The Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica have received a national award for their last year’s investigation into the impact of West Virginia’s natural gas boom on local communities in the state.
The Online News Association recognized “Powerless: What it looks and sounds like when a gas driller overruns your land” as the best piece of explanatory journalism in the medium-sized newsroom category.
Gazette-Mail reporter Ken Ward Jr. wrote the story with ProPublica reporters Al Shaw and Mayeta Clark. The story used a variety of innovative techniques and tools to show in a vivid and interactive format how it looks and sounds when natural gas companies use century-old property rights laws to take over local land.
Among other things, “Powerless” captured drone footage to show how close some residents live to gas operations. Using GIS mapping, along with high-resolution aerial and satellite imagery, the feature showed how sprawling the gas wells and underground pipelines really are, surprising even the residents who live above them. Video storytelling allowed residents to speak for themselves about life amid the gas boom. The team created time-lapse videos and used audio, taken by residents, to show how heavy truck traffic can be near homes and let readers hear for themselves the level of noise the gas industry has brought to formerly quiet communities.
Along with “Powerless,” the Gazette-Mail and ProPublica published additional online stories that detailed inaction by lawmakers on the concerns of residents living near gas wells, and an interactive guide to every permitted natural gas well in West Virginia. The Gazette-Mail’s Kate Mishkin and ProPublica’s Alex Mierjeski and Beena Raghavendran were part of the team that produced the project.
ProPublica’s Mayeta Clark also produced a short documentary that chronicled the experiences of some of the residents who were featured in “Powerless.”
The natural gas investigation was part of the Local Reporting Network, a ProPublica program aimed at helping local newsrooms perform more watchdog journalism. The Gazette-Mail is taking part in the program again this year, with its investigation of Gov. Jim Justice’s business empire.