Dueling books about fracking by two different Wall Street Journal reporters have led to some tense newsroom moments over the last few months, including a heated debate over how to handle excerpts in the paper itself.
As energy reporter Russell Gold puts the finishing touches on his book, tentatively titled Frackistan, for an April 2014 release, Journal business writer Gregory Zuckerman is already out with The Frackers, which profiles the wildcatters behind the boom in hydraulic fracturing.
“I’m a financial writer and my whole life has pretty much been Wall Street,” Mr. Zuckerman said. “It hit me a couple of years ago that the most important thing going on in the business world is this resurgence of natural gas in this country.”
According to sources, there were tense discussions about which excerpt would run first; Mr. Zuckerman’s book came out this week, but energy is Mr. Gold’s beat. The jockeying for space in the paper has been resolved: The Journal has the option to excerpt both books in the spring and Mr. Zuckerman’s wrote an essay on fracking, which ran in the paper over the weekend.
(A spokesperson for The Wall Street Journal did not respond to our request for comment).
“There was some awkwardness, let’s put it that way,” Mr. Zuckerman told Off the Record. “The Journal likes us both, and we like The Journal, and basically we all reached a nice compromise.”
To find the characters following the fracking gold rush, Mr. Zuckerman went west to towns where GPS doesn’t work because the streets are so new and where young women, often few and far between, decide between jobs at Walmart and stripping for lonely men with lots of new cash to burn.
“This project allowed me to really see America,” said Mr. Zuckerman, who grew up in Rhode Island and has lived in the New York area since the early ’90s. “I went to North Dakota, to Oklahoma, to Texas, to Louisiana, to Pennsylvania. In some ways, it’s really reassuring about the country and the future. And in some ways, it was actually kind of disturbing.”
Mr. Zuckerman cited the chasm between fracking supporters and opponents as a source of the disturbance.
But Mr. Zuckerman brushed off another potential source of unease.
“It’s a huge story. So I didn’t want to know what he was working on. I never wanted to see his proposal. When people told me that they also spoke to him, I’d say I didn’t want to know what they talked about,” Mr. Zuckerman said. “There’s going to be some overlap, but he didn’t talk to my characters. I’m sure he had his own.”
Apparently, he did.
“I didn’t just want to do an inside the boardroom type of book. I wanted to do a broader book,” Mr. Gold explained, adding that he listened to Pink Floyd with scruffy guys in North Dakota while they fracked.
Fracking–or even books about fracking–is a controversial topic.