In our "Best of the media" survey (7/30), The Seattle Times was top dog among local newspapers, winning votes from Seattle Weekly readers for best daily, best local news source, best investigative reporter (Eric Nalder), best editorialist (Mindy Cameron), best sports columnist (Steve Kelley), best photographer (Betty Udesen), best business writer (Paul Andrews), best features writer (Sherry Stripling), best TV critic (Kay McFadden), and best movie critic (John Hartl).
Watchdogs has often criticized the Times, but there's plenty to like about "Fairview Fannie." Examples:
Fancher's frankness. Executive editor Mike Fancher's Inside the Times column "Times gave story on Houston ballot measure short shrift" (7/26) was frank and revealing. It examined why the Times failed to report the important news that a Houston judge threw out results of a city election on a measure similar to this state's Initiative 200 because the ballot wrongly said it would "end affirmative action." Fancher explained that an Associated Press wire story on the Texas decision fell between Saturday and Sunday edition deadlines, so Times editors didn't see it. Fancher noted: "Most readers likely will regard this as sloppy, which is bad enough. Ardent supporters of I-200 think it shows a Times bias against the measure." Kudos to Fancher, ersatz ombudsman, for critiquing his own staff's performance so publicly.
Good scene. The Times' newly redesigned Sunday Scene section debuted August 2 with considerable fanfare, including a helpful "What's going on here?" explanation. It's mostly an attractive repackaging of regular features, with an expanded calendar and more health coverage. A real highlight was Sherry Stripling's affectionate profile of the Lynden Dutch Bakery, with engaging photographs by Jimi Lott. The story respectfully portrayed Lynden, a city with possibly "the highest church attendance of any comparable city in the nation." Stripling wrote: "There's an inter-generational ease not found in the big city and a comfort in talking about faith." It's hard to imagine such a positive story on a deeply religious community appearing in the urbane, secular Times only a few years ago—when Mike Fancher actually had to suggest that reporters and editors should attend church occasionally so they'd better understand some of their readers.
Knowing thyself. Another laudable story that probably wouldn't have run earlier: "Seattle politics: Turn left at liberal" (7/27), a front-page piece by Robert T. Nelson that forthrightly described how the 7th Congressional District is "out of step" with the rest of the state. Nelson, a reporter who has leaned left in many previous stories, played this one straight—even including lengthy quotes by conservative political thinkers to balance those from liberal activists.
New Nordie's. "Nordstrom's management makeover" (7/5), a front-page piece by business reporter Lee Moriwaki, was a refreshing change from the snidely anti-Nordstrom stories that are ghosts of Times past. In well-written, readable reportage, Moriwaki outlined the corporate retooling that coincides with the opening of the new downtown store. Sidebars on "Who runs Nordstrom?" and "What's in the works," and Barry Wong's good photos helped, too.
Eastside savvy. We really liked "The Outer Edge" (6/21), Times editorial columnist (and Eastsider) Jim Vesely's full-page takeout on planned new developments in the Snoqualmie Valley. By simply going out, driving around, and talking to people in coffee shops and other places, Vesely sensitively captured the deep ambivalence that Valley residents feel about growth vs. preservation. A terrific map by Deb Dahrling that meandered across the page like the river itself conveyed much information. More recently, Vesely's column "Where the eagles fly in the Eastside sky" (7/27) was a classy example of lyrical commentary that the Times usually lacks.
Shooting back. After the Times essentially created a congressional candidate to challenge Rep. Jennifer Dunn in the 8th District by running Heidi Behrens-Benedict's emotional letter on gun control in the wake of the Springfield shootings—then giving it letter-of-the-month honors—we wondered if they'd ever grant equal space to the other side. Well, they did: "NRA has record of promoting responsible firearms use" (7/19) by Dave Workman, a national NRA board member from North Bend, also ran six columns across the top of the Sunday letters page, just like Behrens-Benedict's piece.
Mindy's mettle. Editorial-page editor Mindy Cameron has been the target of our needles in the past, but she deserves credit for her early and consistent stance on Bill Clinton's womanizing. Cameron was criticizing him—and feminists who were looking the other way—months before other pundits found the courage to do so. Kudos for a steadfast standard.
Final words. Obituary writing has long occupied the low rung on journalism's status ladder, but the Times' Carole Beers has turned the chore into a near art form. Her always interesting and often moving vignettes on the lives of ordinary people remind us that there really are no ordinary people, after all. We look forward to her celebratory homages, as the family and friends of the deceased surely must as well.
So, congrats to the Times for doing so well in our poll, but not to worry—we'll be back, nipping at its heels again in no time! Woof!
John Hamer and Mariana Parks are president and executive director, respectively, of the CounterPoint Center for ReMEDIAtion, an independent nonprofit media think tank, and co-editors of CounterPoint, a media-critique newsletter. Call them at 1-888-306-DOGS or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.