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Energy Beat Booms

Story by Jayme Dittmar, screenshot from video by Brian Gill

When Dan Boyce left his post as Montana Public Radio’s capitol bureau chief for Denver, it wasn’t to cover the legislature in yet another western state. Instead, he joined a team of reporters at Inside Energy, a platform created by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to tackle stories related to what Boyce calls the issue of our time.

Throughout the West, the oil-and-gas boom has spurred demand for energy stories. Coverage in western newspapers has increased by 50 percent in the past 10 years. Special titles attract advertisements from firms connected to the natural resource industry.

The Bismarck Tribune currently publishes two separate energy publications focused around North Dakota’s oil drilling hub. The Bakken Breakout and The Bakken Breakout Weekly have led to expanded freelance contracts for writers with energy and geology backgrounds.

In Colorado’s Weld County, The Greeley Tribune started the monthly magazine, Energy Pipeline, in 2013, to tell diverse stories of the oil boom in its backyard.

Energy stories in those special titles are sometimes tailored toward a business audience, but there’s also a hunger for in-depth energy stories among the general public.

Telling those stories requires time to understand and explain the complex acronyms and jargon of the industry, Boyce said. “Energy reporting is not a cakewalk, but we need all the good reporters we can get.”

As a hybrid of policy, technology, business, and environmental topics, the energy beat is creating opportunities for journalists of diverse backgrounds to rise to the challenge.

Jayme Dittmar is pursuing her master’s degree from the University of Montana in environmental science and natural resource journalism. She currently specializes in multimedia, working only with equipment that will fit into a dogsled.