Session to explore difficulty of covering Polymet

One-River-Many-Stories-240x240This Thursday at 5:30 p.m., I’ll be one of three panelists leading a discussion entitled “PolyMet: Reporting on Tough Community Issues” at a venue in west Duluth.

This panel is part of a series of community discussions centered around journalism and storytelling for the “One River, Many Stories” project along the St. Louis River in Northeastern Minnesota.

The first one was entitled “Collaboration vs. Competition,” and featured a lively discussion about whether lack of media competition creates more passive investigative coverage. Friend of the blog John Ramos had some good points in the comments of my post, which he introduced to some consternation at that session.

The last one was Storytelling Across Platforms, featuring several talented Duluth-area writers and media producers.

This week brings Timberjay publisher Marshall Helmberger, former MPR reporter and freelance journalist Stephanie Hemphill and me talking about PolyMet. Specifically, the conversation will center on the challenges of covering issues like nonferrous mining in an area so deeply divided over not just the outcome of these proposals, but also the facts behind them.

I’ve long been frustrated with the “litmus test” of nonferrous mining. Either you’re for mining, no matter what, or you’re against it, no matter what. The litmus is applied to journalists, elected leaders and even businesses. I argue that it tears apart our small communities precisely at a time when we need to unite for a monumental economic challenge.

Further, while people continue to spar over the “jobs vs. environment” canard, they miss really important aspects of the story that affect whether or not this argument is worth our time.

I’ve apparently complained about this issue enough here to wrangle an invite to the big city of Duluth. I’ll be leaving the forest mid-afternoon for a lovely evening of conversation with fine folks such as yourself, should you choose to attend.

Here’s the overview of the event, as described by organizer Judy Budreau:

The proposal for PolyMet Mining Corporation’s sulfide mine in northern Minnesota is only the most recent example of an issue that generates strong feelings and clear divisions in a community. When a controversial, local topic creates strong divides in a community, the job of the journalist gets precarious:

  • How do journalists negotiate these kinds of stories?
  • Do they take sides? Do they weigh in with their own opinion?
  • Is it possible to be objective in a situation where choosing a side is sure to alienate someone?

We’ve asked three veteran journalists — two of whom are based in communities with deep roots in mining — to join us at this March 3 One River event and talk about the role they see for journalism and how they are covering the PolyMet story.

Event:  PolyMet: How journalists report on tough issues in their community
Date: Thursday, March 3
Time: 5:30 to 7:00 PM
Q&A follows, with Lake Superior Brewing and other beverages, and snacks, available.

Location: EcoLibrium3 in Duluth’s Lincoln Park
2304 West Superior Street
Duluth, Minnesota 55806

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