Editorial kerfuffle

It’s rare these days to hear any real passion coming from the news bosses at the Star Tribune. This is one of those days, however.

MinnPost writer David Brauer took the Star Tribune to task today for not acknowledging in an editorial supporting offshore drilling, that the paper’s owners have a financial interest in it.

Worried about spills? “Though some environmental advocates dispute this, drilling technology has advanced over the past quarter century. Oil companies can drill more efficiently in deeper water with significantly less risk to the environment.”

But there was one unnoted fact: The company that bought the Strib last year is heavily invested in that technology.

That brought a volley from Jill Burcum of the Strib”s editorial board. Once you get past the invectives, her message in Brauer’s comment section was:

The editorial’s point remains a strong one – that it’s worth having a discussion about offshore drilling in light of $4 gallon gas and advances in drilling technology. This is something that many on all sides of the political spectrum are saying. I’m not going to apologize for advocating for families suffering from high gas prices. Or, asking for a debate over opening up new domestic oil supplies, something our experts agreed would help drive prices down and get speculators out of the markets. If that makes us “breathy,” so be it. We’re in pretty good company.

As far as disclosure goes, David, heal thyself. By your own standards, your columns require a lot more of them than the meaningless Gray Plant disclosures you put in. Today’s reality, which you should know as a critic, is that most media companies have owners with vast investment interests. Do these newspapers, TV stations and other outlets disclose this every single time they write about these topics? Has MinnPost ever disclosed its founders’ and funders’ vast investment interests when it writes about various topics? No.

So many interesting issues here, it’s hard to pick which one is better: the question of the value of oil drilling off the coast, or the question of when journalists should disclose the business interests of an increasingly diverse ownership?

  • bsimon

    Ms Burcum’s response seems somewhat weak. It boils down to: 1) the Strib analysis isn’t very unique and 2) MNPost doesn’t disclose its potential conflicts of interest.

    Not exactly what I would call an intelligent response. Whether or not other people agree with the Strib editorial board is irrelevant to the point made by Mr Brauer – that the newspaper, according to any reasonable standard, should note its potential conflict of interest. Has Ms Burcum offered a reasonable argument that they shouldn’t? Not that I can see.

  • David Brauer

    Couple quick notes:

    1. Avista is not THAT diverse. Four of its 20 listed investments are in offshore drilling, a specialized part of a generalized business that the editorial directly supported. I’m just not buying the “it’s too hard” excuse for disclosure. This isn’t penny-ante, and in my humble, not a close call – especially for a journalistic enterprise that holds others to fairly strict standards.

    2. Moving into an era of ownership with diversified interests shouldn’t be an excuse for LESS disclosure, but MORE. Maybe every conglomerate-owned paper should post a link to a plain-English statement of its interests on the editorial page, both the paper and online version.

    It’s hard to argue readers are better served by the dummy-up. Just because it’s inconvenient for journalists doesn’t mean we should give up seeking sunlight on material conflicts, whether they’re us or the institutions we cover.

    BTW, I disagree vehemently with Ms. Burcum’s uncharitable reading of my MinnPost disclosure policy. I think acknowledging one’s financial interest, and that of one’s spouse, is worthy of praise, and not meaningless. Especially in a family with a lawyer and a journalist – you can guess who’s the major breadwinner!

  • george paulson

    As a faithful reader, I was puzzled at the about-face the Strib took over the drilling issue. I certainly was totally unaware at the extensive drilling enterprises Avista controls, and believe they do explain the Strib’s views on this issue. They are so extreme that not even Republican candidate John McCain wants drilling in ANWR that the Strib backs. To me, this explains Avista’s investment in the newspaper, and it is clearly now changing editorial views to try and push through an anti-environment program. Drilling in the Arctic represents an extreme hazard to a very fragile region of the world. I don’t see how it can be conducted without that unacceptable risk.

  • David Brauer

    George – unless I read the edit wrong, the Strib still says there are legit reasons not to drill in ANWR, so don’t blame ’em for that.

  • Bradley Campbell


  • David Brauer

    Bradley – not that there’s anything wrong with that!