The controversial fracking method for oil drilling has “reversed a decades-long decline in the region’s railroads,” writes Adam Belz of the Star Tribune. Oil companies use the rail lines to import Wisconsin and Minnesota sand that works “with water, chemicals and organic lubricants … to break up shale thousands of feet underground that holds natural gas and oil,” he writes.
Adam says he read about the issue on a Federal Reserve blog post that offers current, regional economic information. “They won’t always yield a great story idea, but they do sometimes,” Adam says. “They establish basic facts that make a really strong beginning for enterprise pieces.”
For the railroad story, he wanted to focus on businesses benefiting from increased rail traffic, he says. He used Google Maps to search along rail lines for companies, zooming in when he saw industrial areas. He also sought names through the county government and economic development offices. Getting the business owners to talk wasn’t as easy. Some owners couldn’t talk because larger conglomerates owned them, he says. Others didn’t return calls. He stopped by one company, but the owner still didn’t want to talk.
Adam still ended with far more information than would fit into a 45-inch story. He’d talked with a frac sand expert for two hours and gotten lots of good information. To pare it down, he focused on writing his nut graf, he says. “I realized the three things I had to show in this story and everything that wasn’t essential to those three things had to go,” he says.