Thursday, May 21, 2015

Port of Olympia and ThurstonTalk: When “Journalism” Isn’t What It Seems

Little Hollywood Investigation Reveals Paid Contract

By Janine Unsoeld
When the Port of Olympia put out an article on May 5 by Kate Scriven for ThurstonTalk called, “Port of Olympia: Snapshot of Current Projects, Recent Changes, Plans for Future,” via the Port’s list serv, I read it. The public and the media are invited to subscribe to this list serv in order to keep up on Port activities.
The article was an interview with Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan and read like a one-sided industry puff piece, so I discredited it, but then, I became curious.
The next day, I wrote an email to Port staff and commissioners:
“I think it is very strange that the Port of Olympia would select this story written by a blog called ThurstonTalk to send out to those who have signed up to receive Port related information. My blog, Little Hollywood, has written many timely, well researched Port related stories worthy of sending out via this list. I am wondering how you determined that this story was more worthy for broader public dissemination than any of mine. What is your policy for selecting articles?”
Kathleen White, communications director for the Port, was prompted to respond to my inquiry on May 15 when Port Commissioner Bill McGregor sent me an email on May 14 wondering if I had received a response and what the answer was to my inquiry.
White’s answer revealed that the ThurstonTalk article was not just one-sided journalism, but was, in fact, a paid piece of marketing disguised as journalism, the product of a Port-ThurstonTalk contract signed on March 5.
“….In an effort to reach a broad local audience, the Port at its discretion chose to contract with ThurstonTalk for the writing and publishing of a select number of articles about the Port which can then be forwarded to the Port's email list,” White wrote Little Hollywood in an email May 15.
I immediately expressed confusion and responded that I was not aware of ThurstonTalk’s business model:
“…I heard that they pay their writers. That's all I know…. It sounds like they are a public relations firm that the Port contracted with to promote the Port, but it's made to look like independent journalism.  So, how much is the Port paying ThurstonTalk for this contract and what are the terms of that contract? I would also like to know what articles the Port is paying to be produced. Was the one sent out by Ed Galligan the first one? As you can imagine, I am very alarmed and disappointed that the Port wasn't more transparent about this when it sent out the article. Future articles from ThurstonTalk should contain a clear disclaimer, something like, “The following message from the Port of Olympia is a paid advertisement,” I wrote.
White responded that ThurstonTalk was hired by the Port of Olympia to produce four such “articles.” The article sent out May 5 as a “Message from Executive Director Ed Galligan” was the first article.
“Thank you for drawing the Port's attention to the need for a disclaimer on the article written and published by ThurstonTalk. Should the Port send out any future such articles, the Port will indicate that the article was paid for by the Port of Olympia,” wrote White.
White said that in 2015, the Port will pay $1200 per year for publication of all its news releases and $600 for the writing and publication of four articles about the Port, for a total of $1800. White said that the topics for the other three have not yet been determined. 
The Port's contract was signed on March 5 by White and Martin McElliott of ThurstonTalk.
According to its website, ThurstonTalk calls itself an “information source” serving the Thurston County community and was launched on January 1, 2011.
It says, “A vibrant community needs an information source that has the ability to interact with community members through multiple tools, while adding a meaningful advertising platform for local businesses.”
Asked to comment on its business model and how a discerning reader could know which articles are paid for, McElliott responded, “All of our writers are contractors.  Not all of our content is paid for by our sponsors.  Generally the articles that have a business logo attached are sponsored.  We write positive feel good stories and showcase why we all live work and play where we do,” said McElliott in an email today.
The Port-ThurstonTalk contract says that their package includes all news releases by the Port, but when asked today after the Port’s work session, White said she wrote the May 20 press release about Olympia Beekeepers Association members installing hives in an Olympia Airport field that will be full of flowering blackberries this summer, and was not related to the ThurstonTalk contract.
According to the contract, ThurstonTalk features a variety of marketing and content packages ranging in monthly prices for articles from $150 to $3,100. For example, customer driven articles cost $500 per article, or $900 for six short posts. An event focused article is $450 per article.
Eight Port of Olympia Candidates To Be Interviewed For Commissioner Position
At today’s work session, Commissioners Barner and McGregor agreed to interview all eight candidates for the open commissioner position on June 1 and June 2 between 1 – 5 p.m. at Tumwater Town Center, 7241 Cleanwater Drive SW, Tumwater.  Each interview will last about 40 minutes.
One candidate, Bill Wells, asked the Port to withdraw his name from consideration.
Port commissioners George Barner and Bill McGregor are expected to reach a decision by June 10, but have until June 30 to do so.
Full Disclosure: Janine Unsoeld does not write any article for her blog, Little Hollywood, in exchange for payment. A small sidebar on her blog asks for donations if folks appreciate independent journalism and like what they are reading. Janine works fulltime as a caregiver for seniors and while she appreciates the donations she receives, it is safe to say that she writes what she is able to as a community service.
Janine is also under contract to write a book, “Legendary Locals of Olympia and South Puget Sound,” through Arcadia Publishing/History Press. The publishing company found her through her blog and felt she was qualified. No money will be exchanged as a result of this contract until actual books are sold. Due to the ridiculously low royalties one receives from writing, unless you are someone like a certain Ms. Rowling, it can safely be said that both this blog and the book project are labors of love.

Olympia Community Comes Together After Police Shooting of Two Men

Above: Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts gives an overview of the day's events regarding the shooting of two African American men at a forum tonight at Temple Beth Hatfiloh in downtown Olympia.

By Janine Unsoeld
Hundreds attended a public forum held tonight at Temple Beth Hatfiloh in downtown Olympia in response to the police shooting incident of two young African American men on Olympia’s westside early Thursday morning.
The forum provided an opportunity for community members to share their feelings about the incident and engage in dialogue. About 15 clergy members from various faith communities and City of Olympia officials, including Chief of Police Ronnie Roberts, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and other councilmembers, and city staff were in attendance.
Over 30 speakers spoke for an hour and a half, voicing feelings of sorrow, fear, hurt, disappointment, anger and many other emotions. Reiko Callner, a local attorney, human rights activist, and member of the City of Olympia’s Civil Service Commission, facilitated the open mic session. Speakers had at least three minutes each to speak.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein welcomed everyone, saying that the purpose for the evening was to come together to hear diverse points of view in unity…with intention…open hearts, open hands, and prayers for peace, justice and healing.”
Speakers were eloquent, passionate, and spoke from the heart. Many called for an independent citizen advisory review board, police dashboard and body cameras, better training of police officers, and transparency and openness in the investigation process.
Below are some people’s thoughts:
“Police don’t get a chance to apologize because it would bring lawsuits like fleas on a dog…I wish we could include that without tearing them down…They’re just human….” said a man.
“I do support law enforcement…hindsight is 20/20, we all don’t know what happened last night…I believe we all need to stand together as a community…it’s sad when lives are lost and people are hurt….God be with us….” said a woman.
A man who heard the incident said, “This shooting incident happened about 100 yards from my house. I was awakened by the first three shots and…the shooting was all over in about 10 seconds. There were three quick, evenly spaced shots, then an interval of perhaps five to 10 seconds, and then four more shots again, evenly spaced. And, in between, I could hear shouting. I couldn’t hear voices or what was being said but there was audible shouting between the shots and after the shots. I certainly don’t know anything about the officer’s state of mind or to what degree he was threatened or felt threatened but I do feel that…there wouldn’t have been any time before that…it was swift and it was over. And, well, what that means to the investigation or anything, I don’t know. That is what happened, that is what I heard.” [Editor's Note, 5-22-2015: This reporter was in the back of the room. The man was questioning the police version of events. The ellipsis means the speaker went on to say more important information that I have not included here. This man's quote as included here is not to be used as fact in a court of law or to be used as evidence.]
A man said, “It was wrong to have those boys get shot, in my opinion…because they stole some beer….There’s a pattern going on in this country where the cops do these kinds of things and they walk away from it…and that bothers me a lot…The racial question cannot be avoided….It’s so clear…I don’t understand…I look at you (Ronnie Roberts) as the chief, what’s going on? People are getting shot, particularly black people and Hispanic people….This cannot be handed over to the police to investigate….”
Another man said, “My primary concern is that the process work for as many people as possible. The ideal process should find out the truth, a sense of fairness for all…and an outcome of compassion, justice, accountability…and a plan for moving forward….I want an investigative body besides Thurston County…I don’t know what that would look like…I am struggling with the issue of process going forward….”
A social worker said he is highly concerned that officers are not being held accountable when in his profession, he is held highly accountable to state standards.
One man admitted that he had shoplifted when he was young.
“…I was never in fear that I was going to be shot…I have one daughter who is perceived to be white, and one who is perceived to be black. I suspect that if they were caught shoplifting, they would be treated differently…I don’t trust the police after what I’ve seen in the last six months….” He lamented that he has not heard our local police say a word about the incidents that have occurred nationwide. '“Where are the police?'” he asked.
One woman said that she has felt sad all day, hearing helicopters over the westside neighborhoods all day.
“I watched the press conference and heard the tone of defensiveness (from the police) that maybe this officer was acting appropriately….That scares me that I live in a community that somebody can throw a can of beer and no one is saying, '“Wow, we made a mistake…a mistake was made…”' She expressed that there are too many police with military training.
“Military training is very different from community policing….What are we going to do to make sure this never happens again?” She said she was grateful that this gathering was happening and that, as a grandmother, she knows her blue eyed, Caucasian grandson is privileged, and her heart grieves for African American mothers who fear for the lives of their children.
One woman asked why a Taser couldn’t have been used instead, and expressed her support for the young men’s mother.
Another woman said, “Everyone is human, and racism is foundational to the creation of our country and continuation of systems of power….As a white person…I look at my own racism…It’s hard to sit through this stuff…As white folks we don’t know our own privilege, and we need to call it out, what’s happening.…(if we don’t) it’s the worst kind of racism….”
Another woman said, “I don’t trust the Sheriff’s Department to lead the investigation…listen to the audio recording….The militarization of police forces across the United States is a disease, and now we have this disease in Olympia….”
A man said, “….I have more questions than answers…a shift has occurred in me. I feel like I’m afraid of the police, and I’m not homeless, I’m not mentally ill, and I’m white. Why am I afraid? I don’t know. There is a disconnect and I don’t know how to fix it….”
One woman asked, “Why pursue in the first place? That started the whole sequence of events…What’s the outcome of this?”
A clergy member asked, “How will we heal? This is a good first step…Healing needs to be an intentional thing amongst the media and our community….”
Another clergy member asked, “….I wonder about a community that has trained its police and empowered people in the community to confront two people under suspicion by themselves without backup….”
A woman said she could pick out someone that she loves seated in every row. “We deserve better than this and we are better than this….”
A man who lives in the Goldcrest neighborhood said he was detoured this morning from his usual route to work and just got off work to attend the forum. “….This is hard to imagine in Olympia that unarmed people could be shot by police…I hope we’ll give benefit of the doubt as to motives until we know differently….I hope we’ll look at every way to learn from this….”
“I’m horrified this happened in Olympia…and it did….I have no faith that Thurston County officers are going to say it wasn’t a justified use of force…I want from the city council a clear and specific recognition that implicit racism is at play here…explain it, describe it, and hold people accountable for it…we are now a community that an officer shot two unarmed black boys….” said a woman.
A woman who identified herself as a member of the Christian community at The Evergreen State College said she is frustrated about the call to not rush to judge the police’s actions.
“What’s so frustrating is that these two black boys were not given the opportunity… to defend themselves….Black men are demonized…. I remember reading about...Officer Darren Wilson saying that Michael Brown was like a demon coming after him, and that’s how black lives are viewed…so I think it’s about more than body cams, although that’s a good start…I think it’s about how people with privilege and power choose to view…marginalized communities….What happened this morning is not an isolated incident….We need to model something different….”
A registered nurse with 20 years’ experience said that the young men deserve our prayers. “…Even if they recover, their spiritual and body wounds will be long….” She said the shooting was irresponsible in light of the national climate and oppression, and did not believe that race had nothing to do with the incident. “I don’t believe that…I’m the mother of a teenage boy who is light-skinned…I fear for his safety but I can’t imagine what it’s like for African American mothers who worry about their children….”
That woman’s son also spoke up, saying there is racial inequality at his school, eloquently closing by saying, “A color should not determine whether you live or you die….”
A woman who said she’s lived in Olympia for four years said, “I love Olympia…but I’m not surprised that something like this has happened in our community because people of color are harassed…We’re neck deep in right now….”
Another woman said, “If I accidently hit somebody with my car, I’m held accountable….Everybody is responsible for what they do….”
A clergy member said, “There’s one truth – love is greater than fear…As we embrace and resist fear that is out there and fight the fear and find the treasure of love, people will look at Olympia and say, 'We do things different here….'”
Another clergy member, Rev. Amy Walters, of First Christian Church, said, “I am troubled and hurt for our city but I’m going to leave here with some hope to continue to take steps forward to have dialog and we’ll work things out together – we are better – and clergy are committed to this process…While my heart is heavy, I’m going to leave with hope.”
For more information about the incident from the City of Olympia, including the 911 audio recording of the incident, go to
For previous articles about the City of Olympia Police Department on Little Hollywood, go and use the search button to type in key words.

Olympia Police Shoot Two African American Men

Above: Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts answers questions from the media and the community at a press conference in Olympia City Hall this morning about a police shooting of two African-American men early this morning in Olympia. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, to his left, also addressed questions.

By Janine Unsoeld
Thurston County Critical Incident Team Investigating
A formal Olympia Police press release, below, was issued shortly after 7:00 a.m.:
“At about 1am this morning, Olympia Police responded to a call from the Westside Safeway store at 3215 Harrison Avenue West.  Store employees reported that two black men had attempted to steal beer and, when confronted by employees, threw the stolen items at them then fled.  As police investigated the matter, an officer found two men matching the suspect descriptions a short distance away.  A few minutes later, the officer notified dispatch that he had been involved in a shooting.  Two men were shot by the officer.  Preliminary reports indicate the men were both shot in the chest.  Both men were transported to St. Peter’s Hospital in critical condition.  Both men are in their twenties and believed to be from the Thurston County area.
The officer, who has been an officer for 3 years, has been put on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, following Olympia Police Department policy.  The Thurston County Critical Incident Team is investigating the shooting.  The Critical Incident Team is composed of detectives from five local agencies.
More details will be released as they are available.  An initial briefing for the media will be at 6am at the Olympia City Hall Council Chambers, 601 4th Ave E.  A second briefing is anticipated at 10am this morning.”
For more information, contact Paul Lower, Public Information Officer, 360.753.8410,

Press Conference
The 10:00 a.m. press conference in Olympia City Hall lasted about 40 minutes. Several regional television stations and reporters were present, as well as many city staff, Councilmember Cheryl Selby, and members of the public.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, City Manager Steve Hall, and Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts answered questions.
Mayor Buxbaum, when asked by a reporter why he was present, and whether or not he thinks this incident is going to “blow up,” responded:
“We don’t experience this every day. Unfortunately, what’s happening across the nation makes these kinds of incidents compelling, to meet in an honest, direct, and forthright way. Olympia is a community that cares deeply about social justice and I think that it’s important that anytime there’s a dramatic incident like this – and I call this a dramatic incident – that we stand together as a community and model respectful, thoughtful, inclusive dialogue, so I’m standing here because I want to represent those values and I think our community, I believe can, learn from events like this and become stronger as a result, so I’m here to support the young men that are in the hospital, to support the police officers involved, and I’m here to support the families that are involved, both directly and indirectly, and I’m here to support our community at large. I think that’s the role of the mayor….”
Buxbaum continued:
“I believe Olympia is going to heed this – honoring the values and principals we hold dear as a community – nonviolence, inclusive dialog, and good, solid relationship building. I believe in this community. We have had challenging times, and certainly this is one of those times. Being proactive in these situations, I think is another way of representing our values as community. I think it’s my responsibility to be here. And I do want to emphasize talking with Interfaith Works and members of our clergy that we are committed to open dialog where people can gather and share their perspectives, feelings, show their compassion and stand up for what I think, again, represents our values, is learning from things that are challenging.”
Copies of CDs of the initial 911 call were made available, as well as copies of the Olympia Police Department policies on use of force, equipment and proficiency, and the Washington State Legislature statute, RCW 9A.16.040, on Justifiable homicide or use of deadly force by public officer, peace officer, person aiding, and RCW 9A.16.020 Use of force - when lawful.
More will be added to this story by Little Hollywood as time allows. For past stories on the Olympia Police Department, go to Little Hollywood at and use the search button to type in key words.