Going Deeper…

I was doing some research into PSNH’s new PUC docket, and I realized something I knew all along: no one is willing to go deep. Or maybe no one has the capacity to go deep. Or the resources. I did my CPD/PSNH story for NHPR last week, and several people commented it didn’t get deep enough. I totally agree. Unfortunately NHPR doesn’t have the resources to devote half an hour to such a story. (I’m not sure NHPR listeners have the patience to listen to a half-hour version of it either.)

But there is always more. As I wrote the script I knew there was more, and as the news editor cut it down and revised it to fit the time slot I knew I was going to get to say less.

But what’s the solution? PSNH already gives significantly to NHPR, and so do New Hampshire residents (read: rate payers). Interest groups are contributing what they can. Which one should we ask to give more to allow for more depth in reporting that affects them? And what implications would that have on the stories? (The host read a PSNH underwriting tag about 10 minutes before my story aired on Wednesday night. I had to laugh when I heard it—nice coincidence.)

Norm said something on here about the model for democracy being broken. I don’t agree; I agree with the Winston Churchill quote more: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The same can be said for journalism. It isn’t perfect. In fact, someone at the IGA on Monday told me they can’t believe how bad the paper is (they were talking about the daily). I wish I knew a better answer. I wish there was a way to allow people to take part in democracy, to get engaged in the debates, that didn’t neglect the depth.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I could change that in Berlin. The fact is being a reporter is more than a full-time job; news doesn’t happen on the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. But running after the day’s or the week’s news doesn’t allow for enough context, enough depth, to tell people what they really need to know. It takes those parts that get edited out to really understand what’s going on.

So how do you revive what lays on the cutting room floor? I’m not sure. As a staff of one, freelancing and reporting via cell phone and Internet, it’s tough to see where their is room for expansion. I see the need, but not the market. How do you make it profitable for a paper like the Reporter to reopen an office in Berlin, expand the staff and increase coverage. How do you pay for a three thousand word story about the ins and outs of energy? How do you make that argument to a publisher, who is running the paper as a business, not a philanthropic endeavor?

I don’t know, but I see the need. I recognize the criticism my story got as valid, but I have to take it as criticism of a broken system. I would have loved to add the details, but there simply wasn’t time. How do you make time? That’s the real question.

3 thoughts on “Going Deeper…

  1. I don’t think it’s so much a matter of time or space to provide the content, it’s an apparent reluctance by ownership to allow reporting of the facts of the matter when it can make local media look as though their taking a stand and not sitting on neutral ground. I think it’s a small town’s choice to avoid a type of reporting that they may fear could lead to some sort of litigation they can’t begin to afford as a small town form of media, or for fear they may lose one of their biggest corporate advertising sponsors. You’ve hit the nail on the head when you refer to the host of NHPR running a PSNH advertising tag prior to your report. Look at how many ads PSNH runs in all of the media throughout NH. Perhaps as the owner of a given media relying on such a corporate advertiser, you will need to think twice prior to real reporting. It wouldn’t take much space in a paper to condemn PSNH simply by providing one of their ads and displaying truths that contradict not only the ad, but also the perception they try vividly to paint as follows in this advertisement as example:

    PSNH Advertisement: “Practicality is finding the path to a cleaner energy
    future. PSNH is pursuing a wide range of solutions to make New Hampshire’s
    energy goals reality, by taking practical steps forward, like advancing wood and
    wind powered energy, we are preserving today’s advantages while building a
    better tomorrow.”

    The truths about PSNH

    1. PSNH is blocking a “path” in Berlin from becoming a road to one of the most
    efficient biomass proposals in this country.

    2. PSNH is creating risk to the survival of Fraser papers by blocking the
    development of synergy through steam this biomass proposal can offer Fraser and
    other economically viable interested synergistic companies.

    3. PSNH is supporting a biomass proposal offering less than 25% efficiency in
    Berlin that will almost surely continue to assist in escalating electrical rates
    currently causing significant migration of NH ratepayers.

    4. PSNH advertises they are “pursuing a wide range of solutions to make New
    Hampshire’s energy goals reality by taking practical steps forward, like
    advancing wood and wind powered energy”. Yet in reality PSNH fails to support
    purchasing power from the Noble wind project, Clean Power, and one of the
    nations oldest municipal heating/energy producers that heats the governor’s
    office, has been sited for safety issues inherent to old plants and needs a
    power purchase agreement to effectively move the city of Concord forward with a
    new heat/energy facility.

    5. PSNH realizes that its Schiller station is having to reach out further and
    further to obtain wood thereby diminishing efficiency and cost effectiveness yet
    supports a proposal that would need to do the same.

    6. PSNH is currently asking the PUC for pass through costs to the rate
    payer,despite the fact that NH electric rates lead the way already, despite a
    30% migration of rate payers, and substantially “in the face” of remaining rate

    7. Despite concerns raised by the Androscoggin fish and game association, NH’s
    Sierra Club, and numerous wood studies as pertains to northern NH wood
    sustainability and immense liquidation harvesting in and around the city of
    Berlin, PSNH supports a biomass proposal that could significantly add to the
    downward spiral of wildlife habitat issues, quality of life, and risk to the
    tourism industry of northern NH.

    Quite frankly, Erik, factual data and reporting doesn’t need to show a bias and I think it can be handled in the space provided. Rather, I think much of the media is intimidated by their corporate sponsor.

    1. Thanks for the comments Jon and Norman.

      I know what you mean Norman, it’s sad to see those empty chambers. It reminds me of a story about the government buildings in Denmark. They were built in the 16th and 17th century to govern an empire, and now they house one of the smallest governments in Europe. The infrastructure doesn’t fit the task. Berlin, at times, feels the same way, like it’s waiting for residents to come home.

      I didn’t point out the PSNH underwriting tag (different than an advertisement—it’s prohibited from presenting a call to action) to say NHPR is biased. I did the report, and I haven’t been influenced by their contributions. But the question is who is going to pay for more reporting? PSNH and many other companies are doing their part, as are the listeners/rate payers. I’m looking for a way the depth communities need will be supported without subsidies.

      As a reporter who has been accused of bias by multiple sides of several stories I’m forced to go with what I see as accurate. Every story I write only has so much room, so undoubtedly I omit facts. I am never going to keep everyone happy with my stories; someone is always going to feel misrepresented. I do the best I can to convey subjects’ viewpoints and position, but sometimes I miss or a point gets dropped. Is it bias? If you’re on that side of the argument it probably feels like it, but I doubt it.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  2. Erik, I base my comment that our democracy is broken by the fact that nobody shows up at public meetings and candidates are being elected by 25% to 30% margins.(Of eligible voters)

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