The TSW Fair Reporting Award Nominations Requested- Stories on the Proposed BLM Public Lands Regulation

From this Pew study

First, I’d like to express my disappointment with the journalism community on this topic. There are many interesting things in the Proposed Rule, but it’s like news sometimes is simply a springboard to a Preferred Narrative. So we haven’t heard much about the complexity of peoples’ views, especially since the recent House hearing, where partisans pontificated about it. Our friends at the Center for Western Priorities posted three stories this morning that basically said it’s a great thing for people who have our interests (obviously all right-thinking people) and Republicans are bad. Oh, and we have zero skepticism about what this Administration says, even though politicos have never been famous for telling the truth.

“Is politics nothing other than the art of deliberately lying?”- Voltaire.

The star who stands out so far is Sammy Roth of the LA Times who received or found the solar industry’s comments. And that was a great find. But I’m looking for something deeper. And I can’t find all the possible contestants for this award without the help of TSW readers.

So.. I am proposing the TSW Fair Reporting Award. I will send the beverage of choice, and the honor of being the first recipient of the TSW Fair Reporting Award, to the reporter who, in the view of me and other TSW readers, does the best job of presenting a variety of views on the Proposed Rule fairly, as well as digging below the surface. We’re hosting this in the hope of helping people write their public comments in a meaningful way, other than saying “it’s swell the way it is” or “it’s the worst thing ever.” Extra points for interviewing people not on an obvious side.. not ranchers, oil and gas folks, ENGOs and so on. We exist and have opinions, and maybe the story would look different if our voices were heard.

Nominations of reporters and stories are open below, and you will all get to weigh in them openly in the comments. We can potentially add criteria as well. We may disagree on how well different stories meet the criteria, and that conversation will be interesting as well. I reserve the right to make the final decision, as, well someone has to and it might as well be me. And if we round up some excellent stories, we can give out more than one award.

Also, if anyone knows anyone of the philanthropic persuasion, and actually anyone is welcome to sweeten the reward pot.

What could be more to our democracy than quality, fair reporting on complex issues; reporting that takes a more than superficial look at the claims and views of both “sides”?

Is Every Story Ultimately Political? Perhaps the WaPo Thinks So

Is everything political? It seems to be that politics is one filter to look at stories.  Climate is another filter.  A filter can help you see aspects of things.. on the other hand, it can filter out other aspects of things.  Kind of like the story of the blind people and the elephant.

As it turns out, the WaPo has hired political and climate reporters, so we can expect more of that. And we can expect the WaPo to encroach upon stories that would normally be “environmental disagreement” stories. In fact, they now have a newsletter called “your weekly non political political stories.”

If you’re new here: The Daily 202 generally focuses on national politics and foreign policy. But as passionate believers in local news, and in redefining “politics” as something that hits closer to home than Beltway “Senator X Hates Senator Y” stories, we try to bring you a weekly mix of pieces with significant local, national or international importance.

I always say we need to beware when organizations redefine commonly used English words. It’s hard to imagine any activity that might not have some kind of political or climate angle, but does the story benefit from that filter or obfuscate? That’s for us to examine and decide.

The story that intrigued me was the Maine Lobster vs. Monterey Bay Aquarium issue.

And the WaPo’s view of why this is a political story..

The politics: This has it all. A locally vital economic resource, interstate commerce, environmentalism. Trade-offs.

It’s fascinating. What might have been a business story, or an environmental story, is now a .. political story. No thanks, WaPo.

At the same time, I think we need to look at possible political angles for the behavior of.. well… politicians and agencies in the Executive Branch. We don’t know, or at least I don’t for sure, but I think they need to be considered. Especially when decisions don’t seem to make sense otherwise. Not that political decisions are bad, but understanding motives is probably good.

Great Reporting, Running a Business, and Pursuing Equity .. The Case of E&E News

As promised, this is the third of three posts on the media.  Unlike TSW, most media outlets need to make money.  So to do good work, they might be tempted to hire “climate” reporters, or “political” reporters.  Because climate and politics get people engaged, and thereby more clicks; even if framing issues that way unintentionally changes the way they are reported.

Standing against this undesirable trend, as far as I can tell, is  Energy and Environment News.  They still have had the funding to hire people who keep up with, for example, our federal lands stuff.  Which is excellent.  So a shout-out to those reporters.

And they have a place to send corrections “E&E News strives to promptly correct errors in material published online. To request a correction, send an email to..”

E&E News was bought out by Politico. Hopefully that doesn’t encourage reporters to take a more political slant. They reassure us that “E&E News is a distinct brand,” so let’s hope they continue with that.

Nevertheless, there is a bit of a structural problem with this.  People cost money.  So if you have journalists with specialized skills, you need to charge for their time.  So..

I know one member of an NGO who is frequently called by reporters (if I mentioned the topic, it might give hizzer away).  However, the NGO hizzer works with can’t afford a subscription to E&E News, so hizzer has to ask other people, including me,  for copies of the article (to be sure, when I ask the reporters directly they have been helpful).  If this reminds you of academic publishing without open access… well, it reminds me of that too.

Folks from another (small) NGO told me that E&E News recently asked them for $4000 for a subscription for a year. As to The Smokey Wire, I filled out the form and the marketing people never even called me. But that was a while back.

Fortunately for us, there are enough TSW readers from large organizations who can afford subscriptions that ultimately for us, as of right now, it’s not a serious problem.  Still, we would discuss their reporting more if we had better access.

Here’s their list of “notable subscribers”

Notable subscribers

  • Government: DOE, DOD, DOI, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s Office, Democratic Whip Richard Durbin’s Office, House Energy and Commerce Committee, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

  • Energy companies: ExxonMobil, Xcel Energy, Southern Company, Shell, Duke Energy, Black and Veatch

  • Corporations: General Motors, Honda, Caterpillar, Boeing, Apple, Google, General Electric

  • Environmental groups: Sierra Club, The Conservation Fund, EDF, Environmental Law Institute, NRDC

  • Universities: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, University of Michigan, Yale

  • Law firms: Latham and Watkins, Vinson & Elkins, Akin Gump, Sidley Austin, Baker Botts

  • Think tanks: Brookings, Heritage, CSIS, CEI, RFF, Council on Foreign Relations

I know that Politico has programs for “diversity, equity and inclusion” internally. But what about externally?  How do for-profit corporations with good intentions make sure that their products are accessible to the less well off financially? How do they struggle with this conundrum?

My other thought is that philanthropic organizations spend millions (at least) “communicating” about climate change.  I think to be more accurate, these campaigns message the beliefs of the folks donating.  But with the passage of the IRA, it seems like we need to turn from talking/writing/messaging to actually building.  Which will require good information, discussion, two-way communication, and trust.

So as for me, if I were a philanthropist, I would instead use the funds to build a sliding scale for small NGO’s, and even individuals that would be more affordable.  If all people could get the same kind of quality information, in my view, and create an environment for open discussion, we will ultimately get farther down the climate road faster and with more stronger relationships with each other.  Also if less-well-off NGO’s had access to these stories, they could help with correcting errors and providing context to reporters. Win-win-win.  Any philanthropists out there?

Less “Objectivity”, More Trust?: Downie Op-ed in WaPo

This is the second post of three on media.  The first post, Monday, was on Gerth’s piece in the Columbia Journalism Review that raised issues of whether the Times was following its own rules, and how such outlets might increase trust- via various forms of accountability and transparency.  It looks like Gerth’s piece was posted on January 30.

In this post, we’ll take a look at a WaPo opinion piece by a former executive editor  “Newsrooms that move beyond “objectivity” can build trust.” It also appears to have been posted on January 30.

But increasingly, reporters, editors and media critics argue that the concept of journalistic objectivity is a distortion of reality. They point out that the standard was dictated over decades by male editors in predominantly White newsrooms and reinforced their own view of the world. They believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading “bothsidesism” in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects. And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.

As a veteran of many TSW discussions, I agree that individual and diverse perspectives are important in the newsroom, as everywhere else.  And that is how we jointly make a world, by sharing our own truths and seeking the outlines of the bigger truth, as in the old blind men and the elephant story.  As Wikipedia says, in that ancient parable, the moral is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true.

Let’s parse out the last sentence.  The subject seems to be “the concept of journalistic objectivity” which “negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.” So it sounds like he is arguing:

  1. We should trust what  journalists say.
  2. Journalists no longer need to explain other peoples’ points of view because
  3. Their truth is more true than other peoples’ truth.

And we know that because they earnestly believe it to be so.

Sorry, this does not build my trust.

Then Downie goes on to add some more practical suggestions that might help build trust:

We urge news organizations to, first, strive not just for accuracy based on verifiable facts but also for truth — what Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have called “the best obtainable version of the truth.” This means original journalism that includes investigating and reporting on all aspects of American life.

Newsroom staff diversity should reflect the communities being covered — not just gender and ethnic diversity but also diversity of economic, educational, geographic and social backgrounds. Inclusive newsrooms should encourage their journalists to speak up and be heard by their colleagues and leaders in making decisions about coverage.

News media should also be as transparent as possible about their newsgathering decisions and processes. When possible, they should hire or designate an editor to field and act on reader complaints and questions.

Responsible news organizations need to develop core values by having candid, inclusive and open conversations. Making these values public could well forge a stronger connection between journalists and the public.

I think “making these values public” but more importantly “living up to those values” would forge a stronger connection with the public.  I think it would be helpful if they would provide a list of “expectations of reporting,” and then have a person designated to help readers track accountability (“complaints” have a negative connotation).  For example, I had never heard of some of the NY Times requirements Gerth wrote about.  I’d suggest an Office of Journalistic Accountability, at least for the WaPo and the NYT.  It seems to me that in terms of equity, there is an argument to be made that those whose profession includes holding others accountable should have their own public processes for others to hold them accountable. Sauce for the goose and all that.

Many of us have had the experience of being interviewed by reporters (not always coastal) who have already decided what the story is and don’t want to hear your perspective unless it fits into the pre-existing narrative.  We easily see the difference between what they are given and what they publish. Nice try, but at least in our world, it has nothing to do with negating anyone’s “own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.”  It seems to have to do with finding the shortest distance between the observed facts and the preferred narrative.
This all reminds me of a Stephen R. Covey quote, but I’ll paraphrase it:
“You can’t redefine your way out of a problem you behaved your way into.”
Next post: third of three on media. “Great reporting and a business problem.”

Shout-out to Reporters! and Gerth’s Piece in the Columbia Journalism Review and How It Relates to Our Issues

The Alaska Roadless writing I did last week reminded me of how difficult it must be to be a journalist in our space. I worked on Colorado Roadless for years and it’s still complicated.  And simplifying tends to degenerate to good guys and bad guys. Not to speak of the fact that explanations are too lengthy and most people aren’t interested to that extent.  To which I would add Friedman’s Law of Natural Resource/Environmental Conflicts: there are always more than two sides.  With a corollary: If someone reports on only two, they are missing the picture.

Bottom line… a big shout-out to journalists who cover our stuff.  We know it’s not easy.  And an offer- my virtual door is always open to reporters who want a glimpse into the different perspectives and possible sources on any related issue.  I’ve been impressed by the quality of the discussions I’ve had with newbies (and the usual reporter suspects) in this space and want to make sure that you all feel welcome.

That being said- I’d like to talk about three things that came across my desk in the last few weeks that have to do with journalism institutions. I understand that many of these institutions are under a great deal of financial pressure (and of course transfer that to their workers), so I am sympathetic.  Today’s post is on the  Columbia Journalism Review piece by Jeff Gerth.

I recommend.. don’t read commentary on it.. just read it if you’re interested. It’s not that long.  If you do, you will be amazed and tired and impressed by how many documents, phone calls and other information Gerth sorted through. The key part for me was the Afterword.  It’s written by someone who obviously really cares about the profession of journalism, as I do, and I think all of us should. Because these are the folks who interpret our world for the public.

I think most reporting in our space doesn’t deal with anonymous sources or “people familiar with”, but others of Gerth’s recommendations might be relevant. The outlets NYT and WaPo, though, who do write in our space, do not come out very well in the Gerth’s story. Note what Gerth says is needed to build back trust.  I’m thinking a 90-day stand-down and a public process with sets of recommendations- whoops, that was prescribed fire.

I’ve avoided opining in my more than fifty years as a reporter. This time, however, I felt obligated to weigh in. Why? Because I am worried about journalism’s declining credibility and society’s increasing polarization. The two trends, I believe, are intertwined.

My main conclusion is that journalism’s primary missions, informing the public and holding powerful interests accountable, have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and the media’s own lack of transparency about its work. This combination adds to people’s distrust about the media and exacerbates frayed political and social differences.

One traditional journalistic standard that wasn’t always followed in the Trump-Russia coverage is the need to report facts that run counter to the prevailing narrative. In January 2018, for example, the New York Times ignored a publicly available document showing that the FBI’s lead investigator didn’t think, after ten months of inquiry into possible Trump-Russia ties, that there was much there. This omission disserved Times readers. The paper says its reporting was thorough and “in line with our editorial standards.”

My last reporting project for the Times, in 2005, was an inquiry into US propaganda efforts abroad. I interviewed a former top CIA expert on behavior and propaganda, Jerrold Post, who told me that leaving important information out of a broadcast or story lowers public trust in the messenger because consumers inevitably find the missing information somewhere else. (And Post, who died a few years ago, spoke before the arrival of social media.)

Another axiom of journalism that was sometimes neglected in the Trump-Russia coverage was the failure to seek and reflect comment from people who are the subject of serious criticism. The Times guidelines call it a “special obligation.” Yet in stories by the Times involving such disparate figures as Joseph Mifsud (the Maltese academic who supposedly started the whole FBI inquiry), Christopher Steele (the former British spy who authored the dossier), and Konstantin Kilimnik (the consultant cited by some as the best evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump), the paper’s reporters failed to include comment from the person being criticized. The Times, in a statement, says some of the subjects were approached on occasion, yet the paper’s guidelines also call for their comments to be published.

Another exhibit is a familiar target: anonymous sources. I’ve used them myself, including, sparsely, in this piece. What’s different in the Trump era, however, is both the volume of anonymous sources and the misleading way they’re often described.

One frequent and vague catchphrase—“people (or person) familiar with”—is widely used by many journalists: the Times used it over a thousand times in stories involving Trump and Russia between October 2016 and the end of his presidency, according to a Nexis search. The last executive editor I worked for, Bill Keller, frowned on its use. He told the staff repeatedly the phrase was “so vague it could even mean the reporter.” The Times, in a statement to CJR, said, “We have strong rules in place governing the use of anonymous sources.” Other outlets mentioned in this piece declined to discuss their anonymous-sourcing practices.

Another anonymous-sourcing convention that was turbocharged in the Trump era was the use of more neutral descriptors like “government official” or “intelligence official” or “American official” to mask congressional leakers. A few reporters admitted that to me, but, of course, only anonymously. Here’s how it works. First, a federal agency like the CIA or FBI secretly briefs Congress. Then Democrats or Republicans selectively leak snippets. Finally, the story comes out, using vague attribution. “It was a problem for us,” Mike Kortan, the former FBI spokesman until 2018, told me. Kortan, who also worked in Congress, added: “We would brief Congress, try and give them a full picture with the negative stuff, and then a member of Congress can cherry-pick the information and the reporter doesn’t know they’ve been cherry-picked.” The typical reader or viewer is clueless.

My final concern, and frustration, was the lack of transparency by media organizations in responding to my questions. I reached out to more than sixty journalists; only about half responded. Of those who did, more than a dozen agreed to be interviewed on the record. However, not a single major news organization made available a newsroom leader to talk about their coverage.

My reporting has been criticized by journalists, from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, in the 1980s, to Harper’s magazine in the 1990s and the Daily Beast in the 2000s. When I’ve had the opportunity to respond, which hasn’t always been the case, I’ve tried to engage. On a few occasions, I concluded the inquiring reporter wasn’t really open to what I had to say, so l let my story speak for itself.

But during this time, when the media is under extraordinary attack and widely distrusted, a transparent, unbiased, and accountable media is more needed than ever. It’s one of a journalist’s best tools to distinguish themselves from all the misinformation, gossip, and rumor that proliferates on the Web and then gets legitimized on occasion by politicians of all stripes, including Trump.

Most Americans (60 percent) say they want unbiased news sources. Yet 86 percent think the media is biased. The consequences of this mismatch are all too obvious: 83 percent of the audience for Fox News leans Republican while 91 percent of the readers of the New York Times lean Democratic.

Jennifer Kavanagh, senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me of her concerns about news silos.

“If you are only getting your news from one source, you are getting a skewed view,” which, she said, “increases polarization” and “crowds out the room for compromise, because people base their views on these siloed news sources.” She added: “People don’t have time to deal with nuance, so they settle on a position and everything else tends to become unacceptable.”

Walter Lippmann wrote about these dangers in his 1920 book Liberty and the News. Lippmann worried then that when journalists “arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable.”

More on trust tomorrow.

What Others Think About Wildfires: Society of Environmental Journalists Panel 2019

I’ve been interested in how stories get covered by various journalists and press entities.   In 2019, I attended a session for journalists learning about wildfires at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Fort Collins. There were many fascinating differences between their culture and that of, say, SAF, including high quality free food, drink, and swag from ENGOs.

I think it’s worth listening to the recording, of the session to get an idea of how others think and talk about what’s important about wildfires.  Some seem absolutely sure of things that we all know are contested among both scientists and practitioners. But maybe it’s just a cultural way of making statements and sounding sure.

It’s especially interesting to listen to these 2019 ideas with our current knowledge of how Congress, California, and Colorado are currently putting megabucks into fuel treatments.

At the beginning, the moderator, Michael Kodas, introduces the speakers and says that George Wuerthner’s book is an “excellent resource for covering wildfire issues.”


Here’s a quote from a recent op-ed of Wuerthner’s from July 2021:

Today, with regards to wildfire, we should be saying over and over, it’s the climate stupid! The heat, drought and other variables caused by human climate warming is super-charging wildfires. Yet the response of most agencies and politicians is to suggest more logging/thinning as a panacea.

The proponents of active forest management assert that these tactics can reduce fire intensity and thus is a beneficial policy to reduce large blazes. However, fuel reductions do not change the climate or weather. And most of the scientific support for thinning/logging is based on modeling of fuel loading, not real-life experiences.

By promoting “active forest management” as a panacea for wildfire, we trade inevitable negative consequences of logging/thinning that occur today and get only a tiny chance that any fuel reduction will influence a wildfire.

There are so many interesting things about these statements.

“most of the scientific support for thinning/logging is based on modeling of fuel loading, not real-life experience”

This is probably one of the reasons the group of scientists wrote the 10 Common Questions paper.

“get only a tiny chance that any fuel reduction will influence a wildfire.”

But we’ve seem FTEM numbers that don’t agree with that (plus our own experiences).

Do any of us think that if we stopped producing GHGs today our fire problems would go away?

Marc Heller of E&E News also quoted  Wuerther last month in the article mentioned here:

A debate over the practice continues to play out.

One of the skeptics is George Wuerthner, a Bend, Ore., ecologist and director of Public Lands Media, part of the environmental group Earth Island Institute. Wuerthner told E&E News he’s not convinced of the main argument behind prescribed burning — that decades of total fire suppression have led to overstocked forests that need to be cleared in part with fire.

Wuerthner said that in his view, increased wildfires aren’t being driven so much by too much fuel as by climate change.

“Fuels are not what is driving large blazes,” Wuerthner said in an email. “Climate/weather that includes low humidity, drought, high temps, and most importantly wind. And prescribed burning does nothing to change those major influences.”

And prescribed burning and other fuels-reduction work doesn’t necessarily diminish wildfires when they do come, Wuerthner said, although the Forest Service pointed to several examples from 2021 suggesting the opposite.

Wuerthner pointed to the Camp Fire that destroyed thousands of homes in Paradise, Calif., in 2018. In that case, he said, the fire burned through areas that had been treated through logging and prescribed burns, thanks to high winds.

So Wuerthner is actually against prescribed burning, as well as the less popular thinning.  Which I think makes him an outlier, although an apparently popular one.  When are outliers worth reporting on and when are they purveyors of “misinformation”? (Rhetorical question)


A couple of other observations:

Rod Moraga was the only fire suppression person presenting.. it makes me wonder why more current IC folks aren’t out and about telling their stories. are they not available, or don’t moderators ask? Or don’t they know whom to ask? Is there a communications plan for the Interagency Fire folks? Or each agency’s fire folks? It seems like that would be increasingly important as social license is developed  for prescribed and MFRB fires.

One of the speakers, Chela Garcia of the Hispanic Access Fund, at about 18:46 talks about an experiment the Forest Service is doing working with the acequia system to pay a mayordomo and leñeros to thin 275 acres. They have a year’s time to finish the blocks and are paid $300 on completion according to this interesting article on the Kiowa-San Cristobal WUI (Carson NF).

There’s a lot there, so please share your observations. It looks like you can listen to any of the other presentations as well (climate, Indian Country, solutions journalism and so on.

The Other Side of the Story: CNN Story on Enviva and “Helicopter Journalism”

Franklin Williams, Northampton County’s Economic Development Director

Matthew posted this CNN piece, and my original thoughts were “I bet there are Black people who work at Enviva and who supply wood to them.. I wonder why their perspectives are not in the story?” The headline was “marginalized communities are paying the price for green energy in Europe”, but it could also have been “marginalized communities benefit from green energy exports to Europe.” If we go to the reporter’s Twitter,  she says “how Europe’s green energy hurts Black Americans.” It almost seems as though evidence was selected that supported this (predetermined?) claim, and other evidence not examined. Is this a case of helicopter journalism, similar to “helicopter research?”

“Journalists don’t have the time to get closer and understand the communities they are reporting on. They just land somewhere, cover the big story from a distance and dash off,” he said. “They inevitably miss the details.”

The topic is not as far afield from the western US as you might think, as landowners and Enviva are making money from residuals from forest management, which is something many westerners would like to do (and is arguably better for the climate than burning wood in piles).  Enviva developed its own proprietary tracking program to make sure that the material is responsibly sourced, allowing it to trace every ton of wood back to its origin in the forest or sawmill.  And they post their sources and the site information to the public via this cool map.. Imagine if we could use a similar system for western forest residuals…

Here’s an answer to the CNN article from Enviva on forest management.  It’s not hard to understand,  but perhaps I have a leg up, as I did my post-doc at NC State. They’re private forests, and landowners do what they want to do within regulations. They have a variety of objectives, including producing timber and other forest products. According to Enviva,

It is very important to understand that Enviva’s pellets are made from low-value wood that is a byproduct of a traditional timber harvest. Enviva creates an additional market for private forest landowners to sell their low-value wood, such as “thinnings,” limbs, tops, or low-grade trees (deceased, crooked) that would otherwise go unused, and an incentive to keep their land as forests. We’re talking about material that is a relatively small source of revenue for a landowner, so it’s not driving their decision to harvest in the first place.

Good biomass, like the one we source at Enviva, does not drive harvests. It is crucial to understand that forests are not being harvested for biomass. The value is too low. Harvest decisions are driven by how trees are sorted, purchased, and used according to their quality and value. A forest owner can obtain as much as 8 or 9 times the price for high-value wood versus the wood Enviva uses for wood pellets. It doesn’t make economic or business sense to use a high-quality tree for wood pellets or any other low-value product. As long as we source fiber from the bottom of that value scale, regardless if it’s a whole tree or parts of a tree, then we know we’re operating sustainably and delivering tangible benefits for the climate.
Enviva consults with independent academic and environmental organizations, who assist in identifying environmentally sensitive forest ecosystems that have high conservation value (HCV). We do not accept wood from sensitive forest ecosystems and we do not harvest, nor accept wood, from old growth forests or independently designated high conservation value sites.

We would like to reinforce that at Enviva, we only source from land that will be returned to forest. We require replanting of tracts with forests under the purchase contracts and per our Responsible Sourcing Policy.

On the human side, here’s a July 2021 Op-Ed “Elevating Equity and Inclusion in North Carolina” that describes some of the work Enviva does in communities, including:

“For years, we have assisted truckers in paying for their rigs as well as helping loggers finance chippers and skidders. We are looking to partner with more small businesses to create real opportunity and wealth for our neighbors.

Finally, North Carolina’s Black families have been mistreated and their wealth devalued by outmoded heirs property laws. Enviva has long assisted Black families who seek to create forest management plans that will secure their property, obtain the applicable tax benefits, and begin to restore the land’s value. We want to do more to support heirs’ property and Black land retention, and we want to hear from neighbors who need help with this.

Not helicoptering in, a local reporter (Holly Taylor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald) wrote two stories to get “the other side of the story.” In the first, she quoted a letter from the Chair of Northampton Economic Development (photo above), Franklin Williams.

“As a leader in Northampton County, North Carolina, I am extremely disappointed to read a recent CNN article entitled ‘How marginalized communities in the South are paying the price for “green energy” in Europe.’ The article portrays our county, and one of the industries operating in it, in an incredibly negative light – contrary to the truth on the ground.

“Yes, our county has challenges – all communities do – but the article neglects to mention the great work that has been happening locally and depicts one of our proud local businesses – Enviva – as reckless and inconsiderate of its neighbors.

“Northampton County has made great strides in recent years – we have a long way to go to get where we want to but each day, each week, the lives of county residents are getting incrementally better. Attracting businesses is vitally important to our work and growth.

“Your recent article portrayed Enviva as a negative part of our community and one intent on doing harm. First, Enviva is well respected in Northampton County. They work with all segments of the community to support the needs of their neighbors. Second, the forest products industry is a vibrant part of our economy – your article failed to recognize this and the very important role Enviva plays by purchasing excess or low-grade wood fiber. Third, the State of North Carolina has installed air monitors in the vicinity of Enviva and those monitors demonstrate that contrary to your story the air in Northampton County is healthy. Publishing a story leading your readers to believe our air is unhealthy could be detrimental to our long-term growth and efforts to improve our county.

“Your recent story left out many of the facts and replaced them with opinions from just a few individuals. Northampton County has a great story to tell – it’s unfortunate that you decided not to tell it.

In the second, Taylor reached out to Enviva and printed their response to the claims in the CNN article.

How to Read the News Without Losing Your Mind: Emma Varvaloucas

Photo by Nijwam Swargiary | Unsplash

We’ll go back to more on the Squillace paper next week, but based on comments, it appears that not many people (this week, at least) are interested in BLM and Forest planning.

I’ve been spending time during this season of Lent online with a group of spiritually-oriented folks. In our online discussions, it was common to say things like “we have destroyed the planet” and one spiritual leader whom I respect greatly said “we are like a metastatic cancer.” There wasn’t really an opportunity for me to say “that’s Malthus!” or “that’s Edward Abbey!”. People just tossed that off as if it were a fact, that everyone must know, and agrees with. I attribute this, and especially the certainty around it, as being influenced by news sources. It’s particularly prominent in the environmental/forest world, but occurs everywhere. I recommend reading this entire piece, by Emma Varvaloucas, and here are some excerpts.

Is it possible to stay informed and engaged without destroying our faith in humanity every morning?

Yes. The key is learning how to read the news with an understanding of both its structure and your own brain’s, a critical (but not distrustful) eye, and an equanimous, long-term perspective. We’ve gathered these ideas into a five-step approach for how to keep reading the news—without losing your mind.

Remember the Long Game: In Case of a Crisis, Zoom Out
The word crisis gets a lot of exercise in the news. During one week in June 2019, news outlets reported on the following crises: child-care, college dropouts, immigration, the climate, opioids, Sudan, homelessness, cops’ mental health, rural healthcare, retail landlords in the UK, lead, farming, money laundering, guacamole, sex abuse, the automotive industry, Iran, Moldova, India’s GDP, Pakistan, Venezuela, Israeli bacon, Trump’s reelection prospects, Boeing’s 737 MAX, the world economy, pastoral courage, and Canadian national unity.

That is a lot of crises to keep track of. And, with no disrespect to the importance of Canadian patriotism or avocados, they cannot all possibly be a crisis.

In 2018 the Los Angeles Times and others reported on “an epidemic of nicotine addiction among kids” because of the rising numbers of teens who had tried vaping, or electronic cigarettes. CDC figures attest that between 2011 and 2018, there was a 1.5% increase in high schoolers who reported that they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days and a .6% increase in middle schoolers.
Meanwhile, during this nicotine “epidemic,” cigarette, cigar, and smokeless tobacco use all went down during the same period for high schoolers, with a 7.7%, 4%, and 2% drop, respectively. (Hookah use stayed the same.) And lest you still think that today’s kids have just switched from Marlboro to Juul, take a look at these long-term numbers from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This is the percent of students by grade who smoke cigarettes, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and hookah, daily from 1976 to 2018. Since the seventies, and consistently from the late nineties on, youth tobacco use has been plunging:

So are we in the midst of a nicotine epidemic, or simply a changing landscape in the midst of a long-term success story? The point is not that we shouldn’t be concerned by teenagers vaping—we should, especially if new companies are specifically targeting young people and nonsmokers. There is a reason why this story appeared in the news, and tobacco use hasn’t dropped so dramatically because action wasn’t taken.

But as always in the case of a crisis, take a moment before you panic, and try zooming out. No one has the time to research the wider long-term narrative of every news story they read. You can, though, keep in mind that there often is one.

Hopefully we can contribute to the “wider long-term narrative” of some forest-related news stories.

Media, Divides and Talking Across Them: Some Polling and Some History

Both of these sources (Limerick’s history post and the webinar) talk about people in the middle.

The Colorado Media Project had an interesting webinar on “Reclaiming the Public Square: Trust, Media and Democracy in Post-Election Colorado.” I think it’s worth watching to get the views of (some) media folks on problems and solutions. The presentation by Stephen Hawkins runs from 5:06 to 18:00 and was my first introduction to More in Common

More in Common works on both short and longer term initiatives to address the underlying drivers of fracturing and polarization, and build more united, resilient and inclusive societies.

More in Common divides Americans politically into eight “Tribes” (see the chart above). Following that is a presentation about some Gallup polling that put people into three political categories (Ds, Is and R’s)(see chart above). It would be interesting to take some forest-related questions and see what different narratives might result from dividing folks who answer into three or eight categories. My guess is that eight would yield more understanding of peoples’ points of view. You don’t have to be a sociologist of science to think that how you structure the study (what groups you choose, exactly what questions you ask) can affect the answers you obtain.

Patty Limerick had an interesting idea in her “Not My First Rodeo” post History’s Essential Workers about the role of interpreters in Western history.

A Familiar Story from the Past, A Fresh Approach for the Present
As Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, the terrain they crossed presented an almost unfathomable variety of landforms. And yet the diversity of the languages they encountered proved far more difficult to comprehend.

At every stage of the trip, the expedition encountered a group that spoke a different language. On a few occasions, this required Clark and Lewis to engage in an early nineteenth century experimentation with what would later be called “the telephone game,” a chain of interpreters lined up to pass on a single message. In one episode when clear communication was of great importance, Lewis spoke in English to a French soldier from the expedition. The soldier then spoke in French to the expedition’s official interpreter, Toussaint Charbonneau. Charbonneau then spoke in Hidatsa to Sacagawea, who spoke in Shoshone to a leader of that tribe. And then the process reversed: Shoshone to Hidatsa to French to English.

Here’s an idea that we suspect no one else has proposed: this would be a good time to adopt his chain of translation and put it to use to our world today.

There is no mistaking our national dilemma: people who are firmly committed to one political position are unable to communicate with people who are firmly committed to an opposite political position.

Lewis and Clark offer us a promising technique.

A far-left progressive Democrat would speak to a centrist Democrat. The moderate Democrat would speak to a centrist Republican. The centrist Republican would speak to a far-right Republican, who could then offer his response to the centrist Republican, and that response would then move back along the chain.

After a few messages have traveled back and forth through the chain, the time would be right for a designated interpreter to step in. Asking everyone to pause, the interpreter could ask everyone a few debriefing questions: “What did you just hear? Was it what you expected to hear? Where do you agree and disagree? Were there parts that you simply did not understand and that need more explanation? Do you need to keep using this chain of indirection, or are you ready now to talk with each other?”

Limerick has an interesting idea but in our forest world, I’m not sure our views fall into neat political categories whether three, four as in Limerick, or eight. Thoughts?