Unbiased Reporting Does Exist

Executive Editor Tim Portz celebrates a rare bit of balanced industry observation recently published by E&E Publishing.
By Tim Portz | June 16, 2015

Frequent readers of Ash Content know that one of my biggest professional frustrations is the lack of solid, well-researched and well-reported stories in the mainstream press about the renewable energy industry generally, and the pellet industry specifically.

While E&E publishing, publishers of EnergyWire, ClimateWire and other online news outlets may not qualify as mainstream media, they have authored and published one of the most straightforward stories about the ongoing wood pellet industry debate I’ve read in quite some time. I urge you to give it a thorough read.

The story is less about the science of burning wood pellets to produce power and more about how the industry and forestry advocacy groups are reacting to the seemingly endless cacophony of stories lacking context, scientific rigor and level-headed assessment that appear in the mainstream media.

The article, written by Daniel Cusick and Elizabeth Harball, finds the forest products industry at a tipping point relative to this ongoing mischaracterization of the wood pellet industry. Specifically, the story mentions the launching of the website as a means of collecting point-by-point refutations of the fallacies being bandied about.

The site is very good and hits the nail on the head, time after time. One of the lines that jumped out at me was, “Time and again these distortions are presented as fact because journalists treat activists as objective observers, even as they subject other perspectives to greater scrutiny.” Certainly this resonated with me after my experience being interviewed by Ari Phillips from the Climate Progress website. I truly do not believe that Ari approached his piece from a place of discovery, instead he started the story from an already established position he wasn’t interested in being swayed from. 

In my last blog I talked about a conference organized by Abengoa that I was attending. While the conference focused exclusively on biofuels (another industry that is no stranger to media distortion) I did find myself in a conversation with a PR professional about wood pellets and the public backlash that he was seeing about the industry. I shared with him the challenges that I’ve written about so many times here and what he shared with me was unsettling, yet illuminating. I’m paraphrasing, but he told me that mainstream media deals in tension, the more dramatic the better. I suppose that is something we all know intuitively, but I don’t think we’re conscious of it when its being foisted upon us. One of my biggest frustrations is how often the mainstream press refuses, fails, or won’t spend the time to properly put things into context. I’ve never, not once, read a story about this industry in the mainstream media that accurately portrays the prices pellet buyers can, and can’t pay for wood fiber. Not once. The reason why is rooted in what the PR professional shared with me in Sevilla. Facts and context erode the tension in the story. That’s the bottom line. Mainstream reporters are more than happy to lead people to believe that the wood pellet industry has introduced a buyer into the wood fiber market capable of paying whatever it has to satisfy its insatiable appetite for fiber. Why? Dramatic tension. 

While the E&E Publishing story isn’t likely to get nearly as many page views as the poorly researched and written ones it mentions, I couldn’t recommend it more strongly. After reading it, swing on over to Fair warning, you’ll be fired up and that’s a good thing.