Jan 2 2009
01:26 pm

Joe Powell credits bloggers, environmental activists, and affected residents with pushing this story onto the front page and into the national media spotlight.

Michael Silence says not so fast. While acknowledging a joint effort between mainstream media and bloggers, he says the KNS is "driving the bus."

I'm not so sure about that. The KNS is certainly on the bus doing some outstanding reporting, and it's apparent that they are the only area news operation with the resources and experienced reporters to do the in-depth coverage that's needed.

But my impression is that they were a little slow out of the gate and a little hesitant to call TVA out on the facts.

I first heard about the event at RoaneViews and their link to the initial Roane County News report.

I followed up with a post, updated it with a roundup of the initial local media reports which at the time were still repeating TVA's position that the fly ash contained "no hazardous materials."

I included links to reports showing how that was a total fabrication and how the handling of coal combustion byproducts is largely unregulated. This information made its way into the KNS a day or two later, by way of their business reporter of all people.

Next I questioned the advice to boil water being repeated by local media, and the KNS repeated this advice the next day before finally having to report days later that the EPA had found elevated levels of toxins (which boiling only makes worse) that could affect ground water and wells, advising people not to use spring or well water at all until more testing is done.

Later I ran across the inspection report, which clearly stated there were problems with the fly ash retaining pond dikes and that these problems were known to TVA. A couple of days later, the KNS did an in-depth story on the inspection report findings, with a good explanation of what it all meant.

And those are just my observations. Plenty of other bloggers were all over the story, including Joe Powell, Mike at Enclave, Southern Beale, and of course RoaneViews at ground zero.

Bloggers were even ahead of the New York Times. Christian Grantham at Nashville is Talking posted a link to an EPA inventory of all the toxins at the Kingston Steam Plant a day before the New York Times reported on it and two days before the KNS. (It should be noted that Christian is a pro blogger for WKRN in Nashville.)

Anyway, the point is not to criticize KNS or other local media. They are doing groundbreaking work and as I already mentioned they have the resources and contacts and credibility to do it right. Nor is the point to seek credit for bloggers for the work they have done and continue to do on the story.

The blogger advantage, though, appears to be strong google-fu, no editors, instant pushbutton publishing, and a healthy skepticism of public official spin and media reports of same.

Michael Silence argued previously that it's the media's job to report these PR brain farts straight and let the public decide. Probably so, but readers also need to be informed and armed with good information to be able to make that assessment. I'd say the local media is coming around to that, and I'd probably give bloggers a little more credit for pushing it.

And at the end of the day, it's an interesting look at the symbiotic media/blogger/citizen journalist dynamic, and how an army of smart bloggers complements rather than competes with mainstream media and actually makes them better.

Not that any of this matters to the residents of Swan Pond, who just want to know if their water is safe or whether they will ever be able to go home again.

Nobody's picture

fly ash coverage

I hope the coverage of the fly ash from Kingsport will help the NRR lawsuit here in Knoxville to proceed forward. Remember, at NRR they used to use fly ash in the compost they sold to the public. That practice has been discontinued. But, hopefully, all the coverage has brought back the problems this stuff can cause.

Treehouse's picture

Randy in pajamas

Absolutely, Randy, your reporting was timely and right on, especially that the call to boil water was incorrect and dangerous. Thanks for providing good information when no one else was. However, I didn't realize you were in pajamas at the time. That's probably the main difference between you and the KNS.

Patrick Hunt's picture


"Michael Silence argued previously that it's the media's job to report these PR brain farts straight and let the public decide. Probably so..."

Really? If I want the PR brain farts straight I'll go straight to the source's website, or to BusinessWire or a similar paid PR distribution service. The media's job is to not only report what TVA claims, but also to challenge or confirm it with research, third-party validation, counterclaims, etc., and let the public decide based on ALL the available information.

sugarfatpie's picture

Amen to that!!

-Sugarfatpie (AKA Alex Pulsipher)

"X-Rays are a hoax."-Lord Kelvin

rocketsquirrel's picture

Leading or keeping up? Just

Leading or keeping up?

Just looking at coverage today in print, the NY Times coverage of the spill is pretty good, with reaction from TDEC and TVA on the testing results from Appalachian Voices.

KNS, on the other hand, cites the test results from Appalachian Voices, but focuses more on the Kingston city government angle.

This story is so big, for the local rag to be claiming to be "driving the bus"...well...that's quite a claim.

I think the time for journalistic navel gazing is not this moment...

Michael is exhibiting more than a little hubris in hoping for the end of the "us vs. them" stereotype while simultaneously claiming victory over the bloggers in the same post.

50 Cents Wasted's picture

The only bus KNS is driving is the one the unemployment office

In my opinion, never in journalistic history has a regional newspaper fallen so fast, so hard, and become so irrelevant to the local community than the KNS. Their agenda is quite clear and their journalistic capabilities are non-existent. They have routinely been scooped all the way from the UT practice facility all the way to city hall. They've tried to buy up all of the local weekly competition primarily the MetroPulse and the Halls Shopper, however, the rag is still a rag and the content is second rate, shoddy, and poorly written, in my opinion.

Most of its fall can be attributed to the publicly paid "spokespeople" who speak, spin, piss, cajole, and confuse all over local media which doesn't have the journalistic integrity or the editorial gall to question what local, state, and federal goverenments and their political equivalents say and do.

The KNS is an obsolete relic and hulk of a newspaper, which is given away free each and every Friday by the mayor's family business, all in an effort to boost circulation and in a round about way ad revenue rates.

ma am's picture

KNS coverage was terrible

It took a week and attention from bloggers and bigger fish (Tennessean) for KNS to move beyond taking TVA's word about what happened and attempt to actually report the issues. If the story hadn't gone national, they would still be telling us that everything is fine, fish die from cold weather, and boil water to remove heavy metals. They did not do their jobs because they do not have the objectivity or scientific understanding to do so.

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