Reporting on the EPA: Is Opinion Better?

While looking through this week’s readings, I noticed a difference in representation of the EPA between articles. Both this article from the Detroit Free Press and this piece from the Ann Arbor Observer discuss the work researchers at the Ann Arbor EPA lab are doing to investigate fuel economy claims of various cars. Both articles make it seem like the EPA is doing a great job of keeping car manufacturers in check and giving honest information to consumers. With several sources from inside the EPA, the organization comes across as an open government agency that does its best to work for the people.

However, the blog posts show a different side of the story. This one by reporter Janet Raloff comments on the unusually restricted access to information at an EPA press conference. The other post from the blog of the International Council on Clean Transportation mentions that it took the EPA one year to identify some of the problematic fuel economy claims and start testing cars to find the truth. Neither blog post is against the EPA; the second one does support the agency for the research it has done and its enforcement of car manufacturer regulations. Still, these posts bring up important information that the public does not seem to be getting from mainstream news sources.

After reading the news stories and blog posts, do you think the traditional, “objective” journalism is telling the full story? How does this compare to the opinion pieces, which do not rely as heavily on EPA sources?

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About Marley Kalt

University of Michigan, 2015

12 Responses to “Reporting on the EPA: Is Opinion Better?”

  1. First, I want to say I like your post. Since this week we talk about the EPA that a test and a organization for testing the clean air action toward cars. This organization tries to maintain the least impact from fuel to the air, so they post some penalty and payment for car companies. They want to punish the company that did not resolve the pollution to the air from cars.Also, this organization advocate car company to spend money for making clear air from cars. The two posts about the EPA that seems not make many support for EPA. This is because EPA is still a new organization regarding preventing clean air from fuel pollution. So, there are still have some controversy from people. Some of us think what the EPA does is correct, but it is not very necessary. Also, during the process of developing the EPA each year, we could find some problems during EPA’s operation. And, the amount of payment or punishment fee are really big amount of spending, some automobile companies seem disappointed for this. No one want to pay a large amount for clean air.

  2. I feel like the main difference between the “objective” journalistic articles and opinion columns is that the “objective” ones are mainly presenting a story with the facts that were given to the writer him or herself. Yes, it is very possible that the people interviewed and handing out information could be hiding something, and that’s where opinion columns come in handy. The ICCT blog post was particularly interesting, as it mentioned a lot of discrepancies in the data that was provided to the public, and is suggestive of firms hiding the truth from us. However, opinion articles do tend to be very biased and definitely more supportive of one side. Although it is respectable to gather information from another source besides the EPA regarding this issue, it’s still important to bear in mind that at times we do not know how legitimate these outside sources are. They may contain important insight, but it is still important to be skeptical. I do believe that the opinion articles regarding this topic are necessary because it causes people to investigate more. It is important especially if we realize we are still causing more damage to the environment than we think.

  3. Obviously the opinion columns can not considered a credible source. They take to many personal prejudices and paranoia for anyone looking for an real look at the story to even consider reading. I was very annoyed by Janet Raloff’s piece because it had very little to do with the actual subject, and had more to do about how she was offended by the way they conducted their press conference. I don’t think a good journalist would take to the internet to rant and complain about people that she could possibly use as a source in the future. Also the Trust (or don’t), but Verify article seemed riddled with paranoia about these company’s intentionally skewing numbers, and was also not a piece of writing that would help you gain faith in him as a journalist.

    I enjoyed the Ann Arbor Observer piece, it was unbiased, gave very interesting scenes and very credible sources. It did not take any stabs at the car companies, and informed the audience in a fair way. I didn’t feel like the Detroit Free Press wrote with the same fairness. So I would not say that traditional “objective” journalism always tells the whole story, because the Detroit Free Press’s article did not.

  4. The opinion columns were interesting giving insight on the EPA, however, how do we know if the source is a legitimate as it appears to be. With opinion columns, they’re usually very one sided and we are unaware of how professional the writer is. This makes the point that our news sources need to do a better job at reporting both sides of the story. For example, the Ann Arbor Observer uses the statement, “In that business, the lab has unquestionably succeeded.” Right there, we know that they support the lab- a one sided argument. In the USA today article, “Obama announces 54.5 mpg gas mileage standard,” It gives both positive and negative reactions to Obamas initiative. This informs the reader in a more respectful manner.

  5. While opinion and blog pieces do have their faults in balance, they have the advantage in perspective. The writers can express facts and opinions simultaneously and acknowledge their own partiality (most of the time), and the result can be even more entertaining/interesting than a traditional article. I also understand that many news outlets are melding their traditional structure with that of blogs to develop a greater online presence. Blog and opinion outlets allow for easier publication because they can be written with a quicker turn-around than a journalistic article featuring interviews. Is an opinion produced and related at the expense of information? Does traditional journalism favor information at the expense of reader interest? Is there a communication format that can do both?

  6. Traditional journalism offers generally objective and credible information, whereas, as others have pointed out, opinion pieces often tend to be extremely biased and writing from emotions or prejudice which gives their content less credibility. Though these characteristics are general, they don’t apply to every traditional article or opinion piece and one should always question the content of the report. It would have been interesting to see, however, a positive opinion piece about the EPA in this week’s readings if there are any.

  7. Like many have said before me the traditional ‘objective’ pieces tend to be a little more balanced and factual. Opinion pieces most certainly can be factual but the personal biases are usual present and are often taint the credibility of the facts given. In terms of this weeks readings I was impressed with several of the traditional journalistic pieces on the EPA and their work, such as the Detroit Free Presses ‘Secret Ann Arbor lab determines m.p.g.
    ratings’ article and the Ann Arbor News’ ‘Chrysler partners with Ann Arbor’s EPA lab to boost energy efficiency’ articles. Both of these articles dissected the EPA and its efforts to operate as an ally to the public. In the Ann Arbor News article it went as far as to show the EPA cooperating with Chrysler to create more fuel efficiency vehicles – something everyone can be happy about. I was a bit surprised by the abruptness and critical attitude of the blog post “Janet’s Food for Thought” which painted the EPA as a cold distant organization that could not be bothered to discuss its work with reporters and actively chose to hide itself from the public. While many people are skeptical of the inner mechanisms and structures of the EPA as it operates both within and outside of the federal government, it has, for the most part, been a positive open organization. One thing that came to mind when I read Janet’s blog post was if her biases were clouding her reporting on a topic. I think it is fair to say that her story could very well be accurate and the EPA might not have dedicated much time to this interview. Its also important to note that many of these other articles we read had long detailed interviews with EPA officials and the one, ‘Chrysler partners with Ann Arbor’s EPA lab to boost energy efficiency’ showed a series of images from the press conference conducted in the EPAs testing lab full of reporters. Since there appears to be significant evidence that the EPA is interested in engaging with not only the public but also with reporters and the people they are criticizing (ie auto companies and their incorrect fuel claims) its hard to make the claim that they would like to watch the public suffer. I think a more apt possibility here is that one press conference happened at an inconvenient time for an organization and they had to cut it short. Sometimes this happens in the reporting world. Not every source can spend hours answering questions.

  8. What an awesome question to propose! You made some great points, and really strung together great examples of how opinion often alters the message.

    I completely agree that in comparison to blog posts articles seem very watered down and sometimes even purposefully so, however I have to say that I agree that true journalism should not have opinion.

    It is always up to the writer to present all sides and all information, and let the story fall naturally in place. Blogs are just as much at fault as one sided stories for not giving the whole truth.

    When opinion is involved, one simply cannot give all of the information. If it is truly the case that “posts bring up important information that the public does not seem to be getting from mainstream news sources,” then Journalists are not doing their jobs correctly.

  9. Marley,

    Last week I attended a city council meeting that discussed a car manufacturer coming to the Ann Arbor Area. A man stood up to dispute the company’s arrival, which I didn’t understand initially because I couldn’t figure out why this man was so upset about a company adding economic value to the Ann Arbor area. Upon listening further, I realized the major downside/issue with the company—they were not planning to bring jobs to the market, they had some type of agreement worked out with the government, and other car companies in the area were denied access to the market in Ann Arbor because this company seemed to have some type of political advantage. I mention all this to say, I think proper, traditional reporting is just one way—not the only way— to raise awareness of a cause or issue. The facts stated in the free press article left me wondering what can be said of a system that only audits 15% of all reports submitted on all vehicle reporting labels. I look at the EPA relations and automative bureaucracy and the reading left me with a lot of questions. Moving on to the “EPA Comes Clean” article, I look at the compensation of $500 for “higher than expected gas costs” which makes me skeptical that the entire system actually works. Overall, I found Janet’s food for thought to be an interesting perspective on the issue, and I enjoyed that article the most for its insight and viewpoint.

  10. In any news story there will be bias, it is impossible for writers to report in a completely fair/balanced way when so many factors go into the making of news stories. Firstly, the sources from which writers take their information may be skewing information or lacking full disclosure and while it is a reporter’s duty to uncover these ‘mysteries’ they may not always unravel everything. Furthermore, writers have a multitude of limitations and regulations that may result in the omission or favoring of certain sides of a story. For example, maybe a writer chooses to focus more heavily on land owners in a story about the Green Belt because it adds a human side that he/she believe the readers will relate with or he/she found the quotes to be more compelling than those from the industry side of the story. Moreover, people with certain ‘perspectives’ may prefer not to comment, which would lead to some obvious imbalance. Finally,after publication, the reader brings his/her own biases to their reading of a story which ultimately affects the way in which a piece is interpreted. I think the topic of biases can be very complex; thus, an acknowledgement of bias by all parties involved in news (writers, interviewees, readers, etc) would make everything more transparent and encourage citizens/consumers to further their quests for answers and information.

  11. In general, I think we run something of a risk when relying on opinion pieces for news, especially with such a controversial and far-reaching issue as this one. For instance, the article on journalist Janet Raloff’s blog was certainly concerning to read, as that seemed like quite a frustrating experience for her as a reporter, but the fact of the matter is organizations like the EPA have certain things they simply cannot divulge to the public until the timing is appropriate. And, in a market as competitive as the auto industry, any news of regulation changes that EPA officials let slip could cause a veritable firestorm not only in the media, but in auto companies as well. In addition, while I thought pieces such as “Trust (or don’t), but verify” by John German, had some useful information, it contained a component that many of the other blog-type articles which I wasn’t really comfortable with: the notion that the EPA or car companies are ‘hiding something’ from the public. While it is true that the American public perhaps does not know as much as it should about the current state of fuel efficiency, articles like this one may cause consumers to think car companies are trying to effectively ‘pull one over’ on them by not testing their vehicles correctly and therefore releasing inaccurate fuel efficiency statistics.

    From a personal standpoint, I am always somewhat upset to see the distrust people have for car companies in general, even domestic ones. Growing up, my dad worked as an engineer for Ford and focused specifically on cold weather vehicle testing related to fuel economy and overall performance. While he couldn’t talk about a lot of what he was doing, I can assure you that the testing they conducted back then at least was very extensive. In fact, one of his recurring mottos about each new vehicle test was “It has to be right,” and he was gone for sometimes weeks at a time to extremely cold areas, running tests and sending back data to Ford, but it was not able to be released to the public. This sort of practice was not intended to hide anything from the average consumer, but rather to optimize performance through internal testing methods that couldn’t necessarily be shared with the media, because other car companies could possibly steal ideas in an industry as competitive as that one.

    Overall, I think the objective articles such as the one published in the free press offer the fairest look at organizations like the EPA, and in a number-based situation like this one, I think it’s most important to focus on the facts available to us.

  12. Marley,
    I think your post is very well put together and hits all the essential points, as well as asks good questions. I agree with some of the others, that there is often an inherent bias in opinion articles, which is what makes it an opinion article. In whole, I think that the objective pieces do paint a fuller picture. Because they do not have an opinion they are explicitly trying to express, they may be less likely to withhold information that may present negative images of what they are writing about. Further, because they are using registered facts, there is not as much room for twisting data whereas the opinion pieces don’t rely as much on the facts rather than larger pictures.

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