk.

Talk to us

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