As one of the last surviving members of the Minnesota News Council, I am sad to see it go. The council, of which I was a member, enabled the public who claimed the media treated them unfairly to have a hearing where both sides were aired and a decision rendered.
I was impressed with the fairness of the hearings in a semi-judicial and dignified setting during which both the media and the public complainant had an opportunity to present their cases. We deliberated and agonized over our decisions that were based on sound journalistic practices. Sometimes, I felt we tried too hard to be fair to the media.
The public had its day in court without having to go to court, and several times I wondered why some of my colleague editors were so stubborn in defense of their questionable judgments.
I am confident that in a couple of cases the News Council prevented what would have been expensive litigation for the media involved. At the very least, editors learned from the council’s experience the importance of listening to the initial complaint of the caller and immediately dealing with it.
The council’s presence also may have caused editors and reporters to think twice before taking a risk without further checking the facts.
The News Council died because it lost the confidence and financial support of key institutions, including some MNA members, and because weekly newspaper editors for the most part are practicing “safe” journalism. They rarely raise hell anymore, lest they antagonize their sources and step on important toes.
“Here lies the News Council. It made news reporting fairer for the public.” – DON HEINZMAN