A post earlier this week highlighted here at ksjtracker a bang-up job at High Country News - the highly-acclaimed Colorado-based non-profit magazine - of laying out in readable form a classic (to me) DBI, or dull but important, story from New Mexico on the rewriting of its copper rule. The latter is a turgid regulatory document laying out how and whether the state's open-pit copper mines can let polluted water leach from their waste ponds into water tables. Right now the political winds are pushing an old rule out. They are apparently sure to bring in a new one that gives the industry a ton more latitude on how it handles its waste and monitors where it goes. Industry agents, if reports are to be believed, dictated the changes to business-friendly pols including the new governor's appointees. Unavoidably, some in the state see it as a sellout of public interest (not to mention health) to an industry that does not need sweetheart favors like that to prosper just fine.
Well. This tracker did do some due diligence, rounding up two stories from the Albuquerque Journal to show that the issue has not been ignored by local media. That seemed to me as enterprising as necessary. Wrong. I failed to look at an outlet north of the big city - toward what is merely the state capital. In a lucky break a freelancer who has been getting regular gigs there thought, modestly and politely (she loves ksjtracker!), to call our attention to some of her coverage:
- Santa Fe Reporter - Laura Paskus: 4 stories. 1) Jan. 8, opinion, Digging deep in 2013; As environmental regulation weakens, watchdog reporting is ever more important ; 2) April 15, News, NM Environment Dept. Shakeup ; 3) May 15, Features, The Canary in the Copper Mine (is dead) / How New Mexico's copper industry wrote its own rules ; 4) Sept. 9 Five reasons you - yes, you! - should connect the dots on copper ;
It does not take long to realize that this is frankly advocacy, crusading, progressive journalism. Those qualities - while they may drive off conservative readers who might benefit most from the information - do not conflict with its being well-reported. On the first point and as seen in story #1, any story that refers to hints of industry influence on rules as "the inky prints of Freeport-McMorRan Copper & Gold, Inc." is not trying to cover his or her beliefs with faux disinterest. But the quality of the reporting is manifest. Ms. Paskus busted her backside digging into public records for story #3. She embedded it with links to documents she dug from public records and or beavered up who-knows-how. They include insider emails. I had a hard time for awhile opening some of the pdfs behind her links but eventually figured them out. It was like being led by hand through a dusty warehouse of obscure archives. That third story also, one must note, covers much of the same ground and with the same main protagonist as the High Country News feature blogged upon earlier this week. The two pieces amply and presumably largely independently corroborate one another. Late Thought after first posting: Both could also have used a deeper effort to explain just how remote or not the mines are, the gunk in the waste ponds, and how plausible to hydrologists it is that their polluted plumes will get into drinking water or surface streams at perilous levels. The story is about big-money politicking and special pleading versus regulations set up for the general good. On that score both do well.
Another point - reading these stories plus meandering around on the Reporter's website brings a nostalgic twinge. The weekly's "about us" explains it was born in 1974 "to create lively competition for a stodgy and timid daily press". Wow, this is no 'new media' youngster but a surviving alternative weekly of roughly the vintage of counterculture outlets I read when young - The Berkeley Barb, Livermore Independent, SF Bay Guardian and, on the national level, Mother Jones. I was always a mainstream and conventional sort of reporter, hadn't the gumption to be otherwise, but back in the day I did admire the sassy upstarts. That's despite their sometimes being reckless and conspiracy-theory gullible.
Reporter Paskus (her bio) has been freelancing for the Santa Fe Reporter for some time. Her list of recent stories and columns shows a wide range of interest and talent. She is president of the Rio Grande chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and if you follow that link you'll see it is a sparkplug for defense of a free-press.
Her most recent column, out this week and entitled The Dirt: Stop Kvetching and Do/ Top 5 ways you can help your environment; is a somewhat mournful goodbye to regular writing for the Santa Fe Reporter. She writes, "Now, the time has come to embrace other projects and make way for new voices. Thanks, readers, for all the story tips and letters - and thanks most of all for your time." Also note in this hasta-la-vista column its item #2. There she says something most progressive enviros seem to forget: "So, sure, fight the frack. But keep in mind that today’s endless consumer choices—from driving a car and living in a 2,000-square-foot house to hitting “add to cart” on Amazon and upgrading your smartphone every two years—are possible only because strip mines, oil and gas wells, refineries and power plants exist". The woman has a wide and fair perspective. If you check the image up top, you'll see a caption written in the same vein. It notes first, before mentioning pollution, that copper (and by implication the industry that gets it) is necessary to modern society.
I sent Paskus an email, asking what is luring her away from being a regular at the Santa Fe Reporter. She replied promptly that she wants to do more radio work and is also focussing on a brand new media organization New Mexico in Depth.
I dunno, but between Paskus's coverage of the New Mexico copper rule locally, and High Country News's delivery of a similarly detailed report to a larger audience, I hope some journalism award committee gives one, the other, or both as a package, consideration for recognition and free dinner. (2d Late Thought: Of course, if these investigative reports make no never mind of a difference, that does take some of the edge off.)