A Local Newspaper Invests in a Foreign Reporting Trip: To Inform Readers about Wind Farms and Energy, the Cape Codder Sends a Reporter to Denmark

By Leggett, Doreen | Nieman Reports, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview
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A Local Newspaper Invests in a Foreign Reporting Trip: To Inform Readers about Wind Farms and Energy, the Cape Codder Sends a Reporter to Denmark


Leggett, Doreen, Nieman Reports


When The Cape Codder--a weekly newspaper in Massausetts--published a series of articles about Denmark's wind energy initiatives, most of the congratulatory comments I received ended with these words: "The Cape Cod Times must be livid! This is something the daily should have done."

Week to week our newspaper goes up against this larger prize-winning daily. We report on the same geographic area, with its news and issues. With four full-time reporters, who cover eight towns on the lower Cape, The Cape Codder is a profitable paper that belongs to a chain of community newspapers owned by the Boston Herald. The Boston Globe is also a major presence among our audience. So for us, the smallest among these papers--each of which is covering a quite combative wind energy story in waters just off our southern shore--to report and publish these stories from Denmark proved that daily papers do not have exclusive rights to big stories.

In fact, with a little bit of forethought and passion, weekly papers can bring readers stories like this that resonate in their communities. Even so, for a newspaper like ours, reporting trips far away from where

we live and work won't usually gain us readers or improve our reader loyalty, no matter how interesting the topic might be. (In this case, we did get new subscribers.) But this isn't just any story. It is about the first offshore wind farm ever proposed in North America. And the battles over the farm's proposed siting in Nantucket Sound have national implications for energy policy and ocean zoning.

The Nantucket Sound wind farm story is one that has been picked up also by virtually every major paper in the country. But its local implications were the most significant to our readers, and big media outlets only give them cursory attention. Residents of Cape Cod--and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket--are being asked to support 130 wind turbines scattered across 24-square miles of Nantucket Sound, a natural resource beloved for its beauty. And the proposal comes from a developer, Cape Wind, which is planning to make a profit off of this wind farm that, if built, will be located in waters that Cape Codders think of as their own.

There are strong environmental arguments swirling around on all sides of the wind farm debate. Questions posed have no easy answers: Would the large turbines endanger the ecosystem--the flight paths of sea birds, for example? Would the wind farms siting in Nantucket Sound hurt the Cape's economy or would it add to the sound's environmental allure? Would benefits outweigh the sacrifices? How opponents and supporters of the wind farm answer these questions differ widely.

Denmark Offers Guidance

As the debate intensified--and each side began its own advocacy campaign--residents of Cape Cod had a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction. My editor felt that the only place that could offer needed insights was Denmark, which was the world leader in offshore wind energy. Denmark has been discussed mainly by wind farm supporters, but opponents used the country as an example of a place that had zoned its oceans before putting the wind farms up. It had small offshore wind farms, and it also had what was then the largest wind farm in the world--the 80-turbine Horns Rev, located in the North Sea.

Sending me to Denmark meant making budgetary sacrifices for our small weekly. But because our paper is on Cape Cod, it has always dedicated budgetary resources to covering environmental issues. That's why it has an environmental reporter, and that is why the editors decided to send me to Denmark to break new ground on the wind farm story. The benefits of getting ahead of the day-to-day news coverage and moving past the "he said, she said" dialogue that was hijacking much of the ink outweighed the financial sacrifices.

My reporting trip was done on a shoestring. I traveled in bone-chilling February on an all-night flight on a budget airline.

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