Our news coverage is not for sale

By The Republican Journal Editorial Board | Sep 03, 2020

It is no secret that the long-running process of Nordic Aquafarms' permit applications for its proposed Belfast fish farm has been accompanied by considerable controversy in various forums, including the pages of this newspaper. Feelings on the part of both opponents and supporters of the project have often run very high.

Opponents have made many claims, some based on science, others more speculative, about the potential harm the project may do. Nordic has also made claims about the potential benefits of its project. Nordic, not the opponents, has borne the burden of proof that its project meets local, state and federal requirements, as is proper.

On Aug. 21, we received a press release from Upstream Watch, one of the opponents, about a memorandum it had filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection concerning possible air emissions from Nordic's project. We edited the release, making clear that it was not our work, but had come from Upstream Watch, and posted it on our website. We referred to Upstream's predictions about the potential effects of the project as "claims," and attributed all statements of fact to the memorandum. The item carried no byline, as a reported story would have.

The following Monday, we received email from Nordic spokeswoman Jacki Cassida, complaining that the Upstream press release should have been labeled as opinion, that we should have asked Nordic for a comment on it, that it represented unbalanced reporting on our part. Cassida also threatened to pull Nordic's advertising from the paper.

We responded, explaining why we felt we had acted appropriately in publishing the Upstream release, but our response left Nordic unsatisfied. Through the good offices of the sales rep on Nordic's account, the ad ran in last week's paper.

This week began with another irate email from Cassida, this time saying that Nordic would run no more ads in The Republican Journal until "we are seeing that the RJ has done a better job balancing its content regarding anything Nordic-related on a consistent basis," at which time "we will revisit our position on supporting it."

We again wrote to Cassida, allowing that in future we would handle communications we receive regarding the Nordic project much more carefully, and pointing out that we have received about an equal number of complaints from both sides about favoring the other side in our reported coverage. That is often an editor's best metric that she's hitting the right balance in covering a story.

As reporters and editors, we sometimes make mistakes. Even when we don't, sometimes readers take issue with our coverage of a story. That's fine, and we welcome it.

Regardless of the mistakes we may or may not have made in covering this story, one thing must be clear. The Republican Journal's news coverage is not for sale. We will neither publish, nor refrain from publishing, anything because an advertiser tells us to. Our salespeople know this, and respect it.

We work hard to give thorough, balanced coverage to the important stories in our community, always remembering that it is the readers we serve. Not the advertisers, not our sources, not the politicians — the readers.

We have suffered financially, along with the other businesses in our community, from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, but if our reporting is for sale, we have nothing left to offer. That will not happen under the current management and staff.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: Jennifer Hill | Sep 03, 2020 20:26

good for the Journal, for sticking with the interests of readers rather than the almighty dollar! it does my heart good - not just hearing about this unseemly interaction, but getting the straight scoop from the paper's editorial board - congratulations!

Posted by: Ralph Stanley | Sep 03, 2020 18:27

Upstream Watch's article last week pointed out a number of areas that NAF had fallen short of with their obligation to adhere and administer Air Emissions standards. It was evident in the article that NAF was only being held accountable for the emissions of the diesel generators and nothing else. Ms. Cassida in response to that article made mention that there were two items mentioned by Upstream Watch that were not relevant to NAF licensure. She left it up to the reader to contact NAF for further info on those items.                                                                                                                              This week a different story. NAF now irate via their Community Liason Spokesperson Ms. Cassida, indicating that the Journal be aware that NAF will withdraw further funding for ads that do not favor NAF narrative.                                             Ms. Cassida was most likely taken to task for not treating Upstream Watch's article as an opinion piece rather than her responding to it at all. This smells like Marianne Naess.

Should NAF gain permits and somehow overcome a major obstacle gaining access to the sea, Belfast will be beholden to NAF and not the other way around. Who will oversee compliance long after permitting has been granted? Belfast is desperate for tax revenue. It is turning a blind eye.



Posted by: Seth Thayer | Sep 03, 2020 17:25

This used to be a quality newspaper, it's too bad that it has come to this.  But I suppose you have to stoke the fires to sell papers.

Posted by: Ellie Daniels | Sep 03, 2020 16:56

It has taken hundreds of years for our US Constitution to be eroded, distorted, and perverted to the point where the law has not only given corporations "personhood", but actually made "corporate personhood" more powerful that that of individuals. Many individuals in this community have been pushing back against a large international corporation for nearly three years now. It has taken its toll on all of us as a community.

I commend and celebrate the courage and clarity of the Republican Journal to call it what it is- corporate bullying. Thank you. It feels like a gift in times like these.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Sep 03, 2020 09:33

Makes one wonder if Nordic would do the same with tax bills.  We are leaving unless we get an adjustment to the tax bill???  Makes me wonder. Best measure of future behavior is past behavior.  Sounds like a bully to me!  So glad to hear the RJ is not for sale!!!!!

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