NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

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.

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