Under pressure

Last week saw an important test for the long-term mission of Midwest Energy News.

As you know, we published our first original story, one dealing with the somewhat touchy subject of wind farm siting. It’s been well received and was even picked up by Grist, a national environmental news site.

But not everyone was entirely happy with the finished product.

It wasn’t long after the story was published that someone in the renewable energy community wanted me to make a fairly minor tweak that they felt would be more constructive to their own messaging. I won’t say who it was, or what they wanted to change, because that’s not the point. What matters is how it was handled.

People who work in the news business are used to this sort of pressure, and as a rule, the answer is always no. Even if you lose an advertiser over it, a news organization’s credibility is its stock in trade. The same is true for Midwest Energy News – even though we’re funded by and work within an advocacy organization, our mission is to do journalism, not PR.

In this case, my boss (Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy) alerted me to the request without comment or suggestion. I said there was absolutely no way I was going to change the story without evidence of a factual error. Noble backed me up, the story remains unaltered, and that’s the end of it.

It’s a fairly unremarkable event, and it probably comes across as self-serving to write about it (maybe it is). But I’m a big believer in transparency, and think that, given the unique circumstances under which we’re conducting journalism, it’s important to assure readers that as an editor, I have the same independence and autonomy that I did when I was working in the “real” news business. Maybe more.

That’s not to say I’m a Pollyanna about the conflict of interest inherent in doing journalism for an advocacy group. It just so happens that this is an organization where truth-telling is a fundamental value, and a well-reported news story shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the core mission.

We’re still taking the first steps in what is a rather unique experiment, both in the advocacy and journalism worlds. As we progress, I welcome your feedback on how things are going.

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