Agreement with the Washington News Council to audit The Spokesman-Review's River Park Square coverage
August 24, 2006
Mr. Steven A. Smith, Editor
999 Riverside Avenue
Spokane, Washington 99201-1006
Dear Mr. Smith:
The Washington News Council ("WNC" or "we" or "us") is pleased to serve as independent analysts for The Spokesman-Review. A committee of current or emeritus WNC board members, co-chaired by Cliff Rowe and Chuck Nordhoff will be responsible for the analysis of the newspaper's coverage of the River Park Square controversy. Other committee members will include public and media members of the WNC. The committee may, as it considers necessary, call upon the services of others with specialized knowledge or experience to assist in the performance of our services. We will inform you if we do.
We will perform this engagement subject to the terms and conditions set forth herein.
Our engagement is to perform an analysis of:
(1) The Spokesman-Review's coverage of River Park Square parking garage redevelopment project (the "RPS coverage"); and
(2) the reporting guidelines, ethical standards and related policies and procedures in effect at the time.
With respect to item (1), our objectives will be to (a) form an opinion whether the RPS coverage was fair, accurate, balanced, complete and consistent with the generally held ethical standards of newspaper journalism, and (b) to form an opinion whether and how the RPS coverage may or may not have influenced The Spokesman-Review's coverage of former Mayor Jim West. With respect to item (2), our objective will be to (i) form an opinion of the adequacy of the policies and procedures, and (ii) make recommendations we believe will improve The Spokesman-Review's coverage of events involving its owners and where a potential conflict of interest exists. In forming our opinions and making recommendations, we will refer to the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code and the Associated Press Ethics Manual.
Our ability to express opinions and the wording thereof will, of course, be dependent on the information available to us during the review period. If, for any reason, we are unable to complete the analysis or have not formed an opinion, we may decline to express an opinion or decline to issue a report as a result of this engagement. If we are unable to form an opinion or complete a report, the reasons therefore will be discussed with you and will be made public in an appropriate manner.
Prior to the commencement of the analysis, you agree to provide or make available to the best of your ability the following materials, information, and access to people:
1. Eight (8) copies of the complete archival record of the RPS coverage, including and without limitation editorials and op-ed columns written by staff and others;
2. All published and, to the extent they remain available, unpublished letters-to-the-editor pertaining to the RPS controversy during the years being analyzed;
3. Internal staff or management memos to the extent they can be found;
4. The names and current contact information for all current Spokesman-Review news department staff members who participated in any way in the RPS coverage and names and current contact information insofar as they are available, for former staff members who participated in RPS coverage;
5. The names and current contact information of all non-news department staff members, consultants, attorneys and advisors to The Spokesman-Review newsroom, Cowles Company, or Cowles Publishing Company who participated in news coverage decisions involving the RPS controversy;
6. To the extent they are known, the names and current contact information of material critics of the newspaper's RPS coverage;
7. Copies of all internal or external, audits, critiques, corrections, and other reviews of the RPS coverage known by The Spokesman-Review;
8. Copies of The Spokesman-Review's reporting guidelines and ethical standards in effect during the RPS coverage, copies of The Spokesman-Review's current reporting guidelines and ethical standards, and a summary of all differences between them and, to the extent it can be documented, the date of each change;
9. Access to all non-confidential records of court proceedings related to the RPS coverage still in the possession of the newsroom, bearing in mind the newsroom maintains a small fraction of the documentation on file with various courts.
It is understood that you cannot commit any individuals other than yourself to cooperate with this analysis. However, you will provide work time and appropriate interview space for current newsroom employees who choose to cooperate and agree to encourage cooperation with this project at all levels.
To the greatest extent the available funds allow, the WNC team will:
A. Review all or representative samples of the reference materials identified above;
B. Gather and review other supplemental information we deem necessary or advisable and material to the RPS coverage;
C. Interview selected current and former Spokesman-Review staff members, members of the community, and other individuals who may be knowledgeable about key issues identified by the research;
D. Interview former senior Spokesman-Review editors Chris Peck, Scott Sines and Peggy Kuhr;
E. Interview Spokesman-Review editor Steven A. Smith and publisher Stacey Cowles, and Betsy Cowles, president of the Cowles Company.
F. Interview material critics of Spokesman-Review RPS coverage, potentially including Ted S. McGregor of The Inlander; Bill Stimson of Eastern Washington University and The Inlander; Tim Connor of Camas Magazine; and Larry Shook of Camas Magazine. We may choose to review material written or published by such critics and may choose to review other written materials they may provide;
G. Compile research findings, and conduct follow up interviews, surveys, and other research as we deem necessary or advisable;
H. Write at least one draft report, including findings, opinions and suggested actions for review and comment by the full WNC board. The WNC will take steps to protect the confidentiality of any preliminary report or discussion pertaining to any such report;
I. Finalize and publish a report containing any findings, opinions, and recommendations with respect to the items described at the beginning of this letter.
At no time during the review will the WNC hold a public hearing, forum or other public event dealing with the RPS issue. On completion of the analysis and publication of the report, educational forums, school classes or professional appearances may be scheduled.
We have agreed to undertake the audit for a flat fee of $15,000 to be paid by The Spokesman Review, $5,000 on signing of this agreement, $5,000 no later than 30 days after the signing, and $5,000 on or before January 31, 2007. We may also seek contributions toward our costs from other sources, and will inform you if we do. Efforts to acquire additional financial support will be consistent with existing newspaper conflict-of-interest policies and standards. We will notify you promptly if we encounter circumstances that could significantly affect our ability to complete the analysis for the amount of funds available.
Publication of Report
We anticipate completing our analysis within seven months. However, more or less time may be required. Within three weeks after our final report is issued, you agree to publish our entire report with any findings, opinions, and recommendations in a prominent location in the Sunday print edition of The Spokesman-Review. Should the report exceed 2,000 words, you agree to publish the full report online at SpokesmanReview.com (to remain posted for a minimum of 30 days) and an executive summary of no more than 2,000 words in print, written by us. Any publication, distribution, republication, or other use of the report must give credit to the WNC.
The Spokesman-Review reserves the right to publish a response to the analysis report simultaneous to the report's publication.
You agree that the final analysis report, while prepared for the use and benefit of The Spokesman-Review, will be the sole property of the WNC, and that we may publish the report, together with any findings, opinions and recommendations, as well as transcripts of interviews and other supporting documentation, on the WNC website, and print or distribute the report, consistent with Spokesman-Review conflict-of-interest policies and standards.
Notwithstanding the above, The Spokesman-Review also will have access to and authority to publish or post online any findings, opinions and recommendations, as well as transcripts of interviews and other supporting documentation.
Actual newspaper articles, columns, editorials and letters-to-the-editor remain the property of The Spokesman-Review and their subsequent reproduction will be limited, pursuant to copyright protections and newspaper standards, to educational or non-profit uses.
This engagement letter constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to this engagement and supersedes all other prior and contemporaneous agreements or understandings between the parties, whether written or oral, relating to this engagement.
If the above terms are acceptable and the services outlined are in accordance with your understanding, please sign the copy of this engagement letter in the space provided and return it to us.
WASHINGTON NEWS COUNCIL
John Hamer, Executive Director
Stephen Silha, President
Accepted and agreed to by The Spokesman-Review:
Steven A. Smith, Editor
Gary Graham, Managing Editor
Spokane and Spokane Valley, Wash., Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and the Inland Northwest
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