In the past, when high powered business once owned the media and used it tirelessly to promote their own financial or political angles, it posed a definitive problem countering the objectivity of the news that it reported. The dawn of the public model of news reporting with a strong lean toward ethical reporting and impartiality was a method of delivering accurate news and exposing wrongdoing to public scrutiny.
Now, with major newspapers struggling to survive due to the growing presence of internet news sites and social media updates on a 24 hour news cycle, Chevron has now launched its own website to report news as it see it from its own angle. The site is called the Richmond Standard and does not appear to be a marketing vehicle for the big oil giant. It focuses, rather, on local stories including sports, crime and entertainment with only one area entitled “Chevron Speaks” where it will post its own views. It all seems harmless enough, right?
For the most part, the community of Richmond remains skeptical. They’ve had a contentious relationship with the company over pollution, taxes and environmental impacts for a number of years and company spokesperson, Melissa Ritchie feels that in time, they’ll come around. The site will focus primarily on community issues which are often bypassed by larger newspapers in the area and as a result, some local residents are already praising the site for its public awareness. The website has the Chevron sponsorship featured front and centre so they’re operating in a transparent fashion.
Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism says that the site does pose issues. He feels that it is meant as an outreach program to the cynical community so it implies that it is something of a public relations vehicle. Add to that the paper is the creation of PR professional, Sam Singer, known for his management of organizational crises of public perception. Writer and photographer, Mike Aldax, operates out of his vehicle, collecting local items and writing crime based stories. He is the site’s only full time reporter so the possibility of investigative journalism is hardly even an option.
City councillor, Tom Butt says the he has noticed some of the events that they have covered and is happy to see that they are paying attention to items that don’t usually garner media attention. He also notes that his feeling is that they are aware of who employs them and they’re not very likely to create any kind of controversy in relation to issues that are connected to Chevron.
Recently, Aldax did write a story about a recently released report addressing the environmental impacts that may result from the company’s future plans to renovate and modernize the refinery and he spoke with a Chevron spokesperson, gathering quotes about their response to the report’s findings. No one that opposed the findings was quoted but he did list some of the complaints that were brought up.
Melissa Ritchie says that Chevron does not approve Aldax’s content and that he works independently to create it. Aldax, on the other hand, says that they could kill a story if they wanted to but he is fairly confident that they won’t do that. He says that the Chevron Speaks page is reserved for their opinion.