High Country News: Friend or foe?

 

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 1970.

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 readers.

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 once.

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.

Environmental groups 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.

Greg Hanscom is associate publisher of High Country News. Read letter (HCN, 10/22/01: WOTR columns are propaganda).

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.