The importance of print reporters

This past Friday Corey Hutchins of the Columbia Journalism Review broke the story about a serious staff reduction in The State’s newsroom.  The paper’s parent company, McClatchy, lost $11.3 million in the first quarter of this year.  In response to the downward trend in newspaper revenue, McClatchy offered a buyout to everyone working in the newsroom.  Just under 20 reporters took the deal.

This won’t resolve McClatchy’s entire problem.  They, along with other print publishing companies, are trying to figure out how to improve their value to advertisers in the face of shrinking readership.

You might not think that this problem affects you.  Oh, but it does.

Print reporters are your lifeblood to knowing what is going on.   Sure you can get a 30,000 foot view of events and issues.  But it takes a reporter investing serious time and energy on the ground to really reveal a story.

Today’s story in the Charleston Post and Courier (below) is a perfect example.  Bo Petersen and Jeremy Borden expose how the effort to explore and drill for offshore oil/gas really has moved forward along the Southeast coast.  It also reveals why South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has been so supportive of this effort, which according to the story “(a)t least 17 South Carolina municipalities or communities have now come out in opposition to the work, including Charleston, Charleston County, Columbia and five Charleston beach communities — Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, Kiawah and Seabrook islands.”

While many of us already believe that Governor Haley is a supporter of big oil, now we know how in bed with these multinational companies she has been.  She not only has been a willing partner, she has helped lead the effort that can destroy our vital coastal tourism economy.

This is why we need print reporters.  Without them, and trial lawyers, we will all be at the mercy of giant corporations.  We will just be puppets on their strings.


Charleston Post and Courier
May 11, 2015

Haley, governors group behind push for offshore oil testing, drilling

By Bo Petersen and Jeremy Borden

Nikki Haley was part of a coalition of governors who worked behind the scenes, largely in private, with industry lobbyists to open the Southeast coast to oil and natural gas testing and drilling.

That finding in an Institute for Southern Studies investigation has alarmed conservation interests, who were already concerned about an apparent shortchanging of public sentiment in the approval process for federal leases to test for and drill oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean off the Southeast.

It feeds a growing unease among conservationists about ties between oil industry advocates and decision-makers. Earlier this week, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control signed off on the first of as many as 10 permits for seismic gun testing without a mandated public hearing, environmentalists have charged.

The issue cuts to the heart of coastal life, where people and interests are divided between exploring for potential economic benefits or curbing exploration to protect marine life and a billion-dollar tourism economy. A growing number of officials and communities are opposing the offshore work.

“Our governor should represent the interests of the people in South Carolina, and the municipalities up and down the coast that represent them who have stood up to Big Oil, one by one, and resolved to oppose offshore drilling and seismic blasting,” Samantha Siegel, of Oceana’s office in Charleston, said about the investigation report.

Haley, in a statement from staff, championed her work with the coalition as critical, responsible economic development.

The Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition was founded in 2011 in the wake of the Deep Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to push for offshore drilling leases, shortly before the Obama administration publicly began considering the move off the Atlantic states. The coalition became a hybrid public official/oil industry effort so different from the usual cooperative efforts that institute editorial director Sue Sturgis said she struggled for words to describe it when writing the report.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, a 2014 meeting with federal officials to talk about Atlantic drilling was organized by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory said the meeting was closed to the media and environmental groups to keep it from appearing to be influenced by special interests.

But it was attended by members of Consumer Energy Alliance, an oil industry coalition, the center reported.

The meeting also was attended by two DHEC staffers, including coastal zone compliance manager Curtis Joyner. Joyner also handled the leasing permit sign-off that conservationists charged was approved without a mandated hearing. DHEC said the hearing effectively had been held already, because staff took part in an earlier federal public hearing.

“Why are South Carolina state employees having a closed meeting up in North Carolina that will play a major role in the fate of the South Carolina coast?” asked Siegel.

Sturgis told The Post and Courier the institute hadn’t come across anything quite like the governors coalition before.

“It’s a coalition acting as a liaison between these (oil industry and federal) interests and keeping it out of the public arena. It’s a public group with public money acting in the public interest,” she said, but is using staff from oil industry lobbyists.

The Institute for Southern Studies is a nationally recognized Durham, N.C.-based nonprofit social cause research center founded in 1970 by Civil Rights veterans. The institute was “shut down,” in Sturgis’ words, by the McCrory administration when it made a Freedom of Information Act request for emails and other information about the coalition.

Among other coalition lobbying efforts were two similar letters to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell pushing for offshore testing and drilling. The first was sent in 2013 from the coalition after Jewell was nominated and before she took office. Haley’s name appears on the letterhead and she is CC’ed on it. The second was sent in 2014 from the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, and was signed by Haley, McCrory, and then-Virginia governor and coalition member Robert McDonnell.

Haley’s office responded to the institute’s request for emails and other correspondence concerning the governors coalition with more than 1,000 pages of documents, Sturgis said.

“(The coalition) pushed Secretary Jewell really hard, and the letters were often signed by McCrory, McDonnell and Haley,” she said. The 2013 letter reads in part, “While we are very pleased with the Administration’s progress on Atlantic offshore wind development, similar momentum is needed in regards to offshore oil and natural gas. Expanding leasing opportunities now will encourage the private investment necessary to move forward with seismic surveying and additional infrastructure development and deployment.”

During her two gubernatorial campaigns, Haley received 88 contributions from the oil and gas industry worth a combined $118,331, according to data compiled by the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics. The governor raised about $12.4 million over two campaigns.

The investigations found similar contributions to McCrory, Sturgis said. But, she said, “it’s not so much that lobbyists are giving oodles of money” as it is about the way the coalition has operated.

Requests to speak directly to Haley were declined by spokeswoman Chaney Adams and direct questions regarding how the governor became part of the coalition and how aware she is of the industry involvement were answered with a stock statement:

“Gov. Haley has always been a strong supporter of offshore exploration of oil and gas, and she has enjoyed working with the coalition as well as members of our state’s congressional delegation on this critical economic development issue — but as she has always said, we’ll do it in a way that preserves our local environment, our ports and our tourism industry.”

Adams did not respond to a direct question about whether Haley was re-evaluating her position with the groundswell of popular opposition to oil and gas exploration.

A call to McCrory’s office for comment was deferred to the N.C. Department of Energy and Natural Resources spokeswoman Crystal Feldman, who also replied with a statement:

“The bipartisan OCS Governors Coalition is a diverse group of governors that advocates for safe and environmentally-friendly offshore energy production, the creation of energy industry jobs in our states, and a path towards American energy independence. This bipartisan coalition of coastal governors values input from all types of groups and organizations. We look forward to a continued and constructive dialogue about our nation’s bright energy future.”

At least 17 South Carolina municipalities or communities have now come out in opposition to the work, including Charleston, Charleston County, Columbia and five Charleston beach communities — Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, Kiawah and Seabrook islands. They are among more than 50 communities in the region that have opposed it.

“It’s certainly disturbing to see the role that out-of-state oil and gas interests are having on some South Carolina politicians,” said Hamilton Davis, Coastal Conservation League energy and climate director. “One would hope this report will encourage Governor Haley and others to rethink their responsibility to the communities that are rallying against offshore drilling.”

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