Tuesday, November 20, 2007

S-T's a Wee-Bit Touchy on the Barnett Shale

The Star-Telegram has taken lots of licks lately for its coverage of urban gas drilling -- both from me and from the FWWeekly.

And that why it shouldn't surprise that the paper felt the need to defend its coverage with this post on the Barnett Shale blog. So, does the S-T have a point?


Although I think the S-T is showing more enterprise and less boosterism in its reporting over the past three months, I think there is a long way to go. The S-T hasn't been asking enough questions and tended to be more rah-rah about gas drilling than anything else.

I expect our daily newspaper to hold government and business accountable for their actions. Freedom of the press is an important component of a health democracy. But who holds the newspaper accountable? We do -- the people of Fort Worth. And I think that's what is going on. The readers are demanding better and the paper is hearing it.

I'm not saying that there is nothing good going on at 400 West 7th. I think the Barnett Shale blog is generally good. However, in spite of the Sunday story, I think there is a lot more to report on injection wells. Hell, go out to Wise County and find out why people are so pissed off about the environmental impact of gas drilling because they are already at where we will be in a few years. There's a great story idea right there.

Injection wells are the issue flying under the radar at City Hall right now. There is a lot of backroom movement of this, but the public is generally shut out of the process. We depend on the newspaper to shine the light into the dark corners of public policy and help us find our way.

One issue that hangs over the Star-Telegram and its relationship with Chesapeake Energy. I think the readers of the Star-Telegram would be well-served if the paper would disclose how much money the paper received from Chesapeake Energy as a signing bonus on the lease for the 40 acres at the South Plant. The paper should also disclose the terms of the deal.

If the paper is in a business arrangement with Chesapeake that could potentially net the paper hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, the readers need to know this information so they can weigh for themselves whether or not the business arrangement compromises the objective coverage of urban gas drilling.

The S-T earned its Turkey Award this year, but at least the paper is trying to make some changes in its coverage. I applaud these efforts. I would encourage everyone in Fort Worth to be a part of the conversation. Continue reading the paper and share your opinions -- positive and negative -- with the editors.


Spanglocity said...

It would be nice Steve-O if you made the distinction between the stories reporters do and any position by the editorial board (which are two distinct and separate operations of the paper) or an alleged position the paper may have as a business or by its corporate owners - because, my anti-Buckeye friend, the job of a reporter is to present the information to the public and it is up to THEM to advocate a position, not the reporter.

Steve-O said...

I'd like to make that distinction, but I am a little skeptical about how much of the firewall actually exists between any newspaper's business operations and its newsroom operations.

I agree that a reporter is (ideally) an objective actor. I don't believe that happens in practice.

Say, for instance, a reporter really wanted to dig and find out more about the S-T's deal with Chesapeake, how long would that reporter last at the paper?

Reporters and editors sometimes self-edit. They don't pursue stories because they are worried about not getting their next raise or promotion. Or (unfortunately) in the current industry climate, they worry about layoffs.

I want to see more enterprise. I want to see more aggressive reporting. Unfortunately, I don't see nearly enough of that in my morning paper.

TXsharon said...

The blog's post about the Parker and Wise County survey was quite a spin. I read the whole survey and posted about it on my blog. I've been corresponding with the professors who conducted the survey and they will have a complete analysis soon. The blog post was just a flat out lie.

I think Mike Lee has done a couple of good pieces though.

If you want real reporting, read what Peggy Hienkel-Wolfe of the Denton Record Chronicle and DMN writes.