Skew

September 17th, 2013 · 1 Comment · energy policy, environment, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

What I most admire about the Albuquerque Journal is the editors’ ability to advocate for the One Percent without trampling upon its conscientious reporters.

To say the least, it’s a delicate operation.

As an example, let’s consider their treatment of Kevin Robinson-Avila’s cover story Sunday, Sept. 15, on the move (national and local) from coal to less polluting energy sources, like natural gas.

As I’ve noted before, business reporter Robinson-Avila does an excellent job on the energy-technology-PRC beat. And though he may not be on top of environmental politics, this is a sharp, fair account of what’s happening.

What’s happening, he says, is that climate change and Federal policies pose “the most profound challenges in the states electric system in decades.”

As a result, he writes, “PNM faces uncertainty about how much longer it can rely on coal-generated electricity and what energy resources will eventually replace that power.”

He warns the changes probably will raise the cost of energy to ratepayers.

However, Robinson-Avila adds, PNM believes the compromise it negotiated with the EPA under which the utility will shut down half of the coal-fired San Juan plant means it can “weather future regulations.”

In fact, PNM said that if the EPA sticks to its announced target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the utility will be ‘in great shape” to meet the limits.

In a sidebar, PNM Chair, President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn told the reporter, “I’m heartened that President Obama and the EPA appear to be taking a sensible approach.”

She continued, “They appear to understand that you can’t just switch overnight and get rid of all fossil fuels.”

Translation, climate change is the fact; we just want time to adapt.

Now imagine you’re an editor dedicated to the Journal’s editorial agenda  – tolerance for climate change denial, loyalty to the fossil fuel industry, opposition to alternative energy sources, against government intervention in the “free market” except when it strengthens corporate America.

How do you tilt this story to frighten readers? And do so without stepping on the reporter’s feet?

Subtly.

First, you write a caption for the photo collage on the front page about “massive” changes coming in New Mexico’s electricity supplies.

Massive? Robinson-Avila didn’t use the word. And if it were so, why is PNM so sanguine?

Next you repeat it (“massively reducing output”) in the caption under the photo on the Page 6 jump.

Oh, and you write a headline for the jump itself that’s lively (“Changing fuel mix rocks PNM’s world”) but doesn’t square with what PNM says.

(You know that, but when massaging stories without ticking off the guys who wrote them, you cannot be squeamish, right?)

You sit back now, examine your handiwork and shake your head. It’s not enough.

So you insert a sub-head within the text in the first column of the jump – “Huge coal cutbacks”.  I guess “massive” didn’t fit.

And then further down, you insert “Rate hikes coming”, which has the virtue of being true.

And a third, “More EPA regs”, also true.

(The story also explains the reduced use of coal will improve air quality, reducing mercury, carbon dioxide, coal ash and other toxins, but you see no point in highlighting that.)

You’re just about finished now and still dissatisfied, but the Deity knows there’s not a lot you can do, positively, to skew a story.

Ah, but what you can do negatively is huge.

Fact is – you muse with a pleased smile – the front page headline (“A Sea Change in the Electric Grid” and its second deck (“PNM, Others Pressured to Use Less Coal”) say zero about the utility’s satisfaction with the EPA agreement, zero about the health benefits of reducing coal-fired energy generation, zero about the chance wind and solar could constitute a bigger share of the energy mix.

And that pull quote on the bottom of page six could have been worse. At least we’re not spotlighting Vincent-Collawn’s praise of Obama. Only the most dogged readers will find it in the sidebar.

You the editor shrug. It’s not your best work but you did tint the story with a hint of Doomsday and so delicately that Kevin cannot be offended.

Quitting time. Another day, another skew.

Tags: ·········

One Comment so far ↓

  • Cheryl Everett

    What recourse do Robinson-Avila, Cole, Quigley and the Journal’s other top reporters have, even if they ARE offended (as they must be) by the editors’ spin-doctoring of their diligent work?

Leave a Comment