This week the New York Times again ran a story calling into question the credibility of reporter Ian Urbina’s June 27th article, “Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush,” which claims the quickly emerging shale gas industry is similar to a Ponzi scheme.
It appears Urbina crossed the line into sensational journalism with his baseless claims by failing to conduct proper background checks, and his tendency to overstate the credentials of anonymous sources. This problems with his reporting apparently have driven a wedge between Times editors trying to justify the story, and those concerned over the long-term repercussions for the paper.
Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane has published two articles criticizing Urbina’s work; first calling into question his cited sources for their biases on the topic, and next pointing out the liberties taken with anonymous sources. National editor Richard L. Berke and Adam Bryant, …
On July 7, we asked New York Times ombudsman Arthur Brisbane to look at the newspaper’s front-page series on natural gas by reporter Ian Urbina, who alleged that the sector is in the grips of a speculative bubble. We specified a number of apparent ethical problems with Urbina’s methods and sources.
In Sunday’s paper, Brisbane addressed the central concern raised by us and many others – that Urbina ignored the fact that production of natural gas from domestic shale deposits is booming. Brisbane wrote:
My view is that such a pointed article needed more convincing substantiation, more space for a reasoned explanation of the other side and more clarity about its focus.
Unfortunately, Urbina’s editor continued to defend the story:
“The article challenges conventional wisdom and a powerful industry, so we expected criticism,” said Richard L. Berke, the national editor. “But it is deeply sourced, meticulously reported and measured, and
NLPC today asked the New York Times ombudsman to review the newspaper’s front-page series on natural gas published last week. The articles by Ian Urbina alleged that there is a speculative bubble in natural gas drilling. We have identified a number of apparent ethical problems with Urbina’s methods and sources.
Here is the complete text of my letter to The New York Times ombudsman Arthur Brisbane, whose actual title is Public Editor:
I write to request a formal inquiry by the Public Editor into a series of articles published last week in The New York Times about the natural gas industry and the investment banking world. In the “Drilling Down” series, Ian Urbina alleges that there is a speculative bubble in the shale gas industry, “in much the same way that insiders have raised doubts about previous financial bubbles.” But at least two of the sources for his articles …