Heidi Dietrich

What Seattle’s Reading: Foodie Nancy Leson relishes words in all forms

This is part of the Washington News Council’s series titled What I’m Reading. For more in the series: http://wanewscouncil.org/category/what-i-read/

Nancy Leson is one serious reader.

The Seattle Times food columnist devours everything from the Wednesday food section of The New York Times to Seattle Weekly’s Voracious column to the daily print edition of The Seattle Times.

She’s also regularly listening to NPR, scrolling through news feeds on Twitter and Facebook, and surfing the web on her Macbook. Leson doesn’t own an iPad yet, but it’s on her wish list.

When she isn’t checking out food columns and other news, Leson is devouring novels, cookbooks, and nonfiction books. As one might expect of a writer and journalist, Leson is always reading.

Here are her thoughts on where she finds her news and entertainment:

1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?

I’m not only a Seattle Times columnist, I’m also a subscriber of 20 years longstanding, and I look forward to hearing the paper’s thump on my doorstep (if I’m lucky and the guy’s aim is good) at o’dark-thirty each morning. While I drink coffee and read the Seattle Times, my husband sips tea and reads the New York Times (ditto on the subscription, and the thump), which I regularly scour for great local news, like the swell story I read last week about the family that lives (who knew?) at the top of the Smith Tower. I’m also a big fan of our local NPR affiliates KPLU (jazz with Dick Stein, plus Terry Gross? nothin’ bettah!) and KUOW (national news and Marcie Sillman? dig that, too).

2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?

My Twitter feed: I “follow” a wide world of food writers, food folks and journalists, and I consider them my personal clipping service: they’re always good for the “gotta-read-it” links to all the news I need to know. Plus, I get lots of fodder for my blog from news that breaks on a variety of neighborhood blogs — which I also follow via Twitter. I don’t watch any TV (if you don’t count downloading Grey’s Anatomy via Netflix — dirty little secret!) and I try valiantly to ignore the sound of the anime channel my kid’s so fond of. I’m crazy for radio and think there’s nothing like it, and I can’t tell you how many times I have those “driveway moments” listening to one story or another on NPR (you know, where you’re so engrossed in a tale, it doesn’t matter that you’ve pulled into your driveway because you want to hear every last word of it). I much appreciate shows like “This American Life,” “Fresh Air,” “The Splendid Table” and other weekly and daily features, which I catch-as-catch-can.

3. Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?

I used to roll my eyes at people who always have their face stuck in a laptop or smart phone, but since I switched over to the Dark Side and hooked up with a new MacBook Pro and (be still my beating heart!) wireless access at home, I find myself consuming much more news electronically. I have an iPhone, but rarely read news on it and I’m jonesing for an iPad, big-time. At heart, though, I’m a print fiend, and subscribe to at least a dozen magazines (the great majority are food-related). I relish the crazy-long in-depth pieces in the New Yorker (and wish I had more time to read it), never miss the Wednesday food section in the New York Times, and always check out the competition’s food coverage at Seattle Weekly, Seattle Magazine and Seattle Metropolitan.

4. Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?

Yes to Twitter (see above), and Facebook, which I’m relatively new to. I very much like the ease with which I can see video via Facebook, whether it’s the news clips I didn’t catch on TV (see: anime) or the funny stuff (Obama: the Musical? Dyin’ here.) I’m on LinkedIn, but rarely check it.

5. What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

I don’t visit many with regularity (The Seattle Times notwithstanding), but do occasionally check in to Serious Eats, Culinate and a few other food-oriented sites. Also: the journalism news-site Romenesko.

6. Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and

Seattle Weekly’s Voracious blog for food news: they’ve got a hefty stable of writers, and offer a lot of posts on a variety of food- and drink-related news and opinion, though I could live without the sex-related food content. (“Huh?” you say. Exactly.)

7. Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so,

Most definitely: see laptop/wireless usage, above.

8. Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?

Do I read for fun? Are you kidding? Yes. Always. But still not often enough. I have stacks of cookbooks and food-reference books on tables everywhere, and read them the way other people read novels. Speaking of which: the last novel I read (and it was fabulous) was “The Man in the Wooden Hat.” No relation to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by the way. Non-fiction? I’m struggling through “Salt in our Blood: The Memoir of a Fisherman’s Wife.” OK, now ask me which book I recently read that I’d like to read again, immediately. That would be “The Help.” And which non-fiction book I’d suggest you read. That would be “The Last Days of Haute Cuisine,” by L.A.-based food writer Patric Kuh.

What Seattle’s Reading: Cheezburger guru Ben Huh goes beyond humor

This is part of the Washington News Council’s series titled What I’m Reading. For more in the series: http://wanewscouncil.org/category/what-i-read/

By launching the popular I Can Has Cheezburger sites, tech entrepreneur Ben Huh made LOLcats and epic Fails household terms. All around the world, web surfers looking for a quick laugh visit the Cheezburger Network for photos of animals, people doing stupid things, misspelled signs, and other quirky topics.

But that doesn’t mean Huh, a former journalist, spends all of his time searching for comic inspiration. While Huh goes to a Cheezburger site, The Daily What, for pop culture news, he’s also a regular online visitor of news sites ranging from The New York Times to the Seattle tech news site TechFlash. And when he finally gets off the laptop, he can be found picking up a copy of The Economist.

Here’s what Ben Huh is reading:

1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why? 

Seattle P-I. I think their experiment and transformation into an online-only newspaper is fascinating to watch.

2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear? 

I read one of our sites, The Daily What (http://thedailywh.at), for all my Internet Culture news. After that, I read the NYT or whomever surfaces via Twitter.

3. Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?

Mostly via my iPhone and laptop.

4. Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?

Twitter is the one I use the most.

5. What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

I visit Techmeme and TechFlash for my tech biz news. I visit The Daily What for Internet Culture and CNN and NYT for the main stream news.

6. Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and opinion?

No, it really depends on what’s being filtered to me.

7. Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so, how?

90% of all information is gathered via the Web. The remainder comes through analysis in magazines (The Economist and The Week).

8. Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book? 
I don’t read for fun, per se. I do that enough online. 🙂

Mark Matassa on life in the mayor’s office

In the last year, Mark Matassa left journalism behind to steer Mayor Mike McGinn’s communications staff through controversial budget cuts, bike-friendly road policies, and tunnel debates.

And he’s done it all while fighting brain cancer.

Remarkably, Matassa expresses only optimism and gratitude for where he’s at. He’s embracing his hectic life, stress and all.

“I really love working for the mayor,” Matassa said. “I feel lucky to have landed here.”

Matassa didn’t set out to become McGinn’s director of communications. When the mayor’s office reached out to him last December, he’d been working as an editor at online news site Crosscut for only a few months. He’d been a reporter and editor at news outlets up and down the West Coast his entire life, and hadn’t given much thought to leaving journalism.

But out of pure curiosity, Matassa decided to take the invitation for an interview at the mayor’s office anyhow. Upon meeting with McGinn, Matassa instantly took a liking to the man, both for his values and his open, comfortable attitude.

“If Dino Rossi had called looking for a communcations director, I would not have taken the job,” Matassa said. “But I felt a political and personal connection with McGinn.”

Matassa also became intrigued by the idea of witnessing behind-the-scenes operations of city government for the first time. He’d covered politics throughout his journalism career, and wondered about the view from the other side.

Almost a full year later, Matassa isn’t sorry he took the leap away from journalism. For the first time in decades, he feels he can engage in political debate at a party. After years of trying to be objective, he’s happy to say that he feels McGinn’s budget is brilliant, agrees with the mayor’s anti-tunnel stance, and advocates for cycling and mass transit.

“I’ve found it really refreshing to come out and say what I think about stuff,” Matassa said.

Matassa won’t talk politics, however, in his own home. His longtime partner, Michelle Nicolosi, is the executive producer at Seattlepi.com. To counter any potential perceived bias in Seattlepi.com’s coverage of City Hall, Matassa and Nicolosi steer away from business and political discussions. Nicolosi, in turn, won’t work on or edit stories that involve the mayor’s office, and Matassa communicates with other reporters at Seattlepi.com.

While Matassa’s political gig marks a shift from the attempted objectivity of reporting to clear bias, he also finds similarities between City Hall and a newsroom. Both jobs carry equal pressure. In the news business, he hurried to meet deadlines, report stories accurately, and produce copy quickly. At the mayor’s office, his stresses come from managing relationships with various groups and people. Both types of pressure, Matassa has found, suit him well.

“I’m good under stress,” Matassa said. “I find the challenges in journalism and at the mayor’s office incredibly invigorating.”

Day to day, Matassa also finds his role as communications director not so different from being an editor. In both jobs, he spends significant time managing other people and sitting in meetings.

For Matassa, the challenge of adapting to a new career pales in comparison to his larger fight. Since 2006, he’s been battling brain cancer. He’s gone through two surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.

This summer, Matassa took two months off from his duties at the mayor’s office to undergo radiation therapy. He’s been back at the office for four weeks now, but struggles with fatigue. Matassa credits coworkers with filling in for him when needed.

“Everyone at the mayor’s office has been so cool and helpful,” Matassa said. “They’ve all pitched in.”

Even though he’s constantly tired, Matassa embraced his return to work. He loves being part of Seattle’s political scene, and he missed the action while on sick leave.

“I wake up happy,” Matassa said.


HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi’s blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she’s writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.

Former P-I columnist Mike Lewis out from behind the bar, onward toward Patch

When I last checked in with former Seattle P-I columnist Mike Lewis, he was spending most of his time pouring drinks and growing business at the Streamline Tavern, the Lower Queen Anne bar he purchased with three partners last year.

Lewis, who lost his job at the P-I when the paper ceased publication as a print news product, admitted to missing journalism. Though he still wrote freelance articles, he longed for the chaos of a newsroom and the excitement of regularly chasing down scoops.

He didn’t have to miss the news biz for long. Lewis recently signed on as Seattle regional editor for Patch, AOL’s new neighborhood news network. He’ll oversee 12 local Patch sites south of Seattle. AOL still needs to hire a second regional editor to run 12 blogs north of the city.

Today, Patch launched the first of its Seattle sites, University Place Patch. The next sites slated for launch in the Seattle area are Bellevue, Mercer Island, Bonney Lake-Sumner and Lakewood. They will likely go live at the end of October.

Lewis didn’t seek out the Patch position on his own. He only heard about AOL’s ambitious nationwide neighborhood news efforts in July, a full year after AOL acquired the start-up Patch Media and began growing the network. One of Lewis’ former Seattle University journalism students had been speaking to a Patch recruiter about becoming a local editor, and she recommended Lewis for the regional editor position.

When Patch’s hiring team called up Lewis, he wasn’t sure if he wanted the job. But he met Patch’s west coast editorial director, Marcia Parker, at the Seattle Marriott, and after a few hours together he became convinced that AOL was serious about the venture.

Lewis learned AOL planned to spend $50 million to build Patch this year alone, and another $50 million next year. He sensed the company’s enthusiasm for the project and dedication to hiring good people.

“I like the way they are running things,” Lewis said. “AOL is taking a big gamble on this and putting a lot of money into it.”

Lewis hopes his role as regional editor will allow him to do some writing down the road. Right now, he’s working on hiring local editors for the 24 community sites around the region. Patch will also bring on board a roving editor, copy editor, sports editor, and calendar editor for each of the 12-site clusters in the Seattle area.

Patch offered Lewis his choice of north or south Seattle, and he selected south, mainly because he spent more time there reporting when he was at the Seattle P-I. Should the company hire a second regional editor with strong preference for the south end, however, Lewis is also willing to work with the north communities.

AOL has no plans at the moment to start sites for any of the urban Seattle neighborhoods, and Lewis said the city is already saturated with local blogs. Patch can compete in the suburbs, Lewis said. He could see the company eventually starting another 12-site cluster in another populated region of the state, however.

Nationwide, Patch currently has 220 sites in 17 states, with 16 more sites slated to go live this week. By next year, AOL plans to have 1,000 editors, making it one of the largest employers of journalists in the country.

Working for Patch reminds Lewis of being at a fast-moving, well-funded start-up. He’s juggling the time consuming new gig with finishing up several freelance projects and working one night a week at the Streamline.

“I’m running as hard as I can to get everything out,” Lewis said. “But that’s the nature of modern journalism.”


HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi’s blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she’s writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.

What Seattle’s reading: No Twitter for actor Tom Skerritt

This is part of the Washington News Council’s series titled What I’m Reading: http://wanewscouncil.org/2010/09/28/what-i-read-tom-skerritt/

When I arranged an afternoon coffee session with actor, screenwriter, and TheFilmSchool teacher and founder Tom Skerritt, my main objective was finding out about progress and growth at the school. I realized, though, that I could also tap Skerritt for our weekly “What I Read” column. I wondered if Skerritt, who is part of the older generation yet remains in contact with young Hollywood, had embraced social media or any of the newer sources of information.

The answer is decidedly no. Skerritt doesn’t pay much attention to Facebook and Twitter, doesn’t spend much time online, and still prefers news delivery in old fashioned mediums. For this actor, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are still the place to go.

What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?
PBS, Jim Lehrer, straight forward news. No local news outlet preference….

What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?
Try to read both NY Times and Wall Street Journal for balance and fuller reference on points of view….. Listening confined mostly to NPR, 88.5

Do you consume news through: print, television, radio, laptop, smart phone, ipad, podcasts, other?
Very little cyberspace interaction regarding news….

Do you use Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter for news and information?
I do not use any of these mediums, nor anything that requires my info.

What online news sites or aggregators do you visit regularly?

Do you regularly visit any individual blogs for news, analysis and opinion?

Have your news consumption habits changed in the last few years? If so, how?
News consumption habits are unchanged, but the style of news broadcasting has.  Too much bullshit focus.

Do you read for fun? If so, what? Last novel you read? Non-fiction book?
I write too much to have draw to read.  Last book I read is Michael Lewis’ THE BIG SHORT.  With few exceptions, love non-fiction.

Read Heidi Dietrich’s interview with Tom Skerritt here

Real Change flooded with high-caliber applicants for editor job


The last time Real Change hired an editor, their best candidate was an ambitious young journalist fresh out of college.

What a difference a decade makes. This time around, Real Change executive director Tim Harris has been flooded with applications from writers and editors with over 10 years of experience at daily newspapers. Thanks to one of the toughest job markets for Seattle journalists ever – not to mention Real Change’s own growth – Harris has no shortage of candidates to lead editorial operations at the paper. It seems many local journalists are eager to join an activist publication sold on the street by Seattle’s homeless population.

“This environment is bad for journalists but good for us,” Harris said. “The applicants we are attracting represent an opportunity for us to take the newspaper to the next level of professionalism.”

Harris is in the midst of the final round of interviews and plans to make a hiring decision soon. The new Real Change editor will replace Adam Hyla, who is leaving the paper after a decade to take a job as communications director at the Children’s Alliance.

The editor will join Real Change as the newspaper continues to grow, both in circulation and physical space. The newspaper moved from Belltown to larger digs in Pioneer Square in May.

Real Change needed to move because the office in Belltown could no longer accommodate 15 staff members and the increasing number of vendors, who now number about 350 each month. The vendors pay 35 cents a copy for the newspaper and then earn money by selling it for $1 apiece. Harris wanted quarters that would separate vendor services from newspaper production, and give everyone a bit of breathing room. A computer lab will allow for classes and training for vendors.

“The move was long overdue,” Harris said. “We no longer have the tension that comes from too many people in a packed space.”

The move proved more complicated than Harris had anticipated, as Pioneer Square community activists protested Real Change’s arrival. They asked the city to deny Real Change needed permits because they felt the neighborhood already played host to too many human service organizations. Harris pointed out that Real Change does not provide human services and never received complaints in Belltown.

In the end, law firm Davis Wright Tremaine took on Real Change’s case on a pro bono basis and convinced the Pioneer Square Community Association to drop the appeal. The matter finally reached resolution this month.

“The fight is very much done,” Harris said. “We’re moving on.”

Harris believes the new location and editor will help Real Change position itself as it continues to grow. The paper’s annual budget is now at $850,000, which comes largely from donations. Circulation has been rising by an average of 18 percent each year for the last four years, and is now at 18,000 a week.

Harris hopes to continue to grow Real Change’s reach by increasing online efforts. All of the top editor candidates bring web experience. Harris would like to see the paper add more audio, interviews, vendor blogging, and multimedia links to the web site.

The above story originally appeared here at Washington News Council’s web site.


About Heidi Dietrich
HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi’s blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she’s writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.

Kirsten Grind at work on WaMu book

A month ago, Kirsten Grind pounded out daily banking industry updates in the hectic downtown Seattle Puget Sound Business Journal newsroom.

These days, she’s more likely to be found driving around the state to the homes of aging former Washington Mutual executives. Grind spent an entire recent weekday in Skagit County with onetime WaMu CEO Lou Pepper. The two talked for hours.

“It’s therapy for them,” Grind said. “There’s a lot of anger and sadness about what happened.”

Grind’s life took a dramatic turn this summer when she began a nine-month leave from the PSBJ to write a book about the demise of WaMu. She landed the book contract after covering WaMu’s story extensively for the Business Journal, and receiving a prestigious Pulitzer nomination for her efforts.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Grind at the PSBJ and remain good friends with her. I’ve been hearing about her journey into the book writing world for the past several months, and found the project so interesting that I thought others would enjoy reading about it as well.)

Grind stumbled into the book world by chance. While she loves journalism, she’d never dreamed of penning her own book. But early this year, Seattle literary agent Elizabeth Wales heard Grind talking about WaMu on local public radio station KUOW. This could be a book, Wales thought.

Grind’s story with WaMu began when she took a job as the banking and finance reporter for the PSBJ in spring of 2008. A relative newcomer to Seattle, Grind knew very little about WaMu.

Six months later, on Sept. 25, 2008, federal regulators seized the bank. Grind was at a best friend’s wedding in California. She came back to Seattle, figuring the story was over. Not even close.

At the urging and support of PSBJ managing editor Al Scott, Grind spent the next year doing extensive investigative reporting on why WaMu failed. At times, she wanted to give up. She requested thousands of documents through public information requests, and received many back with pages blacked out. Since many sources refused to talk to her on the phone, Grind tracked down the addresses of former executives and bank regulators and drove to their homes.

“It was pulling teeth the entire way,” Grind said.

Grind’s efforts paid off. On a Friday in April, she signed on with Wales. That Monday, she found out she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Two months later, several publishing houses entered a bidding war for her book, with Simon and Schuster winning out.

“I had a really lucky few months,” Grind said. “I worked really hard to get to the bottom of WaMu, and it set me up as someone who really knows the story.”

Grind believes publishers were eager for the book because readers want to understand the financial crisis. The WaMu story in particular sparks interest, Grind said, because unlike a massive New York City investment firm, the average person had a WaMu account or worked for the bank.

“People can relate to WaMu,” Grind said.

On a recent Green Lake walk, Grind and I talked about why someone like myself – an avid reader, but not a banking or finance guru – would buy her book. We agreed that the various tragic personalities behind WaMu, from former CEO Kerry Killinger to the shareholder who lost everything, would sell the story.

“I don’t want to write a book only for people interested in banking,” Grind said. “I think a lot of people could find this fascinating because WaMu has such a great cast of characters.”

Grind began her nine-month leave from the PSBJ on Aug. 2. She’s adjusting to life away from a bustling newsroom, and learning how to plan her own daily schedule.

“It’s hard to not have coworkers running around and an editor breathing down your neck,” Grind said. “I miss the newsroom activity, but I also love having this big project I’m working on.”

Since Grind’s book covers the last 30 years of WaMu, she’s beginning with the 1980s. For the past few weeks, she’s been spending days with the former executives, driving to everywhere from Carnation to Anacortes.

When Grind begins researching the bank’s more recent past, she’ll make trips to California and the East Coast to talk to the bank’s former mortgage executives and federal regulators. WaMu’s onetime home loan center is just a half hour from her parents’ home in the San Diego area, so she’s planning on research time in California.

As for her own next chapter after WaMu, it’s too early for Grind to know.

“I never thought I’d write a book,” Grind said. “This has really been a surprise.”

HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi’s blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she’s writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.

10 new journalism ventures in the works in Seattle

In a city filled with unemployed reporters, creative talent, and entrepreneurial spirit, journalism experiments abound.

Among the new efforts brewing in Seattle are 10 projects that came out of the “Journalism That Matters” conference at the University of Washington in January. The four-day conference, “Re-imagining News and Community in the Pacific Northwest,” brought about 250 members of the media and the broader community together to brainstorm ideas on journalism’s future.

Recent years in Seattle have been marked by the closure of two daily newspapers (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the King County Journal) and ever-shrinking staffs at other local news outlets, so the discussions seemed particularly timely and urgent.

“In times of crisis, people start talking about new possibilities,” said Mike Fancher, former executive editor of The Seattle Times who was one of the dozen or so conference organizers and stewards.

Journalism That Matters was co-founded by Peggy Holman of Bellevue and Stephen Silha of Vashon Island. She’s the author of motivational books “The Change Handbook” and “Engaging Emergence.” Silha is a former Christian Science Monitor reporter and now a documentary filmmaker.

JTM meetings have been held around the country since 2001, but the Pacific Northwest efforts are unique. In Seattle, business and civic leaders are as involved as members of the media, said Fancher and Holman.

“Seattle has attracted the broadest mix of activists,” Holman said. And the conference organizers, who now call themselves the “Collaboratory,” continue to meet monthly to help nurture the projects that spun out of the winter confab.

Since January, 10 different groups have been moving forward on various initiatives. Last month, representatives from nearly all of the groups met to report on their progress.

(Full disclosure: John Hamer, president of the Washington News Council, is a member of the Collaboratory and the WNC is sponsoring two of the projects. I, however, have had no involvement in this group.)

Whether all 10 initiatives that came out of the JTM Pacific Northwest conference can score the necessary funding to survive remains uncertain. While some have obtained initial grants, others remain unfunded. Fancher acknowledged that each will face heavy competition for financing.

“It won’t be easy,” Fancher said. “But the passion people have for this is encouraging.”

Here is a brief run-down of the 10 initiatives:

1.                    Seattle Digital Literacy Initiative: The UW School of Communications is funding this project for two years, led by Sarah Stuteville of the Common Language Project. Journalists visit local schools, leading discussions about the role of the media and teaching students how to become more informed consumers of the media, as well as better story-tellers.

2.                    Building on Transparency: Journalist and former Seattle Times op-ed writer Matt Rosenberg is leading this project, which is developing a public document database called “Public Data Ferret.” The project is part of a bigger public engagement project in King County called Countywide Community Forums, which has received private funding from donors such as the Spady family, owners of Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants.

3.                    Abundant Journalism: Led by Fancher, this group eventually wants to link journalism projects and initiatives with potential donors.

4.                    Microfinance: The initiative would provide business and micro-finance training for journalists who want to launch new media ventures.

5.                    Media Mapping: Jacob Caggiano of the Washington News Council is working on a project that maps media news and information outlets across the state. A detailed spreadsheet provides their contact information. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided matching funds for the WNC’s efforts.

6.                    TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable, Open: Another Washington News Council effort, led by John Hamer, asks individual journalists and news organizations to sign a pledge and display a seal on their websites committing to be transparent about who they are, accountable if they make mistakes, and open to other points of view.

7.                    Global Health Reporting: In a nod to the significant global health work being done in Seattle, members of this initiative, led by Sanjay Bhatt of The Seattle Times, are surveying the sector to see what needs to be covered in the future.

8.        Seattle Happiness Index: This group, led by Michael Bradbury of REALscience, is developing the Seattle Happiness Index, which would measure community well-being.

9.                Civic Communications Commons: This group wants to create an online commons that will serve as an information hub and conversation place for news topics. They plan to look for partnerships within the civic, business, and media communities.

10.                     JTM Website Technology: Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest is developing a new website, expected to go live this month.

Heading forward, the Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest Collaboratory is scheduling monthly presentations by the individual initiative teams, and the entire group plans to check in quarterly.

Time will tell if any of these projects gain traction and become sustainable. What do you think of these efforts, and which of them would you like to see move forward?


HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council, where this post first appeared, in spring 2010. Read more about Heidi or read Heidi’s blog posts.

Seattleites hungry for history–if lessons include taverns, stadiums, recent pop stuff

Seattleites can’t get enough of history lessons these days.

That is, if the lessons include taverns, amusement parks, sports stadiums or other popular topics from the last 30 to 40 years.

“Very few people are going to click on an old photo of a Seattle pioneer,” said Feliks Banel, a local producer and historian. “They want to read about things they can identify with.”

Banel has been spreading history to the masses in a variety of new venues these days. In June, he began a series for Seattlepi.com called Seattle Rewind. The weekly episodes include a podcast and historic photos.

So far, Banel has covered the amusement parks of Seattle’s past, stadium plans that never came together, J.P. Patches (pictured at left), Seattle radio, Seafair, and the 4th of July. Next up are pieces on the Beatles coming to Seattle and the Seahawks.

Banel tries to tie the history pieces to current events. The Beatles, for instance, played in Seattle in August of 1964. The Seahawks just started their pre-season training camp. Seattlepi.com editors haven’t given the project an end date, as they want to see what kind of attention the stories receive.

Banel made the transition to freelance journalist in late 2008. Before that, he worked as deputy director at the Museum of History and Industry, and then at the Seattle Channel. He decided to go his own path in order to do the projects he wanted to, not realizing that the economy would crash just as he quit his job.

“The first year was rough,” Banel said.

At the same time, Banel recognized that the decline of traditional journalism and the rise of online news meant openings for individuals like him. News outlets need freelance producers to fill segments that regular staff members once took care of.

With web journalism, Banel can easily utilize historic videos and photos to tell a story. The Seattlepi.com pieces, for instance, take advantage of Hearst’s extensive historic photo collection.

“History has become so much more accessible in the last 15 years,” Banel said. “A 50-year-old television clip is as easy to watch as yesterday’s television clip.”

In addition to the Seattlepi.com podcasts, Banel writes for Crosscut.com, talks about recent history on KOMO’s “Not Quite Historian” twice a week and produces the occasional history radio program for KUOW on a segment called “This NOT Just In.”

So far, he’s created three shows for KUOW, and they’ve signed on for 10 more.  Planned programs include the 1962 Columbus Day storm, John Lennon’s assassination, the Kingdome implosion, and the War of the Worlds broadcast.

Banel believes Seattleites are eager to learn about history, so long as it is somewhat recent history. Unlike cities like Boston, Seattle doesn’t have the weight of hundreds of years of stories.

“The paint hasn’t dried yet in Seattle,” Banel said. “We’re still shaping our identity to the outside world, and we gravitate toward the more recent.”


HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read more about Heidi or read Heidi’s blog posts. (Photo of J.P. Patches is from jppatches.com)

Oil spill coverage raises record web traffic

This spring, the BP oil spill caused environmental devastation of epic proportion in the Gulf Coast.

It also brought record breaking traffic to Seattle online environmental publication Grist.

Grist saw its highest readership numbers yet in the first half of this year. For January through June, site visits were up 30 percent over the same period in 2009. Grist now attracts an average of 800,000 unique visitors each month from readers around the country.

Grist’s staff members cite oil spill coverage as one key factor in the jump, along with the public’s overall heightened interest in the environment and Grist’s own efforts in social media outreach.

Rebecca Farwell, Grist’s general manager, said the site’s oil spill stories were among the most clicked on this spring, and the content was in turn picked up by a number of other national sites.

“The oil spill definitely had an impact,” Farwell said. “People are really passionate about it.”

Grist wasn’t the only news outlet to benefit from oil spill intrigue. Left wing magazine Mother Jones saw record breaking traffic on its web site, with visits this spring up 125 percent from the same time period last year. Mother Jones staff attributed the jump to its team coverage of the BP oil spill.

Since its inception as an online environmental newsletter 11 years ago, Grist has been growing steadily. The nonprofit now has 25 staff members, which include 9 people in editorial.

The growth has come, in part, by Grist reaching out to young readers with its cheeky, humorous coverage of serious topics. This year, Grist worked to build up its Twitter and Facebook presence to draw more of the younger demographic.

Grist has also been striving to devote more attention to green urban topics. In recognition that more people now live in cities than do not, the site started to run more stories on transportation, waste, energy, architecture, and other urban living issues.

This fall, Grist plans to launch a redesigned home page. The site also plans extensive coverage on gubernatorial candidates and their environmental records leading up to November elections around the country.


Read more of Heidi’s blog posts here

STORIES SEEN ON GRIST, whose motto is “gloom and doom with a sense of humor”:

BP’s secret ticket request line

What Gulf spill? Around the world, deepwater drilling keeps on keepin’ on

Ask Umbra asks readers for an accurate name for the oil spill

BP photoshops picture

Crawfisher Drew Landry sings the “BP Blues” to president’s gulf spill commission