OLD Media Moves

Covering the next energy crisis

March 3, 2006

This afternoon, I moderated a panel at the “Covering the Next Energy Crisis” held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On the panel were business reporter Greg Edwards from the Richmond Times Dispatch, AP energy reporter Brad Foss and Bloomberg energy editor Rob Dieterich.

Each of them provided good suggestions and comments about covering energy and utilities. Here they are:

Rising gas prices1. Edwards noted that many coal companies are seeking new employees as demand increases and as old coal miners retire. If you live in an area with mines, this is a natural story. He also noted that utilities were seeking or thinking about new nuclear power plants, another potential story.

And then he got into the nitty gritty — electricity deregulation. Edwards said he’s written more than 200 stories about the topic in the past eight years, but that reader response has been underwheleming. “It’s what I’ve spent most of my time on since I joined the paper,” said Edwards.

2. Foss said one of the challenges to covering energy stories was explaining it in a way readers can understand the significance. “Companies have market power, and they know how to use it,” he said. “It’s really worth getting into the weeds and trying to explain some of this stuff.”

Another good tip from Foss: “Allow yourself to be amazed by things that amaze you or confuse you.” Foss said he’s done little reporting on alternative energy.

3. From Dieterich, who resisted taking over the energy editor job in 2002 after covering the market: “It was much more interesting.” But he now find energy coverage fascinating as it appeals/affects almost everyone. As story ideas, he said, regulating carbon emissions “is one to watch.”

Dieterich also said that reporters need to keep an open mind about the current peak oil debate — whether oil supplies have topped out.

Dieterich said Bloomber has 25 reporters covering energy, but none devoted to alternative energy.

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