Over the past months, High Country News has received a number of letters and e-mails from readers upset about the tone of an article or an opinion expressed in one of the Writers on the Range columns. You'll find one such letter below from a Bozeman, Mont., reader blasting Writers on the Range for running columns that go against the grain of mainstream environmentalism.
These letters are part of a
struggle that has been ongoing here at High Country
News for more than a decade. In its early years,
HCN walked lockstep with the fledgling
environmental movement, reporting on its every move and speaking
out for the West's land, air and water. Nowhere will you find a
more fierce defender of the region's wildlands than Tom Bell, the
Wyoming rancher and biologist who founded HCN in
The land, air and water still come first
here, and we hope that shines through in the paper, the radio show,
the Web site and Writers on the Range. At the same time,
HCN has become a very different beast than
Sierra Magazine or Audubon or
the newsletters you receive from your local conservation groups. We
look at the overall context in which environmental issues play out.
We stand on the fringe. We're a wallflower at the environmental
movement's dance. High Country News is engaged
in journalism, and it's our job to present opposing viewpoints
fairly and with respect. Our bias comes through in the stories we
choose to run, and the way we tell them. But we do our best to
report what we find, rather than trying to fit what's happening on
the ground into some ultimate truth.
Our goal is
to help people understand the West and the characters who populate
it. And nowhere do we do that better than with Writers on the
Range, which each week sends three columns to 65 Western newspapers
with a combined circulation of 1.9 million
As with the newspaper and radio show,
Writers on the Range presents a variety of viewpoints, including
some on which environmentalists can reasonably (and passionately)
disagree. But because Writers on the Range columns appear outside
of the context of High Country News, readers
don't always get all sides of the story all at
The occasional columns by cowboys and
loggers rankle some readers. But Writers on the Range serves the
same purpose HCN does: It raises tough questions
and gets people talking about how best to care for this colorful,
changing region. We don't agree with every word that flies out of
the office, and we make mistakes. But we think it's important to
get opinions out in the open.
And truth be told,
we like a good argument.
We're also wary of
making the same mistakes as the West's rural cowboy culture. When
Tom Bell first started speaking out against predator poisoning and
oil and gas development, he was dismissed as an obstructionist, a
Luddite. "Tree-huggers" and "newcomers" are still marginalized in
small towns such as Paonia, Colo., HCN's home
base. But we don't think the answer is to marginalize the rest of
the West in response.
We're confident that
environmentalism has taken root in the West. It will continue to
shape the region as powerfully as any movement that came before it.
It must work within a larger political and social structure,
however. So rather than out-shouting our opponents, we intend to
listen and learn from them.
are always told: "Don't just sing to the choir. Talk to a broad
public." HCN is learning why so few groups
follow that advice. It's hard to talk to a general audience from
inside a movement. And if you figure out how to do it, you get a
lot of grief.
Nevertheless, we intend to continue
on this path. And we hope that you, our readers, will continue to
be as energetically engaged in HCN and its
mission as the letter-writer below. If we inform and involve
readers, if we argue hard, but treat each other civilly, then
High Country News has served its purpose.