NEWSTRACK PROPUBLICA #4

Adam_Eve_fracking

This time on Newstrack, I’ll compare an interview published in August about fracking by researchers affiliated with the sustainability program at UT Austin, with a Forbes interview about a new lean startup.

Both interviews cover established trends about which the public is relatively aware. Although, I had not heard of the lean startup business model before this, so I am assuming that knowledge of this is less widespread. This is likely, further, because the lean startup movement is more recent.

First off, Propublica places all hyperlinks providing background information in the introduction itself.  But once the actual interview commences, not a single hyperlink jumps out at you, as if the words of the researchers being interviewed were were hallowed ground.  Forbes does not do this, and every time the person being interviewed says something that the reader might be curious about, the relevant URL is referenced.

As expected, the propublica interview breaks down the investigative process of the researchers concerned. More specifically because their methodology is being questioned. (Big surprise)

When the UT Austin researchers say “The closest analog that I could find to our type of study are the things that have been done in the Marcellus Shale, with Rob Jackson’s group out at Duke University. ” I want to know immediately what that is. I don’t want to have to open a new window and google them. And it’s not like I’m sitting in front of my laptop with a notepad, or a note-taking software open every time I browse the internet. I felt this way several times while reading the interview.

Reading the fracking interview requires background knowledge — typical of propublica — while the forbes interview introduces us to a topic.  Again, considering the length of the propublica interview, and the huge white blank chunks on either side of the page, I could have used some blown-up quotes which highlights the important parts, like:

It’s not necessarily that we’re saying fracking fluid getting out. We don’t have any evidence of that….we were unable to actually sample any hydraulic fracturing fluid, so we can’t make any claims that we have evidence fluids got into the water.

And…

We noticed that when you’re closer to a well, you’re more likely to have a problem, and that today’s samples have problems, while yesterday’s samples before the fracking showed up did not. So we think that the strongest argument we can say is that this needs more research.

When scientists are grilled about their methodology to this extent– a rarity outside environmental studies — I’d rather have their main conclusions mentioned at the top. But then again, for a subject like fracking, having blow up quotes would imply a bias on propublica’s part in presenting the information. (That’s what print magazines are for.) But this brings us to a question why this is even an interview. Why not a science article?

And why does the heading address the fracking ‘issue’  without a mention of the site where the study was conducted, and therefore the population likely to be affected?

The Forbes interview, in contrast, is short, informative, with an engaging introduction in first person. More importantly, the formatting….

Forbes

The relevant background information is presented on the side in a visually engaging manner, without interfering with the actual reading. The text itself, moreover, is sufficient to get a grasp of what the new startup is trying to achieve in an emerging business environment, so the extra information is optional. We are not left with lingering questions after reading the interview. Perhaps propublica wants the reader to ask questions and take notes while reading things, but hey, not everybody has the time.  This is the internet, not a library.

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