The Sciences

In Praise of (Web) Journalism

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJun 6, 2009 3:01 PM

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I'm most hopeful about journalism's future in the digital age when I see evidence of professional upstarts taking ownership of stories, as Pro Publica has with its continuing coverage of controversial drilling practices by the oil & gas industry. In the old print world, investigative reporters took on big projects that bore fruit with a splashy Sunday feature that sometimes spilled into a week-long series. More often than not, that was the end of the story. And the reporters moved on to the next scandal. No more. Look at the body of work racked up by Pro Publica's Abraham Lustgarten since last year, when he started reporting on water pollution caused by a widespread gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing. This piece published last November received a lot of attention. That would have been it if Lustgarten was employed at a newspaper like the San Diego Union-Tribune, where the story was co-published. (Part of Pro Publica's mission is to have its big investigative stories published in mainstream newspapers.) In addition to having Lustgarten staying on the story, Pro Publica maintains a valuable web page that includes a chronology of his reporting, multimedia features, and links to primary documents. It's a great, reader-friendly package. My only complaint is that he doesn't have a true blog, so his great work still doesn't make it into the daily conversation on the blogosphere. In contrast, Andy Revkin's Dot Earth has become an essential forum that plugs into (and often triggers) much debate on environmental issues, especially climate change. In this sense, Pro Publica doesn't fully capitalize on its fantastic content, in much the same way that Yale Environment 360 fails to, which I discussed here.

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