Here’s how you report a wind story

As one of my correspondents put it, “It’s a sad day when the Chester Telegraph is outperforming VTDigger.”

But it’s true. While Digger posted a slanted, incomplete story about the American Bird Conservancy weighing in on the Stiles Brook wind farm, the Chester Telegraph’s piece is a model of good journalism. It explored the story beyond the press release, it discovered nuances, identified relevant expertise, and fairly represented both sides of the story.

VTDigger’s Mike Faher, you may recall, uncritically reported on the American Bird Conservancy’s criticism of the Stiles Brook plan, giving weight to the wind farm’s potential impact on the threatened Bicknell’s Thrush. ABC’s Michael Hutchins was given loads of space to air his concerns — and only at the end of the article did Faher reveal that Hutchins didn’t actually know anything about Stiles Brook.

By contrast, the Telegraph’s Cynthia Prairie dug into the background of ABC’s involvement, and actually contacted a Vermont-based organization that’s been studying the Bicknell’s Thrush for a quarter century: the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

[Executive director Chris] Rimmer said that the Bicknell’s thrush, a songbird with a population of about 110,000, doesn’t “nest in the project area because it is too low.” He said these migratory birds nest above 3,000 feet. But the highest neighboring peak that The Telegraph could find to the Windham/Grafton area is the Windmill Hill Pinnacle at 1,683 feet, in Westminster.

He also downplayed concerns about the bird’s migratory patterns.

It is possible that a “few would be moving along that area,” he added. “But there is no reason to believe that they are. Like other songbirds, they are nocturnal flyers and typically will be above” the turbines.

But that’s not all. After receiving media inquiries, Hutchins is revising his original letter. He now says that “Detailed, independent studies need to be done” to determine Stiles Brook’s potential impact on Bicknell’s Thrush.

Nice of him to belatedly admit his lack of expertise.

For it part, developer Iberdrola has evaluated the site for a range of wildlife impacts “with guidance from various state agencies,” and further notes that…

“The state’s permitting process requires stringent, independent monitoring, and makes the data public.”

Prairie’s story also gives a fair bit of space to the opponents of Stiles Brook. In fact, it’s a balanced, nuanced account. Everything that VTDigger’s story was not.

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One thought on “Here’s how you report a wind story

  1. Cynthia Prairie

    Thanks for the nice writeup, John. We did add a correction to a sentence you cited. This was an oversight on our part:

    But the highest neighboring peak that The Telegraph could find to the Windham/Grafton area is the Windmill Hill Pinnacle at 1,683 feet, in Westminster. (CORRECTION: Glebe, in Londonderry, is 2,850.)

    And please tell your correspondent that we apologize for making the day sad, but if he or she had been reading us right along, he may have gotten downright depressed!

    All the best.
    Cynthia Prairie
    Editor
    The Chester Telegraph

    Reply

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