The Alberta Oil Sands, Journalists, and Their Sources

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  • Twenty journalists who regularly produce articles, televised reports and videos about the Alberta oil sands and issues pertaining to the oil sands participated in this study. Although most of the stories about the Alberta oil sands that appear in the news media have a business or economic focus, this study reveals that a clear majority of the 20 journalists who participated believe that the tension between economic and environmental aspects of oil sands development is the driving issue. A clear majority of respondents also said that there are many stories about the oil sands that go unreported and many of these unreported stories have to do with environmental issues. While journalists didn’t specify why certain stories are not covered by the news media, they did report that some of the sources they would need to produce credible articles or documentaries are not easily available and, in some cases, not available at all. Most reported that industry sources are easily available although they would prefer to speak with decision makers rather than communications staff. And while they often rely on government statistics about the oil sands and the environment, a significant number of respondents said it is usually difficult to reach federal and provincial government representatives to discuss these statistics. Academics have become an important source of expertise, particularly for journalists who write about environmental issues, as have advocacy groups such as the Pembina Institute. However, most journalists suggested that there are so many vested interests with a stake in oil sands development that it is often difficult to know who to believe. For this reason they use a variety of sources, especially when covering environmental issues. Most journalists suggested that up-to-date expertise is such a valuable commodity when reporting about the oil sands that they expect all their sources to have it, even citizen and Aboriginal sources. It is also apparent that most of the journalists rely heavily on online sources of information such as other media stories, government reports and documents, industry updates, advocacy group reports and events, contact information for Aboriginal bands, statistical information of all sorts, and media releases. Most of the respondents were experienced journalists who have been covering the Alberta oil sands for more than five years. They believe that oil sands development is one of the most important, if not the most important issue, facing the province and the rest of the country.

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    Attribution 3.0 International