The New York Times hit a home run on Monday with a story that exposed as a sham a supposed moratorium on new offshore drilling permits that President Obama announced after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drill rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the story was that reporter Ian Urbina pulled no punches in going after the Obama administration. The Times is very left-leaning in its editorial positions and a strong supporter of Obama overall. This story, however, is a credit to The Times’ willingness to aggressively seek out the truth and let the bricks fall on those standing under the window. It’s the kind of story that does a lot for a newspaper’s credibility with readers, who want their news presented “without fear or favor.”
I happened to read The Times’ story before I had thoroughly read Monday’s Kansas City Star. So, after finishing the story, I picked up The Star again to see how the local paper, which subscribes to The New York Times News Service, played the story.
To my delight, it was the lead story in the paper. Unfortunately, The Star’s headline — “Drilling permits continue” — wasn’t as telling as The Times’ — “Despite Obama’s Moratorium, Drilling Projects Move Ahead.” Also, The Star cut the last 11 inches of The Times’ story, depriving readers of more detailed information about inconsistencies between statements and actions by Interior Department in the granting of new drilling permits.
Nevertheless, Star editors gave the story the play (presentation and placement), that it merited, and Star readers got an authoritative story that showed it, too, wasn’t hesitant to fire a volley at Obama.
The article said that despite the supposed moratorium, at least seven new drilling permits and several environmental waivers had been granted. The rationale of officials at the Interior Department and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, was that the moratorium was meant only to halt permits for the drilling of new wells; that it was not meant to stop permits for new work on already existing drilling projects like Deepwater Horizon.
One person who wasn’t buying that story was Daniel J. Rohlf, a law professor at Lewis and Clark Law School, who was paraphrased as saying he was “not certain that the Interior Department is capable of carrying out the needed reforms.”
This is the type of story that could — perhaps in conjunction with other missteps — cost Interior Secretary Ken Salazar his job somewhere down the line.
It is my belief that The Star and other major metropolitan dailies should make liberal use of The New York Times News Service — and other news services as well — to lend heft to their product. As it is, I think The Star and many other metropolitan dailies are too caught up in the “local, local, local” mindset. To me, it is insulting to the intelligence and interests of readers to deprive them of significant amounts of national and international news and, instead, hand out a steady diet of lightweight, local features.
With the defection of millions of casual readers — those who “don’t have time” to read a paper — newspapers are now down to the serious readers. And those readers, I believe, want the meat and potatoes, not the doughnuts.
So, congratulations, KC Star editors, on giving readers a hearty meal on Monday. And, if you want to keep circulation from falling even farther, I suggest that you cut back even more on the glaze.