Any news outlet that distributes information unflattering to Republicans or views out of step with conservative ideology will be hounded with cries of “liberal media bias.” The badgering will continue until all news outlets are as “fair and balanced” as Fox News. But the most consequential expression of bias in the press is in what stories are covered and what's ignored.
I checked reporting staff listed on four of downstate Illinois' largest newspapers: The Peoria Journal-Star, Belleville News-Democrat, State Journal-Register, and Southern Illinoisan. They list 25 sports writers and editors between them. They name zero editors or reporters primarily dedicated to energy, climate change, and the environment. That's your media bias.
The same problem exists in national news outlets but the impacts hit harder in local news. The most important stories are sometimes covered by reporters who have limited subject background. Fewer environmental stories are covered at all. And when there's news about a fertilizer plant opening in central Illinois, for example, no one mentions that they're some of the most potentially dangerous facilities for workers and the environment.
I should acknowledge that I've been interviewed by a number of excellent reporters who do a good job covering energy issues. In particular, Springfield's alternative weekly, Illinois Times, has been picking up the stories others ignore for years. The Harrisburg Daily-Register doesn't shy away from asking tough questions about the coal industry. The best pro-environment editorials in the Southern are usually from, ironically enough, Sports Editor Les Winkeler.
But it's disappointing that there aren't more exceptions. Many other good reporters are limited by the decisions their publisher and editor make about assigning resources.
Newspapers often write about the influence campaign contributions have on politicians. I'd like to see the same principles of disclosure applied to the news industry. Why not release an annual report about advertising revenue from the fossil fuel industry plus the financial interests of media parent companies? Call me a cynic but I suspect those financial factors have something to do with the for-profit media's failure to focus on pollution and climate change.
What should we do then? There's no shortage of stories to be covered in Illinois with the recent expansion of coal mining, the threat of fracking, the future of coal plants on the line, and clean energy struggling to expand its presence. Twenty-five reporters wouldn't be enough!
This is why I'm launching Illinois Energy Justice. The site will chronicle energy issues from the front lines of the state's energy transition with writing by myself and others. It will also be a collaboration with grassroots groups to highlight their work on coal, fracking and clean energy.
My kickstarter page will fund the launch of a website and expenses for my first round of stories focusing on the work of grassroots groups opposed to fracking. I've broken several stories missed by others, including the state mine safety regulator who was taking political donations from a coal mine operator, and millions in state grants going to coal industry pork projects. I'd like to break many more.
If you're tired of environmental stories and viewpoints not getting the coverage they deserve, now is the time to do something about it by donating.
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