|Daniel Gilbert, left, with Mike Owens at the workshop|
The R-CAR program was started with a gift from Daniel Gilbert, a Wall Street Journal energy reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for the Bristol Herald Courier in 2010 with his reporting on state and energy-company mismanagement of pooled natural-gas royalties in Southwest Virginia. He donated his $10,000 prize from another contest, the Scripps Howard Awards, to the Institute's endowment to create a fund that sends journalists to IRE's six-day CAR boot camp, at which he learned the skills that enabled him to do the series. The Scripps Howard Foundation matched his gift, and the state of Kentucky matched both, creating a $40,000 fund that generates enough earnings to sponsor two journalists each year.
The Institute asked the foundation to fund two "mini-boot camps" for reporters in rural areas, the first one in the same area where Gilbert did his prize-winning work. The money flows through IRE, but the Institute will host a second R-CAR Mini-Boot Camp at its University of Kentucky headquarters in May 2012. Details of that one will be announced soon.
Gilbert spoke to the group at dinner about his project and how the R-CAR fellows could use their new skills. "It changed the way I think about journalism and opened up a whole new room in my mind," he recalled. "It's a critical tool, and one that I use daily . . . to add empirical vigor to my stories." After nearly a year of work, which included learning the skills and cleaning the data, "in a fraction of a second" he got the main result he had been seeking: accounts where gas was being produced but no royalties were being paid.
Asked how they can get time to do such projects in the face of demands for daily stories, Gilbert advised them to "get buy-in as early as you can" from editors, their supervisors, other departments and even other media outlets in a chain. And he said projects can be produced episodically, not as a big package that requires forsaking daily duties.
Journalists attending the first workshop were Mary Alice Basconi of ETSU, Dave Boucher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Spencer Dennis of the Staunton News Leader in Virginia, Laura Graff of the Winston-Salem Journal, George Jackson and Nate Morabito of WJHL-TV in Johnson City, Sharon McBrayer of the Hickory Daily Record in North Carolina, Patrick McCreless of The Anniston Star in Alabama, Mike Owens of the Bristol paper, Kate Prahlad of the Johnson City Press, Edmund Shelby of the weekly Beattyville Enterprise in Kentucky and Jeff Sturgeon of The Roanoke Times.