How one Black Press paper covers David Black's refinery proposal in Kitimat
Most media workers in B.C. are aware of publisher David Black's proposal to build a $13-billion oil refinery in Kitimat.
They also know that the idea has not received a ringing endorsement from those knowledgeable about this industry, mainly because oil refining is a brutally competitive enterprise.
To satisfy my curiosity, I ventured onto the website of the Black-owned Terrace Standard to see how this issue is being covered in one of his papers in B.C.'s northwestern region.
The first story by Black's legislature reporter Tom Fletcher on August 17 featured three video clips of his boss and lots of comments from him. That's not surprising, given the magnitude of the announcement. Near the bottom of the article, there were dissenting remarks from Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt and NDP energy critic John Horgan, which didn't take up a lot of space.
There was a story the same day with the skeptical response from local NDP MLA Robin Austin, another quoting NDP MP Nathan Cullen, and subsequent articles concerning reactions of other prominent citizens of the region.
Today on the Terrace Standard site, there was an editorial acknowledging that the refinery was going to be a difficult sell.
It highlighted the rampant opposition to the Enbridge pipeline, along with the claim that Black was "putting the cart before the horse" by bringing this forward before the Northern Gateway Project has been approved.
Here's how the editorial ended—and make no mistake, the endings of editorials are often what's most important because that's what's left in the reader's mind.
Significant economic benefit derived from the pipeline could sway popular opinion, especially [for] people living through hard times in northern B.C., but probably not enough to tip the scales.
Black and Enbridge will have a tough time convincing residents in southern cities that the potential of thousands of jobs in the northern oil sector is worth the risk of a pipeline leak or a tanker running aground on B.C.’s coast.
In other words, Enbridge and Black would create thousands of jobs and significant economic benefits, but it's those southerners who just don't get it.
Black promised earlier this month that his papers would cover this issue in an unbiased manner. This particular article fails to acknowledge the potential economic downside of shipping oil for those whose livelihoods depend on fishing and tourism in northwestern B.C.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix and many aboriginal leaders, on the other hand, have been trying to drive home the economic risks associated with Enbridge's project for people living along B.C.'s central and northern coast.
Another story written by a "staff writer" today on the Terrace Standard website quotes Gitxsan land-claims negotiator Elmer Derrick's support for the refinery. He was given far more column inches than Sterritt received.
I couldn't find any mention on the site of a recent article in the Economist magazine, which refers to oil refining as a "miserable business".
Nor could I locate any comment from the Kent Group, which is a Calgary-based consulting group that has raised a red flag about the economic prospects of building an oil refinery in Kitimat.
For that information, northwestern B.C. residents will have to consult this taped interview with vice president Michael Ervin on the CBC website.
"The fact is the trend of refineries in North America is of closures, not openings," Ervin told CBC. "You know, that really illustrates why Mr. Black's idea is not likely to ever come to fruition."
There wasn't even a comment from anyone with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which has expressed skepticism about the Kitimat refinery proposal.
The overall impression I've gleaned from the website is that it's okay to publish articles that quote local critics of the refinery plan, but don't run anything that might make readers question Black's business acumen.
Nor is there any look at Black's proposal as public-relations hocus-pocus done in cahoots with the Liberal government to persuade more British Columbians to support Enbridge's Northern Gateway Project.
I'm hoping that an enterprising SFU communications student conducts a more complete content analysis of how Black Press papers have covered this $13-billion refinery proposal by the company's owner.
It would make for fascinating reading—particularly if it examined self-censorship by journalists who don't want to rile the boss after one of their colleagues was thrown overboard.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.