PALO ALTO, Ca. — InquireFirst Executive Editor Susan White and Center for Public Integrity Editor Jim Morris traveled to Stanford University in February to accept the 2015 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism.
The 20-month project they jointly edited, “Big Oil, Bad Air: Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas,” explored the tension between cheap energy and air quality in one of the most active oil and gas fields in the United States. White was executive editor of InsideClimate News, a nonprofit that focuses on climate and energy news, at the time.
White and Morris discussed the impact of their work at a February 17 Knight-Risser Symposium. Their team of reporters, which included Lisa Song and David Hasemyer, produced more than 40 stories focused on a largely rural area of Texas where thousands of wells and production facilities release tons of toxic chemicals into the air with virtually no regulatory oversight. The Weather Channel producer Greg Gilderman was also honored for his role in the project, which resulted in a 15-minute Weather Channel documentary.
White used the occasion to emphasize the need for an organization like InquireFirst, which will focus on only two or three topics a year and will stick with those topics until the problems it exposes are addressed, no matter how long that takes. Both InsideClimate and CPI have moved on to other projects, she said, although the air-quality problems in Texas have by no means been solved.
People like the rural Texans interviewed for “Big Oil, Bad Air,” “need unbiased, factual information if they are to have a voice in the public debates that are increasingly dominated by powerful business and political interests,” White said. “And I happen to believe that people like us…have a moral obligation to make sure they get it.”