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Sponsored Shouting Match

Reading the Deseret Morning News a few days ago, I came across a public argument facilitated by a newspaper--a sponsored shouting match, if you will.

Questar, the public natural gas utility in Utah, had the audacity to blame environmental groups for the high cost of harvesting the blue flame. They did it in their customer newsletter, no less. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) responded by either hammering out a news release or by calling their favorite reporter to complain. In either case, the reporter was only too happy to be the referee of this little tiff. (Get out your newsworthiness calculator... Proximity? Check. Timeliness? Check. Conflict? Double check.)

This is the stuff news audiences see all the time, all across the country: two competing interests taking sides and duking it out. Admittedly, SUWA pulled Questar into this shouting match, and the utility really had no choice but to shout back. And SUWA is probably thinking that using the news media is the only way that they can fight back against this big corporate bully who has a "captive audience" that sends out missives in their billing statements.

My point: this isn't great news, this isn't great PR, and the high cost of natural gas, a problem that disproportionately affects the poorest in our society, won't be solved by competing interests lobbing grenades at each other. PR is much easier if organizations do the right thing. If Questar's main problem is government regulation, why don't they work with environmental groups and regulators to develop solutions that everyone can live with? If SUWA's big concern is their small reach, why not broaden it by taking advantage of the low-cost-of-entry world of the social web? They did themselves no favors by calling out Questar.

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