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Mark Travis: Plenty of Northern Pass coverage, but no conspiracy

A number of readers opposed to Northern Pass – especially in the North Country, through which the proposed transmission line would pass – saw three prominent items in the Monitor over several days not long ago and forged them into a chain of conspiracy.

On Wednesday, July 24, we published a front-page news story by staff writer Annmarie Timmins about Northern Pass executive Gary Long’s interview the day before with the newspaper’s editorial board. The article presented Long’s thinking on a variety of topics related to the project, which would carry electricity generated by hydropower in Canada into the state for further distribution. It was accompanied by an online video of the discussion.

The phone began ringing, and angry emails began landing.

On Friday, July 26, we published a front-page assessment of an anti-Northern Pass film shown to a sellout crowd in Concord at Red River Theatres on Wednesday evening. The article, written by Timmins, characterized the film as one-sided as did the filmmakers – and detailed the facts surrounding some of the claims made in the movie.

That really got the phone ringing and the email churning.

On Sunday, July 28, we published an editorial taking a position in support of the project.

More calls, more emails. Many were sharp-edged; some accused the paper of being in the utility’s pocket and Timmins on the take.

It should go without saying, but for the record, neither is the case.

From the time Northern Pass was proposed, we recognized it as a major economic and environmental story. Timmins, our most experienced news reporter, took it on two years ago. She has since written dozens of stories about Northern Pass. When the utility has made claims that didn’t hold up, she has called them on it, just as she did the other day in writing about the film. The timing of her story about the film wasn’t part of a campaign on our part; it was dictated by when the film showed. That story should be considered in the context of a thorough and thoughtful body of work on the project, of which we are proud.

Questions of energy and environmental policy have long been a focus of the newspaper’s editorial board, which currently includes opinion editor Felice Belman, editorial page writer Ralph Jimenez and me. Timmins and other reporters have no role in the board’s deliberations.

The editorial board expert on energy questions is Jimenez, who has been a frequent critic of Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest utility and a leading force behind Northern Pass.

Jimenez has had many conversations and conducted much research on the project over many months. The timing of the editorial board interview with Long was also a matter of scheduling, at his end and ours, and it was conducted as these discussions with newsmakers typically are: Members of the board and reporters covering the topic engaged Long in a series of questions, both exploratory and challenging. The reporter, in this case Timmins, emerged to write a news article about what Long had to say, while the editorial board reflected further on the subject. Jimenez also attended the anti-Northern Pass film, and talked with critics of the project there.

In the end, board members decided it was time to take a position on the project – the first time the newspaper had done so.

We did this knowing our position would be surprising to some and disappointing to many; that’s the nature of taking a stand. We did so not in hopes of dictating an outcome, but of stimulating an important public discussion. That end, certainly, we achieved. In the days since our editorial appeared, we have provided extensive space in our opinion section to critics of the project – far more space than the editorial itself.

In months to come, we will continue to explore all dimensions of the Northern Pass story in our news pages and provide space for comments from all perspectives in our opinion pages as well. That’s the role of a strong and independent-minded newspaper and a responsibility we strive to fulfill every day.

(Mark Travis can be reached at mtravis@cmonitor.com or 369-3250.)

NP is a critical addition to our NATIONS energy infrastructure as is Keystone pipeline...the visual purist NIMBYs should see if their passport says AMERICAN on it

I have to agree with "Grafton Resident." Having the publisher of the Concord Monitor defend his reporter's labeling of Northern Pass Spokesman's comments as TRUTH, which implies the comments in the movie were LIES, just proves this paper's lack of objectivity. Travis says, "The editorial board expert on energy questions is Jimenez, who has been a frequent critic of Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest utility and a leading force behind Northern Pass." TRUTH: PSNH is not a "leading force." PSNH is owned by the same energy conglomerate as Northern Pass. Both stand to gain additional profits at the expense of NH taxpayers. Travis says, "A number of readers opposed to Northern Pass – especially in the North Country..." TRUTH: Northern Pass affects many in Southern NH. I live in condo complex in Concord. Our complex abuts the right of way proposed for use by Northern Pass. We have 148 families who stand to lose the buffer between the complex and the mall, have unsightly towers in view and lose hundreds of mature trees - not to mention decreased property values. Travis says, "we will continue to explore all dimensions of the Northern Pass story in our news pages..." TRUTH: The city of Concord has taken a position opposing Northern Pass. The Concord Monitor apparently believes it knows more than all the elected and appointed officials of its home town. I have yet to read a story about the city's opposition. Nor has the Monitor interviewed anyone here in Concord directly affected by Northern Pass, to my knowledge. Perhaps the Concord Monitor would be better served to focus on the reasons why the paper continues to get thinner month after month.

The PSNH employee with 27 years working with the company understandably has loyalties to his employer and that's fine. An interesting side bar is I'm aware of many of PSNH employees that are very much against the possible Northern Pass project, but can't speak out against for fear of losing their job. For or Against, everyone should be allowed to speak openly about this project as it could impact some many. I must also remind anybody who is not aware or informed about this possible project, to not consider everything that is posted on The Northern Pass website as fact. The Northern Pass is a private for profit company that doesn't have permission to site the project nor does it have much approval from the citizens, landowners, and elected officials of NH. After 2 years of trying to buy its way through NH, it still doesn't have a contiguious route through our state. Northern Pass isn't truly about electrical needs it's truly about money and large amounts of it. That is why it will continue to try and buy its way though NH and it will spend all kinds of money and even disguise itself to appear good for NH. After all this time, few in NH are not informed regarding the Northern Pass. To the few that aren't informed look beyond the exspensive propaganda being pumped out by the Northern Pass, then make your own decision regarding what's good for all of NH and those that come here to enjoy it.

Disclaimer. I work for PSNH and have for 27 years. I commend the Concord Monitor for being honest and supporting what they believe in and I also respect their reporting, even when I might not agree. It is very disappointing to me that differing points of view cannot be held without name calling and spinning of facts. I urge everyone interested in our energy future to read more about local and national energy policy and think about our nations energy future. This issue is not just about today, not just about NH and def. not just about what we as individuals want. How would we all like to see our energy produced, how much would we like to pay, how does our consumption affect all of this? In my opinion and many others, Gary Long is a leader in this industry and an honest, upstanding person. There is no spin here. Lastly, get really informed about this project, ask questions and go to the Northern Pass website and read about the "new proposed route", look at the arial maps for each town on the route and learn more about the communication plan in place.

Like my dad used to say, "Don't tell us, show us." We'll recognize fair, balanced, and independent reporting when we see it - and as yet, we haven't seen it. It didn't take the July 28 editorial for everyone to know which side of the issue the Monitor was on. The coverage has been skewed towards the proposed project since day 1. It's puzzling why the Monitor would go against the best interests of NH, it's residents, property and small business owners, and every environmental group in the state including the Forest Society. There only seems to be one logical conclusion and it isn't the one reached by the author. I know the print media is having financial trouble but alienating the public with clearly biased "reporting" is hardly a way to maintain a customer base. Did NU promise jobs if the proposed no. pass project flies and the Monitor sinks?

Mr. Travis, let's forget your "chain of conspiracy" for the moment and look at the individual links. The first one, the Gary Long interview, was puff journalism at best. Softball questions. It reads as if Martin Murray drafted it and you tweaked it. Surely you know vanity journalism when you see it. The second link, Timmins's movie review, masqueraded as objective news. It took uncorroborated statements by the developer and labeled them as "truth" (literally, verbatim) in order to discredit the film. Both failed as responsible journalism. The third, your paper's editorial, is to be judged by different standards: the logic and transparency of your argument. Unfortunately, both fail. You argue that to slow climate change, we need Northern Pass, and if we don't have Northern Pass, PSNH (prime purveyor of the coal burners that presumably speed up climate change) could go out of business. Deconstruct that chain of thought and perhaps you can understand why readers began to wonder if another chain wasn't at work at the Monitor last week. It's not enough, subsequently, to publish a slew of contrary Op Ed views. That doesn't prove your news objectivity. They are labeled as opinions, while the underlying bias in your news reporting last week goes uncorrected, in fact, disclaimed. Clean up and sharpen up the reporting and you can salvage your professional reputation. Writing yet more defenses of it won't wash. You have not yet covered the biggest Northern Pass story since the June 27th "new route" announcement: the Forest Society's statement last week that their legal research shows that they own all the land underlying Rt. 3 as well as half of it under the Conn. River. They are "unwilling landowners." How does Northern Pass plan to use their land as part of NP's "new route"? Assign your best investigative reporter to go after that story and question with some teeth and prove your news objectivity. Mere retroactive assertions of it won't help you much.

Thank you, Grafton_resident, for rightfully disregarding Mark Travis’s unctious implication that their critics are mere conspiracy nuts, and for exposing the Monitor’s unwillingness to recognize or respond to its critics’ substantive arguments, such as yours, which are painfully and overwhelmingly valid. The Publisher’s response does not stand the light of day. It restores no confidence in the Monitor’s journalistic objectivity on this issue. Most importantly, thank you for pointing out the Monitor’s failure to report the recent indisputably major development -- the Forest Society’s announcement that it is asserting property rights under Route 3 and will seek to bar the project’s proposed burial of its line in a critical section on that basis. To me, the paper’s failure to give that development any coverage whatsoever provides sad confirmation that the Monitor does harbor “hopes of dictating an outcome,” and would apparently prefer to undercut, not stimulate, “an important public discussion.”

I hasten to add that I do not know for a fact that the Monitor harbors hopes of dictating an outcome, or that it would prefer to undercut, not stimulate, an important public discussion. I do know that impression will fester the longer they leave valid criticism unrecognized and unaddressed.

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