On the other hand, I do think we had articles that were critical of the process, too. Earlier this year, I did an article on local governments that were very apprehensive about the TMDL and had lots of objections. If you look at the last few stories, a number of articles have suggestions that the process is being driven way too fast. But no one wants to be seen as being anti-bay, so you can get into a situation where people aren’t necessarily happy, but they also aren’t going to say anything on the record that would get them criticized by an environmental group or something for coming across as being anti-Bay. But the TMDL is also basically the result of the failure of other cleanup efforts. It stems from more than two decades of government failing to do what it said it was going to do, and we’ve written about that, too.

Still, the Bay Journal supports efforts to clean and protect the bay, right? How do you balance that kind of environmental goal with the need to be impartial?

Well, an important step was creating the Chesapeake Media Service in 2008 as a non-profit organization to serve as the umbrella for the Bay Journal and Bay Journal News Service and receive grants and things. The idea was to establish that the two outlets aren’t part of an environmental organization, and that they have a more journalistic organization behind them. Last year, Chesapeake Media Service became the official publisher of the Bay Journal, replacing the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Your question is probably one that applies to environmental journalism in general, but I think that we do a pretty good job, or at least we strive to do a pretty good job, of presenting issues without advocating for them.

Over the last two decades, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the science of the bay, and I spend a lot of time with scientists. I go to a lot of scientific meetings that nobody else goes to. I also go to a lot of really mind-bogglingly technical meetings that nobody would dream of going to if they didn’t have to because I don’t want somebody to just tell me what time it is. I want to know how the clock is working, so I know how accurate the time is when they tell me. So, I use that approach as an anchor to help guide what we’re going to cover and, to an extent, how we’re going to cover things.

So, you may be a pro-bay group, but you won’t get coverage if you’re raising some type of issue that isn’t really germane, seems to be self-promoting, or reflects somebody’s personal agenda or ax to grind. The same would go for anybody else. We try to keep our eyes on the big picture issues. And after twenty years of covering these issues, I feel pretty safe when I say that a particular subject has very little merit in the scheme of things, even if somebody is pushing it pretty heavily. And I feel like there is a good network of scientists and people who have been around a long time whom we can call to get a sense of whether or not something is important.

Do you know of any other publications that rely on government support to do this type of detailed environmental reporting?

No. There have been some, but most have kind of gone away just because support for that type of thing generally has dwindled, which is unfortunate.

It doesn’t sound like this is something can be easily replicated elsewhere in the country. Is yours a business model that others could follow?

To me, there are two aspects to the question. If the question is simply, can you produce a credible newspaper with government support, then yeah, we’ve been doing that for twenty years and other people may be able to do the same.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.