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 email@example.com or 369-3250.)