Reading these two oil articles struck pretty close to home for me– I’m no stranger to the children of the oil boom. My hometown in southern Louisiana had the highest per capita ownership of Jaguars in the 90s due to an oil boom.
That tiny bit of experience is nothing compared to power of these two pieces. Both offer personal, fairly touching insights into the lives and economies of Texas. I’ll be simple.
CENTER FOR PUBLIC INSIGHT: It starts a lot better than Texas Monthly, opening with an anecdote that gives me a bit of anxiety. The first image is a melancholy woman who looks like she’s losing her lungs. Man, this piece hits hard. Every image is sobering– every human is frowning, every rig is burning with violent flames, every bit of land looks violated. Every pulled quote is terrifying. Hard lines from the government that threaten those opposed to developments as anti-Texas, an extremely insulting line considering the southern tradition of being full of pride for your home. “Help us before we die.” is a hell of a way to end a piece. I just can’t not feel unbelievably frustrated at the incompetency or carelessness that this piece quietly condemns. Of course, unlike Texas Monthly, there isn’t a hit of the benefits of the boom. I had no idea of the push it had in employment or anything. It comes off as a bit cold, drawing on victims to paint a picture of misery without really hitting the human element. Nebulizer treatments make for a good photo but they don’t clarify a whole lot in the technical sense. Sometimes, it seemed like this piece was approached with a mindset of slamming the industry and the government more than an investigation. It was framed by some specific suffering between graphs of big business’ mistakes. I prefer it to Texas Monthly, but it’s far from clear.
TEXAS MONTHLY: My initial reading of this piece had me fairly skeptical. The personal aspect was nowhere near as moving as that of the other articles; why would I care about some random writer for Texas Monthly? Eventually, the anecdotes of others satisfied the personal angle I was expecting. Despite that, the personal life of the writer made me skeptical of most of the piece. He seemed a little too familiar and connected with the developers and players, with little reference to the faceless corporations that get slammed in the other piece. The use of the first person dramatically change the focus of the story– it often felt more like a memoir of the niceties of old booms rather than a serious work of journalism. The approach was little off as well– even for a long piece, the possible cons didn’t surface until the last minute. Nearly every person in the story had a very personal stake in the prosperity. The sheriff even had a serious stake in the boom. It wasn’t until the last few pages that a few of the victims of the boom surfaced; even then, their appearances were tragic and brief. Photos focused on smiling faces and groups of suits, workers contentedly standing around or eating. The rigs were all dramatically lit, beautiful in mechanical sort of way. Some of the ads that ran alongside the piece were indistinguishable from the actual photos for it– rig workers laying in pipe could fit as a banks ad or the illustration for the piece.