I can’t stand a bully. Never could.
And in 10 years working as a journalist in the Pittsburgh region, bullying may have been a topic of feature stories, but never really a part of my everyday working life.
Until I started writing about the Marcellus Shale.
I should clarify that: I was on great working terms with many in the shale industry when I was writing feature stories singing its praises. There were check presentations. There were outreach meetings when drilling activities commenced. There was even a story about Southpointe-based Range Resources employees buying a pig for $36,000 to help a local 4H student at the Washington County County Fair.
When I was laid off from my reporting position at the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Range’s controversial spokesman, Matt Pitzarella even endorsed me on LinkedIn, calling me a fair reporter.
But that all changed shortly after I became the editor of the Canon-McMillan Patch website, which published news from Canonsburg, Cecil and North Strabane (and for the record, Pitzarella deleted his endorsement sometime during my tenure there).
Pitzarella and fellow Range spin doctors Jim Cannon and Mike Mackin were initially very supportive of my reporting efforts (Cecil Township was one of the areas where drilling activity was brisk, and I covered those issues religiously). I even met with them at the corporate headquarters, where they tried to plant a story about Cecil’s solicitor.
Cannon and Mackin suggested I write a story about how that solicitor, John Smith, was running up legal bills related to Cecil Township and his review of shale-related issues. They even gave me the legal bills they had garnered from the township through a state Right to Know request.
I looked at the bills, and I passed on the story.
Because to me, it wasn’t “a story.” It was an attempt to get a reporter to write a propaganda piece.
Shortly after that meeting, Cecil became the epicenter of local shale issues.
And as I chased after stories that increasingly made Range Resources, MarkWest and other players in the shale industry look like something less than community benefactors, I noticed that my phone calls were increasingly ignored.
By the end of my tenure at Patch (I was furloughed in August), I had not received a phone call from Range Resources, specifically, for months.
More disturbing were reports I was hearing from other reporter friends also covering the industry. One reporter even confirmed that a story that was not complimentary to the shale industry was spiked at the behest of top industry brass.
Then there was all the propaganda.
After breaking a story about issues Cecil Towship officials and residents were having with a frac pond known as the Worstell impoundment, an industry-funded website that sells itself as a “news” site about shale issues, took aim at me and sources that helped me understand the issues I wrote about.
Around that same time (in the midst of Cecil and other communities challenging the state’s newly passed legislation governing Marcellus Shale activity called Act 13), I noticed that propaganda “informational” packets were being left at local meetings.
There was also a deluge of commenters on my former site who bullied readers who asked questions or who were critical of the shale industry.
Then there was the upheaval in Cecil as its supervisors fought over secret meetings with Range Resources, and a closed-door meeting with the Department of Environmental Protection – all related to the impoundment.
Since my departure from Patch in August, I have stayed close with my sources, and have learned of so many issues that, unfortunately, are not given much (if any) ink in the local press.
That’s why I created Marcellus Monitor: Because I think you deserve more reporting than you are getting.
And I assure you: I will not be bullied.
Here, you will find original reporting, informational features and aggregated content from around the web.
And I invite you and your friends to contribute, too. If you’d like to contribute a column, a letter to the editor, or a story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please join us on Facebook here.