February 24, 2011

Journalists cooperated to produce package on dangerous refinery chemical

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Today’s stories on the use of super-toxic hydrofluoric acid at oil refineries are the product of an interesting new way in which in-depth news increasingly is being reported.

It’s called collaboration — a path that was viewed with suspicion by many journalists until the current media maelstrom slashed the number of reporters out there turning over rocks on behalf of the public.

That sort of in-depth journalism increasingly is in short supply. But those of us still producing it are finding it really helps if we talk to each other and — this would have been revolutionary not that many years ago — actually work together.

In this case, the Center for Public Integrity teamed up with ABC News to investigate the use of this super-toxic agent at 50 of the nation’s 148 refineries. When their investigation was close to done, the center contacted regional reporting centers such as InvestigateWest to take an in-depth look at refineries in their regions.

So on our site you’ll find a link to the national overview by the Center for Public Integrity, InvestigateWest’s look at the use of hydrofluoric acid at ConocoPhillips’s refinery here and our sidebar on the refinery’s regulatory record, and ABC News’  take on the story. (And soon InvestigateWest intern Will Graff will tell you about getting hassled by ConocoPhillips security personnel and ultimately the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for simply taking pictures of the refinery in question from a public street. We’ll link to it here.)

Another excellent recent example of this new collaborative model was the partnership between InvestigateWest and fellow members of the Investigative News Network, as well as KING 5 television, on a groundbreaking air-safety project. The message with both these projects: When journalists cooperate instead of competing, some penetrating reports can result — journalism that illuminates how well our society is  doing at protecting our health and our environment. 

Let’s be clear, too, that this cooperation is not limited to the non-profit news media. InvestigateWest regularly partners with for-profit pattners such as MSNBC, the Seattle Times and KING 5 television.  

After decades of news media mostly working in silos, it’s gratifying to see what seems like an ever-growing movement to pool journalism’s resources and serve our fellow citizens better.  

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