On the InsideClimate News Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting

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Media Matters for America has a good discussion of how InsideClimate’s award-winning report on the million-gallon tar sands pipeline oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River highlights shortcomings in the major mainstream media and challenges facing environmental reporting. Andy Revkin at New York Times Dot Earth notes that this is the third online news outlet to win a Pulitzer (one prize for Huffington Post and two for Pro Publica) and says “there’ll surely be more.” In meeting the need for investigative journalism, to what extent can the multiplying sources of decentralized alternative media offset a decline in traditional mainstream media?

Congratulations to InsideClimate News for the prize-winning story, “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of.” InsideClimate says it was “a project that began with a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It broadened into an examination of national pipeline safety issues, and how unprepared the nation is for the impending flood of imports of a more corrosive and more dangerous form of oil.”

From Shauna Theel at Media Matters (excerpt):

An Underdog Pulitzer Winner Exposes Shortcomings In Environmental Reporting

InsideClimate Dug Deep On A Tar Sands Spill The Media Overlooked

Nearly three years ago, as reporters shifted their focus away from the Gulf oil spill, they managed to overlook a pipeline spill that happened just 10 days after the BP well was capped. Their oversight was a boon to a non-profit with only seven full-time employees, which recently beat leading national newspapers in the race for the national reporting Pulitzer Prize for its investigative reporting on that spill.

The non-profit InsideClimate’s award-winning report on the oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, titled “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside The Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of,” noted that the national press was uninterested in the spill …

The pipeline that leaked in Michigan was carrying bitumen extracted from tar sands and diluted with liquid chemicals, including the known human carcinogen benzene. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry the same type of crude. …

Covering how underdog InsideClimate won a Pultizer Prize, US News reported that the website looks for “gaps” in the media …

InsideClimate’s Pulitzer hints at some of the culprits: a press corps with dwindling environmental reporters, a short attention span, and a propensity for stenography over investigative reporting.

Andy Revkin has an interesting video interview with the winning team at DotEarth (Pipelines, Pulitzers and Independent Online Journalism). The interview includes “a discussion of the financial model for Inside Climate — which was launched with grants from the Energy Foundation, Grantham Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and other philanthropies,” and suggests the question: can this kind of alternative media, on whatever financial model, be made sustainable and replicable?

Can investigative journalism by what Revkin refers to as “top down mainstream media” be replaced to a significant extent by InsideClimate-type alternatives? Is this the future?

Our comment at DotEarth:

Media Matters posted this good discussion of Inside Climate’s Pulitzer victory, and what it highlights about the shortcomings in and challenges facing environmental reporting: http://mm4a.org/11lvS12

Most mainstream media have always had plenty of shortcomings in the area of investigative journalism, so we can welcome the development of a wide range of decentralized alternative media. On the other hand, alternative media also face serious unresolved issues of economic viability, as your interview with the Inside Climate folks suggests. And really, how can alternative media take up the slack if powerful mainstream media with large circulations and budgets and large professional staffs, such as (for what I rely on) the New York Times and Washington Post, cut back on coverage or allow their credibility to slip? Inside Climate and others can do essential investigative work, but they can’t do the job we need you folks at the Times to be doing.

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