It is part of a newspapers essential mission to present readers with a complete set of facts in its news pages, in such a way that those readers are free to interpret the facts for themselves. Opinions have a place on the editorial page but, according to journalistic principles, should not influence the way the news is reported. Philosophers of language might argue that this is never completely possible; factors from the story topic chosen to the order in which facts are presented to the precise set of words used may inevitably suggest one evaluation more strongly than another. But the idea of unbiased reporting is still an objective toward which publications like ours must strive, and it is possible to make judgments as to whether one is coming closer to that goal or falling further short of it.
When it comes to natural gas drilling, The River Reporter has gained a reputation of harboring a strongly negative bias. Accordingly, it will probably surprise many to discover that strategizing ways to present a balanced picture has been a recurring preoccupation in our weekly editorial meetings. We come up, repeatedly, against the same problem: we can only represent a comprehensive perspective on gas drilling to the extent that people representing the many sides of gas drilling are willing to talk to us. And in general, we have found that not to be the case.
A large part of any news story, and probably the most memorable part, consists in quotes from various individuals involved in the story. If only opponents of drilling give us those quotes, the stories will wind up with a seemingly negative slant. Perhaps part of the problem is that the reputation for bias itself creates a vicious circle: people who see natural gas drilling in a wholly or mostly positive light may fear that nobody here will want to listen to them. Please take this editorial as notice that we do.
Perhaps you have a farm that would have been foreclosed for tax arrears, but now will be able to stay on the land because of a natural gas lease. Perhaps you are planning to start a business made possible by the kind of market created by the new demand for goods and services brought in by drilling activity. Perhaps you have connections to other landowners throughout the country who have experience partnering with large corporations on their land, giving you insights into on-the-ground solutions that will move the community conversation along. Give us your perspective and we will share it with the community.
Another problem we have encountered is the silence on the part of the natural gas drilling industry itself. They send out press releases, but so far have not been open to one-on-one conversation, with the exception of Rita McConnell of EXCO-North Coast Energy. When we write a natural gas drilling story concerning one or more particular companies, we call those companies for comment. And on a regular and predictable basis, they fail to return our calls.
This lack of active dialogue on a community level may be part of why many in the community who are concerned about negative consequences of natural gas drilling regard whatever they do hear from the gas drilling companies with deep suspicion. For instance, last Wednesday, Chesapeake Appalachia Ltd. announced that it no longer intends to do any drilling in the New York City watershed. On the surface, this sounds like a cause for rejoicing on the part of those who are concerned about drilling activitys impact on water quality. Instead, the activists we spoke to were in virtually universal agreement that the announcement was just some kind of clever ploy to diffuse the growing NYC political opposition to drilling. When you talk at people but not with them, they are less likely to believe what you say.
No one questions that natural gas drilling in this area will effect tremendous changes. Some say its the best thing that could happen to this area; some say its the worst. However, we can probably all agree that if we want to make sure that negative effects are minimized and positive effects maximized, we have to be willing to sit down and actually deal with the challenges, and not allow the difference of perspective to simply stop the conversation about real issues. This involves everyone, including the regulators and the gas industry.
We invite you all to our table, the pages of this newspaper, to talk.
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Letters to the Editor
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What is it about so-called watchdog groups that make these naive out-of-touch people miss the real story? Lets stop all those poor children from working in those slave chocolate sweat shops so they can just starve to death or become child prostitutes.
Beach Lake, PA
Whatever happened to SCIL?
To the editor:
So what happened to SCIL or SCAL, as it was supposed to be called? This tremendously educational, successful and rewarding program had its last competition in May and has not been heard from since.
However, we had been told that it was not the end, but the beginning of a whole new program that would be based more strongly on academics and that it would not replace, but revamp SCIL.