2006-02-15 / Opinions


Media accountability council needed here
Greg Pearson

The Richmond Times-Dispatch held another town meeting last week, focusing on its news reporting of crime. There are a lot of good to and familiar Council-reasons for the T-D to hold these meetings - like improved communication with the public, an opportunity to explain why it reports what it does and good marketing and public relations.

As VP/Executive Editor Glenn Proctor interjected several times, he and the T-D staff were there to answer questions about how their newspaper - and not TV-reports on crime. (Too bad local TV stations don't hold similar meetings because they have a lot to answer for.)

During the 90-minute Q and A session this newspaper commended the T-D news management and staff for reporting the stories behind the headlines. Of the daily media, only the T-D consistently answers questions citizens would ask.

But it was disappointing when Proctor resisted an opportunity to have an ongoing evaluation of all Richmond media by an independent group of experts (including some media representatives).

Both the news media and the public would benefit from attempts to insure local news is accurate and fair. Proctor said he was familiar with the Minnesota News Council - the news organization the Chesterfield Observer has endorsed previously - but planned on having an Editor's Advisory Council instead. That option sounds like it would be controlled by the T-D, sort of like having Congress evaluating itself.

Those in the news business like to ask questions, not answer them. So the T-D deserves credit for taking a first step. But what's really needed in Richmond (and every other media market) is an outside group to inspect what is expected.

Collectively, the media is just like politicians and government officials - news organizations don't want to be monitored. The difference is - the media holds them accountable but rejects outside attempts to be held accountable - which sounds like a double standard. And yes, there would probably be cries of "freedom of the press" from our news brethren throughout the Richmond metro.

Proctor should reconsider. If the T-D endorses outside monitoring of the media, most local news organizations would probably participate, albeit begrudgingly. The T-D has that much clout. Maybe the Mass Communications Department at VCU might be willing to set up a news council.

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