The Seattle Times newsroom aims to investigate, innovate, invite and inspire, writes Executive Editor Don Shelton.

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Journalists are great at asking questions. Whether it’s a reporter probing for answers at a news conference or an editor wondering about something missing in a story, that’s what we do.

But there’s a question we hope never needs to be asked again:  What’s The Seattle Times newsroom’s mission?

That question came up often enough last year that newsroom leaders took action the past few months. We revisited past mission statements, all of which seemed inadequate or out of date, and spent a lot of time discussing what our mission should be.

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Defining our newsroom values and purpose, simply and directly, is critical to serving you, our readers.

After numerous drafts and consultation with newsroom staff, here’s what we came up with:

The Seattle Times serves the Greater Seattle Area through public service and quality, independent journalism from which we will never waver. Our newsroom and coverage reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the region and tell the story of its continuing transformation.

We liked it, but we felt we weren’t done. We also needed to redefine our vision — where our newsroom is going in a turbulent time for an  industry with a shifting business model and big questions about credibility.

Equally important to get just right. So here’s our new vision:

To be the model of innovative, audience-supported regional journalism, to strengthen democracy, build community and enrich people’s lives.

Finally, we needed to articulate a plan for achieving this vision. So we wrote a list of priorities to make things crystal clear for everyone in the Northwest’s largest newsroom.

So here are our priorities (with specifics spelled out in parenthesis to make it even clearer):

  • We hold the powerful accountable, inform the electorate and protect the rights of the powerless. (Think watchdog and investigative journalism.)
  • We serve as the region’s first, best source of news as it’s happening, emphasizing accuracy and reliability. (Think breaking news and well-curated wires.)
  • We elevate deeply reported, artfully rendered local stories. We seek to inspire, move, surprise, outrage, entertain and delight. (Think enterprise over turn-of-the-screw dailies and clickbait.)
  • We give voice to the voiceless; reflect the plurality of perspectives, identities and experiences in the Northwest; and ensure that communities see themselves and their concerns represented in our work, as both a fundamental element of accuracy and a necessary condition of our survival. (Think diversity and inclusion in staffing, story choice, sourcing and execution.)
  • We innovate digitally and visually, building toward a business model that is sustained by print and digital subscribers and engages with them in multiple ways. (Think photos, graphics, interactives, reader engagement, digital production, alternative story forms … and approaches we haven’t yet discovered.)

But guess what? We still weren’t quite done.

We needed something catchy, a rallying cry that could be simply stated and easily remembered. We tried on a few slogans for size, but nothing felt quite right.

Then, in my weekly meeting with Publisher Frank Blethen, I shared what we’d written and asked the man whose family has owned the paper for 122 years for any ideas.

He thought for a second before replying:

“How about investigate, innovate and inspire?”

“Damn, Frank,” I replied. “That’s pretty good.”

Our leadership team liked it, too. The alliteration was good, but the message was even better. Still, we’re editors, and we felt one word was missing.

“Inform?” someone asked.

Too general and too obvious, we decided.

We picked a term that conveyed our dedication to putting audiences at the center of everything we do: Invite.

We finally had four words that inform everything we do.

Investigate? Our essential role as watchdogs is holding hold those in power accountable.

Innovate? We have no choice, in a business turned upside down by 24/7 digital news cycles and social media.

Invite? We ask readers to comment on stories and interact with us on social media because communicating with you is now a two-way conversation and being inclusive in our coverage has never been more important.

Inspire? That’s what telling stories of athletes and artists and everyday people like you doing heroic things should do.

So there they are, our newsroom mission, vision, priorities and four words to sum up all that The Seattle Times newsroom aspires to be.

Which leads me to one final question I have to ask you: How are we doing?