Category: Journalism

The press, the emus, and the killer wind turbines

Reporter and Emu

I see by the CBC that Nova Scotia Power wind turbines have laid waste to a Digby Neck emu farm, decimating a family’s livelihood in the process.

Twenty of Debi and Davey VanTassel’s 27 emus succumbed to the lethal noise produced by NS Power’s murderous machines in the three years since they began slicing the salt air over Digby.

Or maybe it was 30 of their 38 birds—the CBC story gives both sets of figures. In any case, the emus were as hapless as they were flightless, no match for the death-dealing, green-power monsters.

How do we know this?

Because Debi Van Tassel, voice choked with emotion, told the CBC so.

Why, when the birds that provided their livelihood began dropping like cluster flies on a warm window sill, the Van Tassels didn’t even call a veterinarian to examine the corpses. Why bother? They already knew the cause of death.

So certain were Debi and Davey of the emu-killing power of renewable energy, they had protested construction of the wind farm before it even started up.

A vet might not have been much help anyway, given the inconvenient lack of a single peer-reviewed study showing turbine-induced health effects on animals.

Public health researchers in Australia tabulated every known public complaint of human health problems related to wind farms, and found no correlation with the size of a wind farm or complainants’ proximity to them. Well over half of the country’s 41 wind farms generated no complaints; those that did were mostly in areas where protesters promoted health fears before construction began.

The Van Tassel’s putative plight reads like a classic fable. On the one hand, a grieving farm couple, raising charismatic birds from a distant hemisphere, seeking only to wrest a humble livelihood from the windswept Fundy shore. On the other, a corporation so reviled the press exempts it from ordinary standards of fairness and balance, replacing conventional news coverage with one-sided, crowd-pleasing screeds.

“With a vital portion of their income gone,” came the CBC’s maudlin conclusion, “the Van Tassels said they don’t know what’s next for them.”

Absence of evidence and rampant implausibility could not be allowed to interfere with such a stirring yarn. Score one for bunkum over news.

[Disclosure: I count many good friends among NS Power management and staff, and from time to time, I have done work for the company, mainly writing and editing.]

Why John Henry bought the Boston Globe

As recounted here last August, John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, bought another great Boston institution, the Boston Globe, for just $70 million. That’s $1.13 billion less than the New York Times paid for it 20 years ago. The Times retained the paper’s $110 million in pension liabilities, so you could say the price was negative $40 million.

So grim are the economics of newspapering in the 21st Century, lots of industry watchers thought Henry was nuts. Late last month, he took to the paper’s editorial page to explain what motivated him.

I have been asked repeatedly in recent weeks why I chose to buy the Globe. A few have posed the question in a tone of incredulity, as in, “Why would anyone purchase a newspaper these days?” But for the most part, people have offered their thanks and best wishes with a great deal of warmth. A number of civic and business leaders have also offered their help. I didn’t expect any of these reactions, but I should have.

Over the past two months I have learned just how deeply New Englanders value the Globe. It is the eyes and ears of the region in some ways, the heartbeat in many others. It is the gathering point not just for news and information, but for opinion, discussion, and ideas.

John HenryTruth is, I prefer to think that I have joined the Globe, not purchased it, because great institutions, public and private, have stewards, not owners. Stewardship carries obligations and responsibilities to citizens first and foremost — not to shareholders. This is especially true for news organizations. As the respected Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston once said, “Only one industry throughout America carries on its day-to-day business with the specific blessing of the Constitution.”

I didn’t get involved out of impulse. I began analyzing the plight of major American newspapers back in 2009, during the throes of the recession, when the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Company, considered shutting down the paper. As I studied the problems that beset the newspaper industry, I discovered a maddening irony: The Boston Globe, through the paper and its website, had more readers than at any time in its history. But journalism’s business model had become fundamentally flawed. Readers were flocking from the papers to the Internet, consuming expensive journalism for free. On the advertising front, print dollars were giving way to digital dimes. I decided that the challenges were too difficult, so I moved on.

Or, I should say, I tried to move on. I couldn’t shake off what I had come to admire about the Globe. I grew to believe that New England is a better place with a healthy, vibrant Globe. When the Times put the Globe up for sale this winter, I resumed my studies. I soon realized that one of the key things the paper needed in order to prosper was private, local ownership, passionate about its mission. And so decisions about The Boston Globe are now being made here in Boston. The obligation is now to readers and local residents, not to distant shareholders. This, ideally, will foster even bolder and more creative thinking throughout the organization, which is critical in an industry under so much stress.

May his words offer inspiration to those struggling to maintain smaller papers like the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, enterprises equally important to their communities.

The whole piece is worth a read. Thanks to Doug MacKay, who edited the late, lamented Halifax Daily News at the peak of its glory, for pointing it out.

 

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Getting publicly fired — Jordi Morgan edition

“Life is like a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along,” wrote E.M. Forster, in Room With A View. I don’t know much about life, but getting fired, unexpectedly, publicly, certainly feels like that. Having gone through it, I’m always interested to see how others handle the experience.

Morgan copyHours after Rogers Media sacked him and 10 other News Radio 95.7 staffers, right-wing talk radio host Jordi Morgan posted “A note to Maritime Morning listeners” on his Facebook Page.

As you may have heard I will no longer be hosting Maritime Morning on News 95.7. Rogers has retooled to meet some very challenging market conditions and part of this process included the layoff of several personnel in Halifax.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of the people who have contributed to the program over the past three years. Academics, politicians, experts and engaged citizens volunteered their time and ideas to help create a program our team was proud to be part of. I believe our program with the input of so many, has contributed value to the discussion around municipal, provincial and national issues and topics of general interest.

He went on to briefly catalog the issues his show dealt with—cyber-bullying, discrimination against people with disabilities, mental illness, education, healthcare, and treatment of veterans—and to thank listeners, guests, regular callers, producers, and surviving hosts, before adding this:

While some may question the corporate decision makers, I want to take a moment to praise the efforts of Rogers media who have invested literally millions of dollars into our region by providing the content we have been able to provide.

And

I will miss being with you all… but hope that you continue to support the efforts of Rogers and News 95.7 to continue to provide such an important private sector news voice… a rarity in the Canadian broadcast spectrum. Without you… it’s a tree falling in the forest.

You might call this extreme grace and classiness—actually praising the people who showed you the door.

In the half day since Morgan’s post went up, 150 fans—including Bill Stephenson, Marc Patrone, Rob Smith, Waye Mason, Charles Cirtwell, Eva Hoare, Keith Bain, Kim West, Laura Peck, Fiona Kirkpatrick, Barry James McLaughlin, Mike Melski, Sam Moon, Peter Moirera, John Campbelljohn, and Laura Smith—have showered him with words of regret, encouragement, gratitude, kindness, and praise.

That such a diverse group of Maritimers could unite behind a right-wing host who once ran for the Alliance Party attests to Morgan’s deftness in dodging the pitfalls that give that breed a bad name. Mainly, he eschewed sophomoric rants, and treated contrary-minded guests with respect that felt genuine, not faked. Can anyone doubt he will land on his feet?

An opinion poll with an invisible thumb on the scale

A trio of Nova Scotia environmental organizations — the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition, the Council of Canadians, and Sierra Club Atlantic — scored a public relations coup yesterday when local news organizations reported that “Nova Scotians overwhelmingly support a continued ban on fracking” in a poll commissioned by the group.

A news release said the poll, conducted by Abacus Data, a respected Ottawa-based polling firm:

…found strikingly solid support for a continued ban in all areas of the province –from a high of 72% in Cape Breton, to 70% in HRM and Annapolis Valley/South Shore, and 61% in the northern part of the province.

The overwhelming support crossed the political spectrum – 71% percent of those committed to vote Liberal, 72% NDP and PC and 82% Green either strongly supported or supported a continued halt to fracking. Support was equally strong among men and women, and held steady across all age groups.

There was only one problem. The single-question in the survey was asked in a manner so flagrantly biased as to render the results meaningless. Here’s how it read:

Fracturing or hydraulic fracturing, is a relatively new process for extracting shale gas. Concerns have been raised about water contamination, harm to human health, and negative effects on communities and the climate. The Nova Scotia government has a moratorium on fracking while an independent review is underway. Do you support keeping the ban on fracking in place, unless the independent review finds there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities?

This is a classic “push poll,” a pseudo survey in which the tendentious questioner slips a thumb onto the scale so as to get the results she wants. In the guise of background, the question supplies respondents with arguments on one side of the issue, but not the other, and then seeks a response. In essence, this one warned that fracking contaminates water, harms human health, and hurts the environment and the climate, then added, it’s banned here now; should the government allow it?

None of the news stories I read quoted the question, or called foul on its blatantly contaminated methodology. They just regurgitated the fracking opponents’s analysis of the results, as if it were based on meaningful data. Shame on them, and shame on Abacus, whose website promises “objectivity” and cites “integrity” as a core value, for participating in this propaganda exercise. (I have asked the CEO of Abacus for a response.)

There are lots of reasons to be wary of fracking, and public opinion is one factor Cape Breton University President David Wheeler will have to weigh as he reviews the pros and cons of continuing the fracking moratorium. I can’t imagine Wheeler, a respected academic, giving this survey any credence.

I wonder if an honest poll wouldn’t have revealed lopsided opposition to fracking. We’ll never know, until someone conducts one.

Video: A day in the life of Gottigen Street

Gottingen Street, Halifax, NS.

This is part of an interesting project by masters students at King’s Journalism School. It includes 21 Moments that Shaped Gottigen Street, a slide show featuring crucial moments in the city’s 250-year history (many of them new to me), and a thoughtful piece on the cultural tensions arising as the street undergoes gentrification (about which, more here).

The ground keeps shifting under journalism and journalists. This puts J-schools are under pressure to equip students with skills for an industry whose future no one can foresee with clarity—or unbridled optimism. This Gottigen Street project strikes me as a good response to that challenge.

H/T: Jane KansasShawn K. Thompson shot and edited the video; Rich Aucoin produced the soundtrack.

 

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