NewspapersNewspapers have been faulted by some critics for inadequate depth and context in their reporting – and that criticism started long before their big recent cuts in staffing levels and the amount of space devoted to the stories that the remaining reporters produce.

In-depth series of articles on complex subjects have not been abandoned completely, however. Two Texas newspapers – the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle – are in the midst of publishing such projects on topics of probable interest to anyone attuned to sustainability issues in Texas.

The Express-News on Sunday published the third installment in a continuing series of articles examining an important decision looming for San Antonio with regard to nuclear power – whether or not the city-owned CPS Energy will participate in expanding the South Texas Project nuclear plant near Bay City.

Principal owner NRG Energy is planning to add two new nuclear reactors to the two-reactor plant. Austin, which owns 16 percent of the plant, has already decided not to participate in the expansion. San Antonio owns 40 percent. (For details on how the issue fits into the general nuclear picture in Texas, see an earlier article in TCN Journal, “Will CO2 concerns aid a nuclear revival?”)

The Express-News had already been devoting a lot of attention to the issue before launching its series of in-depth articles (most appearing on Sundays) with an Aug. 9 examination by Tracy Idell Hamilton of the changing politics of whether, and to what extent, the city will participate in the expansion after the election of a new San Antonio mayor in May.

That article’s first three paragraphs:

After a series of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Mayor Julián Castro stirred up San Antonio’s nuclear debate last week, forcing CPS Energy to publicly re-evaluate other options.

In the first major move of his administration, Castro found an unlikely ally in first-term Councilman Reed Williams, a retired oil executive who has emerged as a quiet but influential figure in the debate.

As CPS continued to push its recommendation to up its investment in nuclear energy, Castro and Williams separately pressured the city-owned utility, demanding details about the proposal, which they felt left ratepayers too exposed to financial risk.

On Aug. 16, the second article in the series was published, marking a collaboration with another newspaper with different ownership – “Why Austin opted out of nuclear expansion,” by Austin American-Statesman reporter Marty Toohey. (American-Statesman editor Fred Zipp had written a blog post in July, explaining how the state’s larger newspapers, faced by a financial squeeze, are exploring possibilities for such collaborative efforts, which have been extremely rare in the past.)

The third installment in the Express-News series, written by that newspaper’s Vicki Vaughan, was headlined “CPS projections on energy needs fueling debate.”

Meanwhile, the Chronicle (like the Express-News, owned by the Hearst Corporation), on Sunday published the first installment in a three-day series on “the condition of Galveston Bay one year after Hurricane Ike’s devastating blow.”

In that first story, Chronicle reporter Matthew Tresaugue set the stage for the series with this passage:

The garbage eventually will be hauled away, and most, if not all, of Galveston Bay will be cleaner than before Hurricane Ike’s 17-foot storm surge swept bits of boats, houses and shipping containers into the shallow, murky waters.

Nearly one year after the storm, there is little question among environmentalists and scientists that the bay — the recreation center of the Texas coast and one of the nation’s most productive fisheries — will recover, as it has after past hurricanes.

But will it thrive? That’s hard to say.

Galveston Bay was already under stress from decades of development, subsidence and pollution.

The beleaguered ecosystem now could face a future with higher sea levels and more intense storms that some scientists believe will result from global warming. Those forces could erode natural defenses, such as dunes and wetlands, and lead to greater damage from hurricanes.

The second installment of the series on Monday, written by Shannon Tompkins, examined the ecosystem implications of Ike’s damage to oyster reefs in stories here and here. The third part, scheduled for Tuesday, will examine the damage to recreation areas around the bay.

– Bill Dawson

Image Credits: peepo –