This “Instant Expert Backstory Assignment” was a project taken on in my advanced editing class. The purpose was to find a story that was (or still is) currently in the news with a “big picture” aspect to it. We were to research the context of the story to determine what has already been covered on this topic, what issues were associated with the story, what controversy (if any) there was surrounding this topic, and what editing issues are associated with the story.

This project was designed with copy-editors in mind: What would other copy-editors like to know if they were thrown into editing a story on this topic and had very little time to prepare? In my professor’s words: “Could they go to what you have on your site and be grateful to you forever? Aim for that.”

For this project, I chose to follow President Obama’s recent offshore oil drilling proposals.

Background and Context:

-On March 31, 2010, Obama announced new leases for offshore oil drilling, saying increased domestic oil production is part of an overall approach to the nation’s energy challenges. From USA Today : “Addressing environmental critics of the decision, Obama described it as temporary and ‘part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

-Obama’s plans would allow drilling about 50 miles off the Virginia coast, and would affect several other American coastlines as well. The plans would limit oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida to no closer than 125 miles from the shore. Obama’s proposal also emphasized that proposed leases in Alaska’s Bristol Bay (which have been very controversial) would be canceled.

Here are some previous stories on the topic:

New University

Miami Herald

Daily Comet


There has been a considerable amount of controversy on this topic from Republicans and Democrats; liberals and conservatives; and environmentalists and other groups. Here are a couple of examples:

– Many Republicans have spoken out about Obama’s back-and-forth proposal for American offshore oil drilling. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio: “The Obama Administration continues to defy the will of the American people who strongly supported the bipartisan decision of Congress in 2008 to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. Not just off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, but off the Pacific Coast and Alaskan shores as well.”

– Environmentalists have voiced their concerns that offshore oil drilling will negatively affect American landscapes and wildlife. Doug O’Malley, field director for Environment New Jersey: “It makes no sense to threaten the East Coast of America, including the Jersey Shore, with spills and other drilling disasters when we’re about to unleash the real solutions to oil dependence–cleaner cars, cleaner fuels and clean energy.”

So what?:

This story is very likely to be in the news for a while, especially with the very recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill that has influenced Obama’s viewpoints on American offshore drilling. This story is both an ongoing issue (America’s energy) and part of a process (meeting America’s energy challenges).

Energy, especially sustainable energy, is important to most Americans. A survey sponsored by The Council for Responsible Energy, titled Consumer Perceptions on Natural Gas and the Importance of Energy Efficiency, found that 93 percent of those surveyed think it is important to use less energy at home. 35 percent of Americans agree that their top priority for home improvement in the next 12 months is to make their home more energy efficient.


– An animated video from The Washington Post

– This is a great story (with great photos) from The Palm Beach Post, and I really liked this little map:

– This Huffington Post story has great video and photo elements, and I also liked their map:

– Twitter has a great conversation about this topic as well. Facebook has some interesting groups, as well.

Editing Issues:

This story has more general editing issues because it is such a broad topic, and the terminology and word choice for this story are not nearly as controversial as say, language in abortion stories.

– A lot of different people and groups with different interests, goals and opinions are involved in this issue. Make sure to include as many viewpoints as possible depending on your story’s angle. Make sure to attribute the right information to the right people, groups and organizations. Double-check the spelling of names.

– There are a lot of opinionated blog posts and editorials about this topic. Make sure to differentiate the credible information from the less credible information.

Resources and Contacts:

Here are some (hopefully) helpful links to contacts and resources that could be used in this story:

The Oil Drum

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

U.S. Department of Energy

Twitter and Facebook


World Wildlife Fund

And for my Arizonans who want some local resources:

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Environment Arizona


One response to “Backstory

  1. Ben Shockley

    So that’s what editors do. Neat.

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