I’ve always been interested in the more subtle forms of press censorship, in particular the gatekeeping role played by local newspapers. The photo above accompanies an Associated Press story by Rob Gillies entitled “Critics: Canada’s Oil Boom an Environmental Bust”. I came across the story at the Seattle Times website this morning, and that picture just about made me lose my breakfast. It’s about the mad, earth-scarring dash to find and process oil from shale.
The power of the photograph (and, btw, I would really like to have Mr. Mac Mahon’s permission to post the photograph here, and even called AP in Washington, but couldn’t get in touch with anyone, and, besides, this is kinda of a “media studies” posting, so the copyright thing gets a little hazy, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)…oh yeah, back to what I was saying. The power of the photograph made me wonder how many newspapers across the country were running this story.
I did a little Google News check (admittedly, far from conclusive) combined with a back-and-forth search of individual papers via newsvoyager.com. Tons of newspapers around the country are posting the story. But two things are kinda interesting…
1. Many newspapers, at least online, aren’t posting the photograph along with the story.
2. In the Intermountain West of the United States, where the oil shale boom matters most, few newspapers are posting the story at all. I found three so far (readers are encouraged to look and find more): the Denver Post, Las Cruces Sun-News, and Provo, Utah Daily Herald.
For instance, I can’t find the story at all on the Albuquerque Journal website (and I know you’re laughing out loud right now and saying “well Hell, that’s not surprising..nobody can find anything on that website!). Well, I looked all I could and got nothing. I also looked at papers in Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Casper, and Laramie, and didn’t find a thing.
Well…what do all these flimsy “facts” mean? That’s there some sort of vast oil & gas developer conspiracy going on that directly/indirectly leads local news organizations to avoid negative stories about oil shale, and squashes dissemination of provocative photos that show how destructive oil shale can be to Mother Earth?
Uh….yeah. That’s what it means…at least to me. Your conspiracy mileage may vary.
More generally, I would humbly suggest that we, as a people and as “bloggers” do some systematic investigations of the more subtle forms of self-imposed press censorship. I realize that the age of the local newspaper is largely over. One can already almost literally smell the nitial stages of decomposition in the near-corpse that is the Albuquerque Journal, for instance.
Still, we need to do a better job of analyzing how the news is being neatly packaged for our consumption, more now than ever as the number of news outlets dwindle. One can’t have watched the Beijing Olympics and avoided at least a passing thought about the Chinese government’s stifling of information. One wonders how close we already are to the Chinese situation here, and how much closer we might get to that in a world seen by our leaders as one big counter-insurgency battleground and a shrinking independent media.
P.S.: And I wonder what the impact of the photo above might have on public policy discussion of oil shale exploration if it were shown on every TV newscast in the country at least once. No, it wouldn’t be equivalent to the Tienanmen Square “guy in front of tank shot”…but it would have an impact.