Friday, July 27, 2018

The Timberjay, weekly in northern Minn., covers economic, environmental, and political issues with depth and tenacity

Boundary Waters Canoe Area; blue dots mark entry points
(Map from Boundary Waters Outfitters, Ely, Minn.)
The Timberjay, a weekly newspaper based in Tower, Minn., has long been known in rural-journalism circles as one of the best. This week it got written up by Stephanie Pearson of Columbia Journalism Review, the news peg being its coverage of "a controversial sulfide-ore copper-nickel mine near the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness" and President Trump's effort to oust a Democrat who represents the Iron Range in the U.S. House.

"The New York Times Magazine covered the increasingly polarizing issue last October," Pearson writes, "but no publication has covered it with the depth or tenacity of The Timberjay. While national publications tend to flare emotions by focusing on the 'us vs. them mentality' of the Iron Range, Helmberger drills down on the facts of the increasingly unethical federal process and the economic and environmental realities of what the new mine may bring."

Helmberger in his office (Photo by Stephanie Pearson)
Steve Piragis, owner of Piragis Northwoods Co., a canoe outfitter and retailer in Ely, nine miles from the the proposed mine site, told Pearson, “Marshall is one of the best reporters in Minnesota. His editorials are extremely well-written and influential, but he manages to remain objective and keep his personal views out of his reporting.” For example, Helmberger questioned a study done for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness about the risks of mining, saying it was too broad.

Still, "Those in favor of the new mine—generally second-, third- and fourth-generation Iron Rangers whose fathers and grandfathers have worked in the mines—make their opinions about the paper known on The Timberjay’s Facebook page," Pearson reports. One said, “Timberjay supports worn out zealot-held beliefs, not science, engineering, the tax bases and quality of life for Iron Rangers. Just because you want the Range to go back to the Stone Age to somehow protect a declining-use Boundary Waters, doesn’t mean we have to support you!”

St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavinam a former miner who backs the project, gives Helmberger his due, telling Pearson: “I think Marshall has one of the finest weekly newspapers in Minnesota. While we agree on many issues such as fair taxes, school funding, helping the needy etc., we aren’t always on the same page when it comes to some environmental issues. However, I will give credit where it’s due, Marshall does his research and for a small weekly, he puts out a damn good paper, even when he’s wrong.”

Pearson recounts Helmberger's 30 years of journalism in the area, including his five-year investigation of a contractor on a school reconstruction project. His lawsuit for records failed at the state Supreme Court, but the legislature passed "the Timberjay bill," giving him and others the right to such information. But Helmberger knows what a community paper must also do: "I spend more time writing up high school sports than I do investigative pieces," he told Pearson. "That stuff that wins awards, most of our readers don’t really care about it."

No comments: