Big media lack local understanding
Potential drilling operations in the Nine Mile Canyon region again came under fire last week. State and national media picked up a news story last week relating to plans to drill for natural gas in the area.
As has been repeatedly shown in the past, media from outside the Castle Valley are both out of touch with this and other issues, failing to grasp the full impact on local areas, and unable to give due coverage to efforts locally to find solutions that will ultimately lead to a beneficial outcome.
In the case of the Nine Mile Canyon debate, media from out of the area have the tendency to polarize the matter. As big media focus on the extremes in the debates, they fail to recognize the balanced approach that local governments as well as some federal and state agencies are taking in regard to the interests in that region of Carbon County.
To site an example, last month, county officials invited representatives from various agencies to tour the canyon and the surrounding area. Members of the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, representatives from senators Hatch and Bennett's offices, county planning and road maintenance staff and a representative from the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition showed up.
Repeatedly over the course of the day in Nine Mile Canyon and on the plateau above the canyon rim, the tour party addressed the issue of how to manage all of the competing interests in that region effectively. Large media outlets seem to think that the only issue in the canyon is protection of archaeological and historical sites versus energy development.
In fact the issues are much more expansive. Private land owners control most of the canyon bottom in Nine Mile Canyon. Those land owners have certain rights. That brings the rights of cattle grazing and agriculture into play. It also brings up the fact that those property owners have the right to control, within reason, the developments on their land.
Above the canyon rim, most of the land is controlled by state and federal government agencies, primarily the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM has the responsibility to do just as their name implies, manage the land. The BLM has the responsibility to consider the wide array of potential uses for land under their management and develop a management plan that meets the needs of all interested parties.
In addition, there are issues relating to wildlife habitat, forest management, scientific study and access for hunters and campers, to name a few. And those are just a handful of the issues largely ignored by media outside the region.
That broad approach and the efforts to meet all those needs are largely ignored by media organizations that pick up the stories after environmental or energy groups tip them off to new developments.
The media from outside the area are not in Carbon County on a regular basis. They largely ignore the positive effects that energy developments have had and will continue to have in this region.
Those media are not sitting in meetings with elected officials and other interested parties as they hammer out the details of how to manage the use of all of the resources offered in this region.
Members of the media have an obligation to discover as much as they can about the topics they address. That means calling local, state and national officials. That means contacting people who are affected by the issue on a regular basis.
By driving into an area with a van full of equipment and a satellite transmitter, many members of the media believe they are experts overnight. It has happened with Nine Mile Canyon. It happened a few years ago with Elizabeth Smart. It happened with the David Koresh and with Ruby Ridge.
Big media shows up, reports the issue while its hot, and before the fires are all out, they are gone. They leave because the day-to-day events that lead to and then eventually calm the hot issue don't sell papers and they don't boost ratings. The sensationalist approach does.
The very word - journalism - which so many members of the media are quick to use as what they do does not describe that type of behavior. The root of journalism is the same as those used in the French phrases "soup du jour," and "bonjour." It means "day." Journalism is the report of the day-to-day comings and goings. Sometimes it's big, glamorous and sensational. But more often than not, real journalism is redundant, mundane and fairly uneventful.
By stepping into the issues with no background, many members of big media have a tendency to step out of their role as journalist. They become part of the political struggle, transforming themselves into part of the problem.
That attitude is arrogant. It is unprofessional. And it is damaging to other journalists.
This country's media has stepped well outside of the role which journalism should play. Media as a whole in this country should step back into its role of reporting. That is not to say that media should not report on the injustices of our society or that media should be wary of reporting controversy.
It is to say that they should not be part of the controversy.