In response to criticism

We received several comments on our website this morning in response to this story on tribal netting.

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My response:

First, I’m a big fan of community journalism. I wish we had more of it. It makes our job easier when members of the community send us information — photos, videos, written reports and/or commentary. The internet has made it more possible than ever for citizens to contribute to the journalism process, and I’ve tried to encourage our readers to submit, with little response. I’m hoping our new website, which will launch in a month or so, will make it easier for readers to start blogs and submit content. When we do get submissions from readers, we usually use them either as submitted or as part of our own stories.

In this week’s paper I took a web comment from someone who had questions about tribal netting and got a response from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. Yes, it took GLIFWC  more space to answer the questions than it took the other to ask them, but that happens in journalism. Our readers should be glad to hear the official response, and my guess is that most of them were.

Could I have done a more thorough job on the story? Of course, as we could with every story we do. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to track down every potential source for every story, just like we can’t be there for every net lift or fish caught by an angler. We also don’t have space to cover every story with as much detail as some readers would like. Our job as small-town journalists involves a lot more than coverage of tribal netting.

I applaud those citizens for watching and recording the netting. It’s their right (see below), and if they’re concerned that laws are being broken or the lake harmed, they should do something about it.

If anyone knows of a “smoking gun” video or photo showing wanton waste, please send it along or email me the link, and I’ll report on it if it seems legitimate, as I’ve done in the past. Unfortunately I don’t have time to view all the videos of tribal netting out there, and frankly, most of the videos I’ve seen have not been very good or very informative.

I’ve seen videos that appear to show northerns or muskies being released from nets. That’s legal under the bands’ conservation code, if they can be revived. So far I haven’t seen any pics or videos of northerns dead or dying.

I saw one last year of a northern that appeared to be struggling. Eventually it appeared to swim away.

When lost nets were found with dead walleyes in them a few years ago, we printed the pics. When fish guts were dumped on private land or public roads, we printed the pics and told the story, and I  scolded the unknown perpetrators in a column.

We reported on the ‘record’ muskie that was killed in a net recently. We didn’t sugar-coat it, simply presented the facts. Readers were left to make up their own minds about the implications, and we offer our letters page, web comments and guest columnist spots for readers to respond to stories.

Every year we hear rumors about the northern by-catch being left to die by tribal netters, and every year we say the same thing: If northerns and muskies are being wantonly wasted, and someone has photos or videos or even eyewitness accounts without evidence, send them my way and we’ll report it or get a response. My phone number is (320) 676-3123, and my email is

I’m also happy to visit with anyone and everyone who comes to my office. I have never once turned a reader away — either a phone call, an email or a personal visit. I don’t always give them what they want, but I always listen and give my honest response.

Honestly, I get very few complaints about our coverage or lack of coverage of netting controversies. I think most of our readers are satisfied with our coverage of the issue (and some would prefer less coverage).

The April 4 paper had page 5 set aside for a regular commentary by an opponent of tribal netting. He chose not to submit a column.

One of my critics on the web today used to write for us and left of his own accord.

Today’s scolding of the Messenger is typical of media criticism everywhere: If we’re not biased in their favor, we must be biased in someone’s else’s. From each side, the middle looks like the other side.

Regarding rights of citizen journalists: It is your right to photograph or video in public places — anglers, netters, picnickers, whatever. The courts have ruled on this matter. You don’t have to ask permission to take someone’s photo in a public place — although it is the polite thing to do, especially if it’s for publication.

Our reporter got told by a tribal CO a couple weeks ago not to take pictures of netters at a public access. He can ask us not to, but he can’t tell us not to. I had a conversation with GLIFWC about it, and they’re aware of the laws.

So get out there and get us photos, videos, letters, stories and commentaries. We’ll report the facts, as we always have. And we’ll report on both sides of any controversy (as time and space allow), as we always have.


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