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Nonprofit News Site Wins Pulitzer For Reporting

By The NonProfit Times - April 16, 2013

InsideClimate, a nonprofit news site is among the Pulitzer Prize winners for 2013. InsideClimate won the honor for its coverage of a little-reported oil spill in 2010.

The report, called “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of,” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. The piece was part of a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Reporters Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer were the reporters.

“We were excited, I’m still in shock,” said Song, who noted that her editors knew that they had won two days prior to the announcement. “It’s great to be recognized. I really hope it will get more people to read our site, and to pay attention the sorts of issues we’re reporting on.”

The Pulitzer committee praised the report, which revealed how unprepared the U.S. is for the impending flood of imports of a more corrosive and more dangerous form of oil, as a detailed study of the “flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines, focusing on potential ecological dangers posed by diluted bitumen (or dilbit), a controversial form of oil.”

David Sassoon, founder and publisher of InsideClimate, heralded the award as major step for the news organization. “It’s a watershed moment for our non-profit news organization, a good day for environmental journalism, and a hopeful signal for the future of our profession.”

Song said that since the spill happened so soon after the BP Horizon disaster, it didn’t get as much coverage. The story was born of a trip that McGowan made to Nebraska to interview farmers and other individuals who would be affected by the potential construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. She found she could not answer the questions they had, such as how the oil would affect their water, so she went to Michigan to cover the clean-up from the Dilbit spill, as it used the same oil that would be in Keystone XL.

Song soon joined her when it became clear the story could be linked to Keystone. “This spill is an example of what would happen if keystone burst,” said Song.

One of the more memorable parts of “The Dilbit Disaster” was a three-part narrative written by McGowan and Song that described the oil spill from the vantage point of the people directly involved. This included residents; state, local and EPA officials at the scene; scientists; and spokesmen with Enbridge Inc., the company responsible for the spill.

Hasemyer’s reporting focused on how the rebuilding efforts by Enbridge has affected the lives of the local community. In one instance, the company had to do construction on a large portion of a families’ land in order to rebuild one of the pipeline’s that burst during the spill. The construction resulted in the loss of century-old trees, the loss of a family deck, and the removal of a nature preserve.

Three years after the incident, oil is still being removed from the Kalamazoo River.

“The need to tell this story trumped all else,” said Stacy Feldman, co-founder and managing editor. “So we figured out how to successfully balance the daily demands of an online news organization with a deep dive and commitment of resources to this long-term project.”

InsideClimate, founded in 2008, is described as a non-partisan news site that covers clean energy, carbon energy, nuclear energy and environmental science. Its stated mission is to publish objective stories that will give the public the information they need to be informed on climate and energy-related topics.

The organization was funded by Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Marisla Foundation and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.

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