Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

NPI’s (unconventional) newsgathering credo: Accuracy and context are more important than getting it first or getting it fast

Editor’s Note: This month and this week, NPI is celebrating its tenth anniversary. This is the third post in a seven-part series reflecting on NPI’s first decade. Each installment will be penned by one of NPI’s board members.

I came to Washington in 1992, but I didn’t become involved in politics until 1999 when I started attending meetings of the 45th District Democrats.

I became a precinct committee officer (PCO) to help with the elections in 2000.  I was happy that we had some local successes that year: Gary Locke was reelected governor, Laura Ruderman was reelected as State Representative, and Jay Inslee reelected as U.S. Representative in the old 1st Congressional District.

Of course, I was disappointed by George W. Bush’s five to four victory that same year, made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court. The peaceful handover of power – even if it was to the wrong candidate – was a triumph of the rule of law; it demonstrated the resilience of our Constitution. But it was not a happy time for democracy; nor was it a happy time for Democrats and progressives.

Activists in the 45th District Democrats made me their chair. As district chair, I tried to expand the organization. In this effort, President Bush and the policy directions he pursued were a great help. President Bush exhorted us to show our patriotism by going shopping after the September 11th attacks.

Then Bush instigated the invasion of Afghanistan, the unjustified occupation of Iraq, and the never ending war on terror, all charged to our credit card. At the same time, he and a Republican-controlled Congress cut taxes for the wealthy.

For some reason, people who hadn’t shown much interest in politics became active with the Democratic Party. At the same time that NPI was formed, many people were looking for a better way forward: people rallied to the candidacies of Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, and John Kerry. We didn’t win in 2004, but we kept trying.

We’ve been exposed to the rhetorical formulation, “war on x”, that has been used as a foil by politicians of all stripes: “war on poverty”, “war on drugs”, “war on cancer”, the “moral equivalent of war” (energy policy, if you don’t recall), and “war on terror”. Some are more worthwhile than others, but not one of these has yet been brought to a successful conclusion. (It’s hard to win a war against a noun).

Indeed, some have been successful only in diverting resources and attention from concerns that should be paramount. When the mild suggestion is made that those who benefit the most from the society we’ve built ought to pay to sustain it, we hear “class warfare”: the message machine knows where its bread is buttered.

The undeclared “wars” are more pernicious. Forgive me if these labels are unfamiliar to you – political leaders don’t want to alarm you by uttering them. Some states have adopted policies that could be identified as “war on immigrants.”

Under the guise of preventing voter fraud (difficult to do as there is so little of it) we have “war on poor or elderly or minority voters”.

And then there is the “war on the impoverished”, and the “war on seniors”.

The “war on civil liberties”, one of the myriad fronts in the “war on terror”, is brought to mind by cameras everywhere and the enthralling prospect of the NSA reading our emails. (Orwell’s timing was a little off.)

Other fronts are the “war on open government” and the “War on the free press.”  Benjamin Franklin warned, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Events continually show that government cannot assure our safety, so why should we surrender our liberties in the false hope of security?

Granted, the government must sometimes undertake some actions that abridge privacy. But our Constitution spells out a process for when searches and seizures are appropriate and just. I have little sympathy for those who, entrusted with secrets, break their solemn oaths. I have less sympathy for government entities that don’t have the decency to follow their own rules.

In the ten years since NPI was formed, Americans have gone to the polls three times to vote for President of the United States. (Here in the Pacific Northwest, of course, we now primarily vote at the kitchen table).

Owing in part to the fact that the office of president is the only position that ever appears on the ballots of Americans in all fifty states, American politics tends to be driven by presidential election cycles and their outcomes.

Simply put, presidential elections matter, as I alluded to earlier.

NPI has covered all three of those presidential elections – each time more effectively and more comprehensively than it did the cycle before.

In 2004, NPI covered the Democratic National Convention from Redmond, along with John Kerry’s final campaign stop in Washington (a rally at the Tacoma Dome). Only four years later, NPI was able to send a team to cover the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, reporting on convention happenings live from the Big Tent near the PepsiCenter in the Mile High City.

And just last year, NPI was officially credentialed by the DNCC to cover the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

NPI’s founder, Andrew Villeneuve – who was also elected as a delegate to the Convention from the 1st Congressional District – anchored NPI’s live coverage each night from inside Time Warner Cable Arena, providing perspective on the goings-on to NPI readers back home in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

What really sets our reporting and commentary apart from what you’ll find at other organizations is our credo. We are more interested in accuracy and context than getting it first or getting it fast. We would rather tell a story well than race to publish what we know as we learn it. We would rather analyze and reflect than sensationalize. As the name of this publication suggests, our role as a media organization is to publish thoughtful advocacy journalism… advocacy journalism that fearlessly questions what all those wars on nouns are about!

NPI has never stopped improving its newsgathering capabilities, because we believe the key to communicating effectively is storytelling. And there are many different ways of telling a story – including several made possible by advances in technology.

Thanks to the generosity of fellow activists and to partners like SEIU Healthcare 775NW and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, NPI has been able to invest in professional tools so our staff can capture high quality audio and video, take great photos, and report live from almost anywhere.

If you’re a regular reader of The Advocate, chances are you’ve followed our staff’s liveblogging or seen some of the great snaps they’ve taken.

We’ve also set standards for ourselves, because our integrity is very important to us. Former NPI fellow Mike Finkle, now a District Court judge, helped our staff develop a robust Code of Ethics in 2009 and 2010 to govern NPI’s reporting.

In NPI’s second decade, we intend to pass along the storytelling skills we’ve honed to more activists, as our late founding boardmember Lynn Allen urged us to do.

As progressives, our focus must be on people and outcomes that benefit people. We have a lot of work to do. With help from our supporters and volunteers, NPI will strive to keep activists and citizens across the Pacific Northwest better informed about the issues we face by providing thoughtful commentary and reporting on current events through publications like The Advocate and In Brief, our microblog.

Ralph Gorin has served as a member of NPI’s Board of Directors since March 2010. He chaired the 45th District Democrats for over half a decade.