Looking forward to the future of journalism

Tracking the origins of a tank of gas

Rain, Gas Station and Dawn

Express-News reader Rick Pratt wrote an interesting letter to the editor that discussed the consequences of our spending habits:

Dr. Carbonell suggests we shouldn’t travel to Cuba because we would only be lining the pockets of its dictatorial leaders, the Castro brothers. This is probably true, but where would he suggest we spend our hard-earned dollars?

We could get in our car and drive down to the gas station, where we have a choice of buying from companies like Citgo (Venezuelan oil), Chevron (Nigerian oil) or the many other stations that get their fuel oil from Saudi Arabia.

Or maybe we could just donate to China by shopping at retail outlets.

We don’t have to travel to a dictatorial regime in order to support them. We can do that in the good ol‘ freedom-loving US of A!

Pratt reminded me of a unique, compellingly written series of investigative stories by the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Salopek that traced the exact origins of gasoline shipped to a gas-hungry Chicago suburb. To tell this story, Salopek immersed himself in it. He volunteered as a gas station clerk, mopping floors and making change for customers, and he traveled to the war-torn regions that feed America’s insatiable appetite for oil.

Related: Telling stories about the unthinkable: How three journalists shined a spotlight on child abuse

Salopek had rare access to an oil company’s data and made the most of it, writing well-crafted sentences like this:

$73.81 worth of unleaded pumped one Saturday afternoon by a Little League mom was traced not simply back to Africa, but to a particular set of offshore fields in Nigeria through which Ibibio villagers canoed home to children dying of curable diseases.

The stories are a really good read, check them out if you get a chance.

Photo credit: ^riza^