by Chris Potter
So next week is the 47th annual Golden Quill Awards -- during which the Western Pennsylvania Press Club doles out awards for the finest work in local print and broadcast journalism. For one glittering night each year, Pittsburgh journalists put on their clean shirts and treat themselves to a night of self-congratulation. (Usually, we only congratulate ourselves when we're on the clock.) And because it's a cash bar, people mostly tend to be on their best behavior.
But while RSVPing for some of my colleagues, I noted that this year's event has a new co-sponsor: Range Resources.
Yes, that's right: Range Resources, those Marcellus shale-drilling folks whose ads you've probably been seeing on billboards, and TV news broadcasts all over town. Range is, in fact, one of the "premiere" sponsors of this year's gala.
Just to be clear: Range Resources is sponsoring the event, not the contest itself. So it's not as if gas-drillers are getting to choose the winners.
The Tribune-Review, after all, has been a cosponsor of the award ceremony for years, as has the law firm that represents its publisher, Richard Mellon Scaife. And yet I've never noticed Trib staffers enjoying an undue advantage in the medal tally. True, it does sometimes seem as if they get seats closer to the podium ... but that's only really an advantage if you've been drinking heavily. And again -- it's a cash bar.
That said, Range's sponsorship is kind of ironic. Looking over the list of finalists up for awards this year, I've spotted at least 8 entries that concern Marcellus Shale. Concerns about drilling have been broadcast on the airwaves and documented in print; they've been the subject of everything from investigative series to editorial columns. So depending on who wins next week, Range Resources could be helping to honor reporters who took the piss out of its whole industry.
And in fact, I actually can't remember a year in which so many of the contest entries concern one of the event sponsors so directly.
It would be naive to think Range Resources is backing this get-together purely out of altruism. It's backing the get-together, presumably, for the same reason it is a sponsor of Friends of the Riverfront, or the Carnegie's SciTech award, and a bunch of other charitable endeavors. Simply put, the company wants some good headlines too.
That's a very old game, of course, and I'd be surprised if companies like Range weren't playing it.
Some of these initiatives might raise a few more eyebrows than others. Given concerns about the impact of gas-drilling on water tables, for instance, Range's support of riverfront-advocacy might seem a little convenient.
But could Range's sponsorship of a journalistic event somehow affect the stories journalists will write for next year's awards? I doubt it. Unless, of course, Range started paying for the drinks.