Blogwise, however, Ward’s main focus is his own Coal Tattoo blog, which has received national acclaim and celebrated its first birthday last month after almost 1,000 posts. The site is well indexed, with categories approaching the subject from a wide variety of environmental, political, and socioeconomic angles. Of particular interest to media reporters such as myself is Ward’s “media coverage” category. A recent item, for example, was an interesting dustup between Ward and Walt Williams at West Virginia’s State Journal.
In early February, President Obama announced the formation a task force to speed the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology, and then organized a meeting with the governors of ten energy-producing states, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin then had a conference call with local reporters to discuss the meeting, which Ward found peculiar.
“In Washington, President Obama and his Nobel-prize winning Energy Secretary, Steve Chu, are talking about figuring out how to perfect the equipment that’s needed to be able to burn coal in power plants while not contributing to global warming,” Ward wrote at Coal Tattoo.
“But Manchin and most of the West Virginia media don’t want to talk about much except whether those ‘tree-huggers’ at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are going to stop trying to make sure coal operators comply with the Clean Water Act when they perform mountaintop removal mining.”
The State Journal’s Williams challenged Ward in the comments section, accusing him of “mischaracterizing” his statements and those of other reporters and of “advancing particular agendas.”
“You know that local media cater to a different audience than the national media. Local media outlets need to know what their readers are concerned about, and their stories must address those concerns,” Williams wrote. “No reporter was asking Manchin how to protect West Virginia from ‘tree-huggers’ — figuratively or literally — and I believe you know that.”
Williams thanked Ward for posting the complete audio recording of the call, however, which reveals that nobody used the word tree-hugger and that Williams did ask a question about CCS. But many other questions exhibited a distinctive is-he-out-to-get-us tone and, far from advancing an agenda, Ward is heard displaying old-school journalistic grit as the only reporter who actually challenged one of Manchin’s statements. When the governor complained that the Obama administration’s energy policies could “artificially raise the cost of energy,” Ward asked about the “hidden public health costs” of coal mining and burning, which, if taken into account, suggest that the current cost of coal is actually artificially low. Manchin ducked the question, saying that he “just wants to compete in the market.”
Similarly assiduous reporting is also to be found at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where a 2006 headline once proclaimed, “Coal’s economic promise masks [the] high cost of ruination.” Unlike the Charleston paper, however, the Post-Gazette files its content into news sections rather than blogs. The environment section is chock full of watchdog reporting. Recent articles have dug into Pittsburgh’s highest-in-the-nation soot pollution, a massive and mysterious fish kill in a local waterway, and subsidence at a local dam caused by long-wall mining. The Post-Gazette also produces some of the best wildlife coverage in the region, a lot of which if filed under the Hunting & Fishing tab of its Sports section. A recent series of articles about the management of local deer populations was particularly interesting.
But the best in-house general science reporting in the Ohio River Valley undoubtedly comes from the Columbus Dispatch. The paper publishes a weekly science page featuring stories that have nationwide appeal—from solar dynamics to 3-D camera technology—but usually also a connection to Ohio, often via a research project at Ohio State University. The weekly section is notable not only for the quality of the reporting, but also for its graphical elements (which are nicely digitized for Web site), such as those found in recent reports on the physics of curling and hockey injuries.