ODNR wins PR battle, but won’t avoid local media’s critical eye

by karlhenk

Detroit — The thing most don’t understand about journalism is that the media’s job is not just to weave facts and anecdotes together to create stories chocked full of information.

That’s what we’d like to do, but more often than not, it’s a lot tougher than that.

We’re faced with politicking.

And in the instance of the much-anticipated Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ report on injection-well induced earthquakes in Youngstown, ODNR out-politicked this writer and managed to feed its public relations feast to a much higher power.

The Associated Press.

And the AP had itself a sloppy, slow-cooked slab of the finest public relations meat that ODNR could serve up.

You see those in the local media, especially when dealing with a hot-button local story, tend to be critical of announcements or reports, and vet them as much as possible.

But ODNR has taken a beating since October when The Vindicator first reported on an earthquake-injection well correlation.

So what better way to get out their positive but blind message of “tough regulations?”

The answer is the national media.

The Associated Press, which had the story well in advance of the release and certainly well before anyone locally laid eyes on it, did what it does best: turned a release into a story in near-record time.

The AP in turn distributed it for use among nearly 7,000 newspapers and television and radio stations.

Here’s the first sentence of the AP story:

A dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were almost certainly induced by injection of gas-drilling wastewater into the earth, Ohio oil and gas regulators said Friday as they announced a series of tough new regulations for drillers.

Tough regulations, eh? We’ll get to that in a moment.

The fact the AP had a story before the 11 a.m. announcement means one of two things: 1) ODNR provided them with an advance copy, contradictory to its statements to the local media or 2) the AP did not fully read the report and therefore took the “tough regulations” aspect for granted.

(The ODNR preliminary report was 24 digital pages.)

For those curious about the difference between the local and national media, I’ll provide you this analogy.

The national media is like a sugar-buzzed, impressionable adolescent. It will generally believe whatever you tell it, asking few relevant questions and trying to draw as much attention to itself as humanly possible.

Most of the time, it works, especially when it comes to the other candied-out cool kids on the playground, the national television media. (For instance, Rachel Maddow linked back to a copy of the AP story.)

Now we see how ODNR won this public relations battle with the media.

By electing not to advance the report to the local media as anticipated, ODNR knew the Associated Press would run with whatever excerpt they put at the top of the ODNR report’s executive summary.

By electing to release the report on a Friday, they minimized publicity, because, quite frankly, by the time Monday rolls around, the story’s prominence will wear off.

As for the actual regulations, the ODNR report failed to touch on many important aspects, including its highly criticized definition of brine — in simple terms, ODNR does not distinguish between lightweight and heavy brine — which could have impacted the D&L Energy Inc. Youngstown well, which operated at a higher pressure than any other injection well in the state.

Those tough regulations, some could argue, were regulatory oversights.

(I could go on, but I will need something to write about Monday when I return from vacation.)

It’s facts like these that will get vetted by the local media but will generally be ignored by the national media.

ODNR spoonfed its message to the national media in one heaping mound.

But that dish now heads in the direction of the local media, which will narrow the focus on the real details of the report.

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