Susan Phillips and Scott Detrow of StateImpact Pennsylvania were among the 14 winners of the 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for their series looking how Pennsylvania residents are affected by natural gas fracking. The awards recognize broadcast and digital journalism.
Susan and Scott have been covering, as noted on the website, “Pennsylvania’s booming energy economy, with a focus on Marcellus Shale drilling” for more than a year. Venturing into fracking coverage can be intimidating, especially when it comes to advancing the story. So I asked Susan for some tips.
Be prepared for a polarized audience. “People are very emotional about this issue on both sides. The stories you do will get highly scrutinized,” she says. “Make sure what you’re saying isn’t confusing the issue.”
Find senior reporters who can help guide you. “You can’t just start a beat like this thinking you will know everything,” Susan says.
Get the terminology correct. The term “fracking” now includes everything from clearing land to trucking wastewater. “Within the story itself, it is important to make the distinction,” Susan says.
Consider energy as a whole. Fracking “is one piece of the energy puzzle,” Susan says. Climate change, renewables and investments in different types of new energy are all part of the broader issue and provide the context reporters need.
Look at future implications. Questions about how to transport natural gas and export issues remain unanswered. Being aware of possible implications can help reporters cover the issue beyond what’s happening in the ground, Susan says.
Use freedom of information requests when you can’t get passed state department of environmental protection PR departments. Susan says she wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone but press contacts, who couldn’t provide the detailed information she needed.
Want to learn more about the series? Don’t miss this video that offers a look inside StateImpact Pennsylvania’s reporting on fracking.