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CleanSkies.tv: Webcasting news on energy and the environment

By John Decker

April 29, 2008 at 11:21am

Under the leadership of a pair of television industry veterans, CleanSkies.tv is dedicated to covering two of the hottest news topics of our day - the energy industry and the environment.

CleanSkies.tv is owned by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is “to educate the public about environmental and energy developments, as well as the use of natural gas as part of a sustainable energy future,” according to its Web site. The foundation is funded by the Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the largest independent producer of natural gas in the U.S.

The chairman of the American Clean Skies Foundation is Aubrey McClendon, who is also chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation.

Susan McGinnis is leading the news operation of CleanSkies.tv as the managing editor and news anchor. McGinnis is the former anchor of CBS Morning News and a correspondent for The Early Show on CBS.

CleanSkies.tv has the look and feel of a big-time television news operation except for one thing - it’s broadcasting on computer screens not televisions.

During recent programming on CleanSkies.tv News she had an in-depth talk with T. Boone Pickens on the Energy and Earth program, and interviewed participants of a panel discussion titled “Finance, Energy & the Environment: Changing Markets & Opportunities,” held at the Museum of American Finance in New York City. Panelists included the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope and Calpine founder Pete Cartwright. On Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. eastern, McGinnis will be webcasting live from the Ceres Energy Conference in Boston.

CleanSkies.tv Network is a peer network operating separately from CleanSkies.tv News. So far the network has signed up a handful of “peer group partners” who are provided with a platform to promote issues that are important to them. The Sierra Club, MIT Energy Intiative, Honda USA and Clean Energy Fuels Corporation will provide content. David Willett of the Sierra Club says he is “encouraged by the fact that they don’t care at all what we say and they know we have no intention of pulling any punches and appear to be fine with that.”

Kelley Rickenbaker is the general manager of CleanSkies.tv Network and has previously worked in senior positions at NBC News, CBS News and CNN. “We are covering two of the biggest stories of our lifetime - energy and the environment,” says Rickenbacker. “It’s a great story and it’s at the core of all of our lives.”

Additional peer partners are promised in the future, as are many ambitious site features that have not yet been implemented. On demand video, searchable archives and a map-based navigation system are planned for launch later this summer.

Denise Bode is the CEO of the foundation and hosts the Energy Matters peer group program on the CleanSkies.tv Network. During a recent episode of Energy Matters, Bode interviewed former House speaker Newt Gingrich about his new book, A contract with the earth.

To ensure editorial independence of the news operation, CleanSkies.tv has established an editorial oversight board with former Associated Press chairman and Dallas Morning News publisher Burl Osborne as chairman and currently the sole board member.

When asked about the possibility that Chesapeake Energy might want to influence the news operation by looking for favorable coverage of the natural gas industry, Osborne replied with this:

“I’ve had extensive discussions about the imperative of editorial independence with Susan (McGinnis), Kelley (Rickenbacker) and others on the staff. In all cases, we have agreed that the value of the News Department rests on the credibility that independence provides. Should there be some pressure to breach that independence (and I have seen no sign of that) then it would be my group’s role, which is independent of the foundation and/or sponsors, to reject the pressure and provide the firewall protection that independence requires.”

Managing editor of news operations and anchor McGinnis had this to say about possible outside pressures on coverage:

“Our mission at Clean Skies TV News is to provide fully balanced news focused on energy and the environment. Period. I feel zero pressure from the foundation, and zero pressure from Chesapeake to report on natural gas issues more than other issues. I have not heard a word from either entity about what our content should be. When I joined Clean Skies TV News, I was guaranteed there would be no influence on our news content, and that guarantee has been upheld. Coming from CBS News, with previous experience at The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and elsewhere, this is a guarantee I count on. My reputation depends on it.

“If our news isn’t balanced, no one will watch. Everyone here realizes that. The best part is, we have now launched, so everyone can judge for themselves.”

Rickenbacker says that they have been tasked with reporting on energy and the environment as they see fit. He says they were told to “go cover energy and the environment. Keep out in front of the story. We are going to stay out of the way and let you do you jobs.”

Rickenbacker sums up his excitement about the new venture: “How often in life do you get to do something that not only is really interesting, but makes a contribution to society as well?”

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