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Journalists vs Spin Doctors


The panelists talk about the challenges journalists face when so many public relations specialists are working to put their own spin on events.

The discussion focuses on last week’s news that Roquette America is being fined $4.1 million to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at its grain processing facility in Keokuk. An EPA administrator said, “The magnitude of these violations warrants the magnitude of the penalty.” An EPA news release indicates the company violated its NPDES permit at least 1,174 times, and that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued numerous orders and notices about pollution from the plant.

But the company’s news release paints the story in a different light:

“Roquette America Takes Action toward Sustainable Environmental Operations

Roquette America, Inc. (Roquette) has entered into a Consent Decree with the U. S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency in settlement of permitting-related issues involving Roquette’s plant in Keokuk, Iowa.

Roquette, the Department of Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency worked collaboratively to address environmental concerns at the Keokuk plant and to establish corrective actions for the company going forward.

The Consent Decree resolves environmental incidents, establishes a set of environmental  best practices for the company going forward, and addresses improvements to waste treatment operations at the Keokuk facility.

Prior to entering into this Consent Decree, Roquette made a $30 million commitment to these and a number of other capital improvements designed to modernize the existing plant and assure compliance with all relevant environmental standards.

Roquette remains committed to the highest standards of environmental protection. “

The Shop Talk panelists point out there are now four public relations specialists for every one journalist. Newsroom staffs are shrinking. It’s not uncommon for “one-man bands” in newsrooms, especially in smaller markets, where that one person is often inexperienced.

The panelists are concerned reporters in such situations might not have time to gather follow up information or might not realize how important it is to follow up on such releases. This allows public relations specialists to put their spin on events without the full story coming out.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.