A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: Online, investigative reporting, The Center for Public Integrity

By Quill

The Center for Public Integrity combined the efforts of more than a dozen seasoned investigative reporters, researchers, database specialists and Web professionals to create “Politics of Oil,” a one-year, first-of-its-kind international investigation into one the world’s richest industries and its political influence.

“It included more than a dozen investigative reports and several original online databases that painted a comprehensive picture of the political and business activities of the world’s most influential oil and gas companies,” said project director Bob Williams.

The shear size of “Politics of Oil” was a challenge in itself.

“Certain sentences in some of the reports actually represented weeks of work by several team members,” said Williams. “We had to constantly listen to what our data and reporting were telling us, and then present that information in a clear and concise manner.”

The team created a searchable database that matched detailed financial information with campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for more than 1,500 oil and gas companies worldwide. The report also featured an individual Web site for each of the 1,500 companies, which contained charts and graphs explaining political handouts.

“To me, there is nothing more gratifying than pure investigative journalism like it is practiced at the Center for Public Integrity,” said Williams. “At its best, investigative journalism frames the public debate fairly and shines the light on those who would just as soon remain in the dark. At the same time, investigative reporting is the most difficult form of journalism – a huge project can be undone by even the most minor of inaccuracies. Another difficult part of quality investigative journalism is writing what you find in an interesting and approachable manner – even the best investigative report is a failure if no one reads it.”

Upon completion, “Politics of Oil” generated interest in major media markets, such as CNN, ABC, NBC, The New York Times, etc. The research acts as a framework for discussion of many issues pertaining to gas and oil.

“Our goal from the beginning was to present the first comprehensive examination of the political and policy influence of this huge and important industry,” said Williams.