Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WSU report: state needs citizen journalism networks, training

by June 16th, 2012

A new report issued by Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication calls for creation and training of citizen blogger networks across the state, allied with daily newspapers and funded by foundations – in an effort to transform Washington’s “rural information ghetto.”

It recommended that the Murrow College take the lead in allying varied stakeholders to “bolster rural news reporting” in Washington and “increase awareness of and access to high-speed broadband.” The Murrow College in the report proposes three related initiatives.

  • There would be an annual assessment of the the health of news media, news awareness and broadband penetration, called the Murrow News Barometer.
  • A second piece would be an initiative to enhance awareness of the potential of digital networks and content to grow engagement in public life. It would be directed to state legislators and local policymakers, and would “encourage digital literacy in rural areas.”
  • A third and cornerstone piece of the strategy recommended in the WSU Murrow College report is creation of The Washington Rural News Consortium to help build partnerships between legacy media and citizen reporters. This could include journalism training, plus an attempt to gradually replicate around the state the approach of the Seattle Times’ News Partners Network in allying with hyperlocal and topic-focused bloggers. Another component of the consortium strategy could be “funding from a combination of community, regional and national foundations, along with news organization partners,” the report states.

  • Titled “Access,  Digital  Citizenship  and  the  Obligations of  the  Washington State Information Sector,” the report built on key points highlighted by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in 2010. These were:

  • the need to maximize relevant and credible information to citizens and their communities;
  • and to promote and build capacity for individuals to engage with information and the public life of the community.

  • The new, WSU report was issued by the Founding Dean of the Murrow College, Lawrence Pintak, a Middle East scholar and longtime journalist for CBS, ABC and the San Francisco Chronicle. It resulted from a statewide roundtable on rural broadband penetration and the news landscape of rural Washington, held at WSU’s main campus in Pullman, Wash. in early April. Against the backdrop of changes and challenges affecting the news industry, the session was summarized in the document by Murrow College professor and former Seattle Times reporter Benjamin Schors. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the six-hour symposium included more than two dozen participants – telecommunications and newspaper executives, academic experts on journalism and communications, bloggers, citizen advocates, librarians, state government officials, non-profit leaders and technologists.

    Some roundtable participants such as Becky Dickerson, the publisher of the hard-copy Community Current in St. John, Wash. (Web site), and Kerry Swanson, station manager for Northwest Public Radio, also accented the importance of individual donations and philanthropy to news outlets. For some legacy media print outlets, pay walls are stating to look more attractive. Roundtable panelist Gary Graham, editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, said that paper would be moving to a metered, pay model this year.

    Summarizing the roundtable session in the report, Shors writes that worsening revenues for major metro dailies shrunk their geographic reach and many radio stations that used to cover local news have converted to news-light or news-free programming under new conglomerate ownership. The result for the Evergreen State, Shors says, is that “more and more citizens are relying on a smaller and smaller press corps at legacy media outlets and increasingly vast sectors of the state have no journalistic boots on the ground. Ongoing layoffs threaten to further undermine access to news and information in Washington communities, where even in the best economic times countless communities went uncovered by the news media.”

    The result for the Evergreen State, Shors says, is that “more and more citizens are relying on a smaller and smaller press corps at legacy media outlets and increasingly vast sectors of the state have no journalistic boots on the ground. Ongoing layoffs threaten to further undermine access to news and information in Washington communities, where even in the best economic times countless communities went uncovered by the news media.”

    The explosion of citizen-generated Web content nationally hasn’t resulted in more and better news and information for many local communities, according to a survey presented in the WSU report by Murrow College professors Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. Integrating their Washington state results with 2011 national findings from the Pew Center for the People and the Press, they found rural residents are significantly less engaged in finding and using online news and information, compared to non-rural residents, because there is so much less of it targeted to them.

    They conclude, in part: “The multiplicity of of national-level sources of news, such as cable news channels, political blogs, and Twitter feeds, creates the impression of a larger news hole; however, the content filling that hole tends to be a repetitive stream of accounts of national-level political maneuvering, crisis-oriented coverage of national and international events, or videotapes of fires, crimes and disasters. What is missing is news affecting the lives of citizens at the local level.”

    UPDATE: This guest op-ed summarizing the report, authored by Murrow College’s Founding Dean Lawrence Pintak, was published in The Seattle Times.


    Links to audio recording of Roundtable, in six parts, courtesy of Northwest Public Radio

    FCC: Philanthropy, Non-profits, Transparency Key To Fill Local News Gaps,” Public Data Ferret, 6/9/11

    Federal Communications Commission: Broadband And Civic Engagement,” Public Data Ferret, 3/25/10

    DISCLOSURE and DISCLAIMER: Matt Rosenberg was a participant in the roundtable and is quoted in the report. This article is his own characterization of the report and is not intended to represent that of any other entity. Public Data Ferret is part of the Seattle Times News Partner Network, referenced in the report.

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    Iconic Seattle outdoor gear firm continues sales to U.S. military

    by June 14th, 2012

    A Seattle-based company that markets popular brands of snowshoes, kayaks, tents and other outdoor gear used widely by Northwest outdoorsmen and women continues to enhance its revenues with sales to support the programs of the U.S. military, as well. The U.S. Department of Defense announced today that Seattle-based Cascade Designs, Inc. won a sole source contract from the Defense Logistics Agency’s Troop Support division worth up to $20 million. The contract is to provide water filters to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. All the work will be performed in Seattle, according to DOD. The firm is located at 4000 First Avenue South, a short distance south of the Spokane Street Viaduct, in Seattle.

    Although Cascade Designs was started in the early 70s by three laid-off Boeing engineers whose first invention was a better air mattress for hikers, it is only since 2007 that the company has begun doing business with the U.S. military, according to the DOD’s contracting database.

    In March 2011 Cascade Designs won a contract worth up to $6.7 million from the Defense Logistics Agency to provide self-inflating sleeping mats to the Army, Navy and Air Force. In September 2007 the company won a similar contract valued at just shy of $5.5 million.

    Asked whether or not some customers in pacific Seattle and environs might not take umbrage at the company’s selling equipment used in U.S. military endeavors, a co-founder of the firm and its current board chairman John D. Burroughs of Renton in a phone interview said, “if we’re going to have our troops in different parts of the world, they ought to have the best gear that can be designed to serve their needs.” He added that the company’s founders in their years at Boeing were closely involved with weapons-related work for the military but all Cascade Designs goods are non-lethal.

    Public Data Ferret’s Seattle+Military+Contracting archive

    Burroughs also noted that Cascade Designs water filtration equipment is used in efforts funded by prominent Seattle non-government organizations such as PATH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help improve water quality and control disease in developing nations. One of the companies later purchased by Cascade Designs, MSR, which makes popular snowshoes and other gear, received funding early on from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop portable stoves and water filtration equipment, Burroughs added.

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    What’s next for cash-strapped Washington State Parks?

    by June 13th, 2012

    The Great Recession hasn’t been kind to state parks systems. They’re unavoidably even farther up the line for state budget cuts than education and social services – which have also taken big hits. As the Los Angeles Times reports today, state parks systems across the country are struggling to keep the lights on. Washington State Parks are a case in point but the system’s leaders and supporters are working hard to map a brighter future. Recently, Washington state’s non-profit public affairs TV channel TVW took a closer look, on “Inside Olympia,” hosted by journalist Austin Jenkins. Jenkins began the segment by noting the steep decline in Washington state government support for the parks system, from 70 percent of the operating budget in the 2007-09 budget, to 30 percent for ’09-’11, 12 percent for ’11-’13 and a projected zero percent for 2013-2015. One-third of rangers are now working just five to eight months a year and many are looking elsewhere for full-time employment. There’s less staff presence overall, less law enforcement protection, and cuts to parks educational programs. No new closures. Yet. Underlying the funding challenges are lagging sales of the Discover Pass, which had been projected to bring in $53 million for 2011-13. That estimate has now been revised down to $33 million.

    Washington State Parks face a tough choice on what to become. One approach: a much more commercially-oriented enterprise replete with partnerships and presences that could prove unpopular. Door Number Two: operate as a community non-profit corporation. Or, what parks backers hope for: recast the state parks system as a public asset with up to 30 percent of funding from the state and the rest from user fees, donations, grants and labor from partner organizations and volunteers. There are more details in a strategic alternatives document released by Washington State Parks.

    Here’s the full “Inside Olympia” segment. Jenkins’ guests are Mike Sternbeck, Parks Operations Director for the state system; Public Affairs Director Virginia Painter; Washington State Parks Foundation Chair Peter Reid; and Stet Palmer, of Friends of Schafer and Lake Sylvia State Parks.

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    Senate panel raps Boeing over bogus P8-A test model part

    by June 10th, 2012

    A U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee report sharply critiques Boeing Company for failing to notify the U.S Navy for 17 months after it issued its own internal “suspect discrepancy report” that a key component in an ice detection system to be used on the first P8-A Poseidon “submarine killer” plane test model likely contained “reworked parts” that were “unacceptable for use.” The Navy has committed to take delivery of 117 P8-As from Boeing, with 13 slated for the contract’s first phase. The enhanced 737 is manufactured at Boeing’s Renton, Wash. plant. As the Puget Sound Business Journal reported, the first operational model was delivered in March of this year, after six test models that won’t see battle action. The committee report noted there were suspected false parts originally included on the five other P8-A test models as well.

    It was the first P8-A flight test model’s troubled history that raised the hackles of the Senate committee, which stressed in the report that suspected counterfeit parts are a scourge on the U.S. defense supply chain. Investigators found about 1,800 such cases in 2009 and 2010, and only 271 reported to a related and recommended government-industry data exchange program. The total number of suspect parts exceeded one million. “Unvetted independent distributors” primarily in China are the main source of the suspect parts, and the defense industry “routinely” fails to report their use to the government, according to the report.

    Three subcontractors and a shady Hong Kong supplier
    The supply chain for the questionable part on the P8-A flight test model involved three subcontractors plus a shady Hong Kong supplier, and false assurances of close inspection. There was a “significant reliability risk” involving increased likelihood of malfunction of the ice detection system in the P8-A test jet that Boeing had delivered to the Navy, and likewise for eight commercial 737s delivered to foreign airlines with the same problematic part, the report said. The committee concluded that by using so-called “reconditioned” or “remanufactured” supplies without permission from the Navy, Boeing violated federal acquisition regulation 52.211-5 and the Navy’s Aerospace Standard 9100.

    Bainbridge teacher resigned after computer porn use found

    by June 7th, 2012

    A public document recently posted online by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reveals that a high-profile Bainbridge Island public school teacher quietly resigned at the start of the current school year after the district’s superintendent filed a formal complaint with the state that he had used a work computer to view pornography.

    According to an April 30, 2012 agreed order of suspension signed by the teacher, his attorney and an OSPI official, Matthew Pedersen, of Sakai Intermediate School, resigned effective last August 31 after he was found to have “used Bainbridge Island School District computer resources to access and attempt to access sexually explicit materials” during the 2009-10 and 2010-2011 school years. Pedersen, now 42, of Suquamish, was placed on administrative leave in mid-January 2011 and signed a settlement in late February 2011 agreeing to resign on August 31.

    According to a Kitsap Sun teacher salary database he nonetheless was paid a total of $71,977 in salary and benefits for the 2010-11 school year, although that was somewhat less than in several preceding years.

    State law requires that certificated school personnel may have an administrative hearing before being discharged. Pedersen was apparently able to negotiate a settlement in which he forfeited his right to a hearing in return for pay and benefits which continued for at least some portion of the time between his being placed on leave and his resignation becoming effective.

    A “very well-regarded” teacher
    Pedersen made an extra effort to serve the community and to champion classroom innovation. For three years running he led students in supporting a Thanksgiving community food drive. He was also featured in a video by the Bainbridge Schools Foundation on new ways of teaching math to middle-schoolers. Bainbridge Island School District Superintendent Faith Chapel said Pedersen was “a very well-regarded teacher who had positive working relationships with his colleagues,” parents and students.

    District’s monitoring system caught attempts to access porn sites
    However, Chapel said, district technology staff became aware through a regularly-deployed monitoring system that he was sometimes using his work laptop on school property to access or try to access pornographic Internet sites. According to the OSPI agreed order, Pedersen violated Bainbridge school district policy that all use of the school’s IT network including the Internet “must be in support of education and research and consistent with the mission of the district” and that “use of the system to access, store, or distribute obscene or pornographic material is prohibited.” No criminal proceedings resulted from the investigations by the school district or the state into Pedersen’s questioned activities, she said.

    Public Data Ferret’s Education+Ethics archive

    Under state law RCW 28A.410.090(1)(a) OSPI in the agreed order suspends Pedersen’s teaching certificate for four months from April 30, 2012, and states that if he wants it reinstated he’ll have to reapply and undergo a criminal background check.

    Sakai PTO Co-President Sarah Barnes said she knew that Pedersen had resigned but not “any of the reasons behind it.” Asked whether the school district should have promptly informed the public a teacher was resigning due to using school computers in connection with sexually explicit online materials, she declined comment.

    First it was too early to publicly reveal, then too late
    Chapel said the district could not reveal anything publicly until OSPI’s formal suspension of Pedersen’s license this past April 30, and then chose not to do so because of the time that has passed.

    Pedersen is now working in a non-education, private-sector job in Kitsap County. Reached briefly by phone at his workplace, Pedersen said he would return a reporter’s call later – but so far has not.

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    State to contract for feasibility report on vehicle mileage tax

    by June 6th, 2012

    Building on an experiment with drivers on Puget Sound roads plus a 2010 legislative study and a task force report issued in January 2012 by Governor Chris Gregoire, the State of Washington is now seeking bidders for a feasibility study on something that could eventually become a big piece of the 21st Century surface transportation funding puzzle here and elsewhere: a vehicle mileage tax.

    Although more attention in the Seattle region is focused now on whether electronic highway and bridge tolling will be expanded, the long-term picture might prove far more high-tech than today’s windshield-mounted transponders which get zapped by an overhead roadway device that then bills the driver’s prepaid “Good To Go” account. Instead, GPS-like black boxes mandated in passenger vehicles and connected to a central billing system are just one example of where we might be headed – though with plenty of focus groups and public meetings to get the necessary buy-in from wary motorists. It may be 10 years or more before such an approach is actually in place in the state’s major metro regions, but the 2011-2013 supplemental transportation budget approved by lawmakers earlier this year provides $1 million in preliminary study funds to get started on the assessments.

    The funding is detailed in Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2190 on page 14, line 6; and page 30, line 12. A more comprehensive mileage tax study funding bill sponsored in the 2012 winter session by State Rep. Andy Billig (D-Spokane), HB 2704, sparked debate on next steps and led to the near-term appropriation.

    As a result, in a request for proposals recently issued by the Washington Transportation Commission, the state is seeking a consultant who would be paid up to $875,000 to produce a series of deliverables between August 2012 and June 2013 for a commission steering committee and ultimately elected officials, on the concept of a road user charge. That’s more commonly known as a pay-by-the-mile vehicle tax, or vehicle mileage tax.

    Interactive asset map of public art in Seattle

    by June 5th, 2012

    This data visualization shows the location and site information for each of the 316 art installations sponsored by the City of Seattle as of June 2012. Blue circles indicate the geographic location of each project. Hovering your cursor over a circle will reveal the project’s title, site, artist’s name, type of media, brief description and date installed. In addition, the viz displays the project’s physical address as well as a link to the satellite view in Google Maps. Additional information about a particular project may be found by following the link to the website of the City of Seattle Office of Art and Cultural Affairs. Source: City of Seattle public art data set, via


    -Zoom in/out: Use the control panel in the upper left of the viz.
    -Move map view: Click and hold until cursor becomes a fist, then drag to desired location.
    -Select multiple sites: Click and drag to select desired sites.

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    Honors program coming to Community Colleges of Spokane

    by June 5th, 2012

    Next fall Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS) hopes to begin trial phases of a new honors program at its schools. CCS has published a request for proposals (RFP) from consulting firms to help create an honors program that will increase enrollment and revenues at Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College.

    According to the RFP, courses for the honors program will be developed and students recruited this summer. Next fall the two schools will pilot a total of three to five honors classes for as many as 100 students and provide some support services. More planning, design, recruitment and marketing will unfold leading up to fall 2013 when the honors program will officially start, with the goal of eventually enrolling 300 students.