(Editor’s note: VTDigger founder Anne Galloway writes about the heated debate over the proposed Stiles Brook Wind Project.)
They say when people on both sides of an issue are complaining of favoritism in your news coverage, you’re probably getting it just about right.
Here at VTDigger, we take on tough issues and write stories that don’t always make people happy. There’s no better example than our coverage of the debate in Vermont about how and where to construct large wind turbines to produce electricity.
On the one hand, proponents say we’re biased against big wind.
Opponents of ridgeline development, on the other hand, say our coverage has been slanted in favor of the developers and that we’ve muzzled their complaints.
VTDigger does not take sides. Our job is to present the facts as fairly and accurately as we can.
We do not editorialize because we do not take positions on issues, nor do we endorse candidates. There is a practical reason: Taking a stance on a candidate or issue would violate IRS rules for nonprofits. More broadly, we believe that staking out a position or endorsing a candidate would undermine our credibility.
Anti-wind activists and wind developers, on the other hand, have agendas to push. They want to win.
Advocates, protesters, lawyers, corporations all press us to cover stories from their point of view. That’s normal. It’s our job to take what people tell us and check it out. If there’s truth to a story, we pursue it.
We believe the public wins when we publish fair and accurate information.
That’s why we talk to all sides. We seek comment from corporate and government officials. We interview activists and people who are affected by a given policy or action by a business, court or government official.
Reporters sift through the information and synthesize as many points of view as possible. VTDigger editors review the stories for accuracy and fairness. And then we publish.
We don’t have a political agenda. The news is our agenda.
Despite our efforts to be fair, we have been accused of bias by both the anti-wind and pro-wind contingents. That’s because each group wants only its side heard.
One example is the fight over a 24-turbine development in the Stiles Brook Forest proposed by Iberdrola, which has has been particularly contentious. Voters in the towns of Grafton and Windham were asked to approve the development. Iberdrola has offered hundreds of dollars in annual compensation to residents in the towns. A few weeks ago, we reported that the Vermont attorney general said the payments were legal. On Oct. 28, we reported that Secretary of State Jim Condos questioned whether Iberdrola’s payments were “pushing the envelope in an attempt to influence the vote.”
The tactics of operatives on the pro-wind and activists on the anti-wind sides have been so vituperative, we decided to stop reporting the back and forth in the days before the Nov. 8 advisory vote. If there was real news, we’d cover it, but if not, we would let our previous reporting on the topic stand until the results were in. Also, although we published numerous commentaries from both sides — reflecting the ratio of those submitted for and against — as the election neared we decided that subsequent submissions were redundant, and we wanted to make sure other issues had a chance to be aired.
We did not publish a story, for example, about an anti-wind economic study from a Grafton-based group, nor did we cover allegations by a pro-wind Montpelier lobbyist that a town official had acted improperly. That charge was investigated by the secretary of state and found to be without merit.
A left-wing blogger repeated the lobbyist’s off-base allegations and said we were burying the story. He concluded — without contacting VTDigger to get our side of the story — that the news organization has an anti-wind bias.
Meanwhile, a prominent wind opponent and others say we are pro-wind because we have run ads promoting wind. In addition, they say we are being selective in approving and deleting comments.
VTDigger takes ads on a first come, first served basis. We are required to take all comers under IRS rules. We are barred from picking and choosing ads unless the messaging is considered inappropriate.
Our comment section has been difficult to manage. We have one person who contributed more than 1,000 comments a year, many of which were 500 words or more. We stopped allowing this commenter to continue posting on VTDigger because he was dominating the site with lengthy, repetitive statements, and reviewing his comments was taking up too much staff time. At about the same time, the prominent wind opponent decided to no longer post on VTDigger after we deleted one of her comments that was gratuitously negative.
We have continued to approve other comments that are pro- and anti-wind as long as they abide by the basic rules of civility: no ad hominem attacks, no gratuitous negativity, no swear words, etc.
VTDigger has no dog in this fight over wind development. We will cover the story with neither fear nor favor. Our duty is to simply report the news and do our best to figure out where the truth lies.