The Department of Journalism at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) has been selected as the home base for the Southern California News Council (SCNC), an independent, non-profit organization that will promote trusted journalism by investigating accuracy and fairness complaints against news outlets.
Announced by the Minnesota News Council and the Washington News Council on Friday (June 30), the SCNC at CSULB will receive a $75,000 startup grant, which is given by the Washington and Minnesota councils from funds provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, Fla.
"I'm hard pressed to think of a more fertile media environment than Southern California for a news council," said William Babcock, who will be executive director of SCNC. "We have here a huge population base and a diverse variety of print, broadcast and online media," said Babcock, professor and chairman of CSULB's Department of Journalism.
CSULB was one of two campuses chosen in a national competition to create two new local news councils. The other winner was the New England News Council, which will reside in the Journalism Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The Southern California and New England sites become just the fourth and fifth news councils in the United States, joining those in Minnesota, Washington state and Hawaii.
In determining the accuracy and fairness of complaints against news outlets, the news councils help determine the facts involved in the disputes and provide open forums where citizens and journalists can discuss media ethics, standards and performance.
"In recent decades Americans have found their news media to have less and less credibility. News councils are one media accountability tool that addresses this credibility concern," Babcock said. "After all, what do journalists have to lose - their high ratings in public-opinion polls?"
Both the California and New England councils plan to engage the public and the media through the Internet, through interactive forums on journalistic standards and ethics. The Minnesota and Washington councils regularly conduct public forums that stress civil discourse, not media-bashing. The results often improve media quality and increase public trust. The existing councils also work with college and high school journalism students, conduct mock news council hearings and award scholarships.
The birth of these news councils coincides with a growing trend toward openness and accountability in the news media driven by the new era of two-way communications marked by the emergence of the Internet.
"A news council or any inquiry that seeks out the real facts behind media complaints is better than a blogger working from opinion alone, and vastly superior to the talking heads on cable TV with their pre-fixed political menus," said Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives at the Knight Foundation. "This project is an experiment to see if there is local support for the idea that a good way to perform media criticism is not trough kangaroo courts of commentators but through the fair, accurate contextual pursuit of the truth."
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the communities where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers. Since its creation in 1950, the Foundation has invested more than $275 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression. For more information on Knight's work, visit the Web site at www.knightfdn.org/annual.